One of the more common critical swipes at Marvel Studios' Thor franchise has been that despite the comic chops of its stars, the tone has been as weighty as the superhero's hammer, if not his gold-tress extensions.
In Thor: Ragnarok (opening Nov. 3), the third film in the Asgard series, Disney/Marvel's myth-laced muscleman sheds his long locks, and with them, it seems, the pseudo-Shakespearean gravity of the cinematic proceedings.
Because fresh director Taika Waititi has lightened the mood, Ragnarok is the best-received Thor film so far among critics. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) again suit up, aided and abetted by the humor of Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hera (Cate Blanchett) and Grandmaster (a wry, campy Jeff Goldblum).
Both previous films, 2011's Thor (score: 57) and 2013's Thor: The Dark World (54), received middling aggregate marks from Metacritic. Ragnarok, on the other hand, has a next-level 74 as of Monday, based on 17 reviews. (Ragnarok also has a 98 percent "certified fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes, far above Thor's 77 and Dark World's 66.) Ragnarok's scores could dip a bit as more reviews arrive, but the trend should hold to form.
The challenge for critics, it seems, is how best to describe the franchise's fun-loving new vibe.
"A goofy, kitschy-but-fun romp," says IGN's Jim Vejvoda.
And Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty calls the self-aware movie "basically a Joke Delivery System."
What many of the critics especially agree on is that given Marvel's decade of Hollywood superhero domination, steering Thor toward the funny was a necessary tack - a countermeasure "against the inevitable creative fatigue," writes Screen International's Tim Grierson.
"Thor: Ragnarok is almost an admission that you can't play this material straight," says the Guardian's Steve Rose. "This is probably the wisest strategy."
One that could have Marvel laughing all the way to the bank, as Ragnarok - following a $645 million worldwide haul for The Dark World - has a shot at becoming the first Thor film to top $700 million.
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