Thor: Ragnarok is about half of a pretty great movie. Whenever Chris Hemsworth is flexing his comedy chops; or Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange is arching a punctilious eyebrow; or Jeff Goldblum, with blue fingernails and sparkly gold-lamé robe, is looning about as an evil whackjob from Planet Disco—whenever these people are onscreen doing these things, the picture is a blast. (Oh, and Valkyrie, too—we'll get to her in a moment.)
But whenever these characters are not in full effect, we're left with little to contemplate beyond the exhausted clichés of the Marvel Universe—which is to say, chasings and racings and blowings-up beyond number. (There's a battle scene with Thor and Hulk that goes on so long, you'd think even the gods of boredom might be moved to call time.) I hope New Zealand director Taika Waititi, a Marvel newbie, had fun deploying these expensive effects (the movie's budget is reported to be in the $180-million range); but really, it's his visual wit and respect for the rhythms of comic badinage that the movie could use more of. Maybe next time, writes Kurt Loder.