The bar is low for the Thor movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013) are CGI-laden explosion-fests with weak villains. They're reflections of their directors. Both Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Hamlet) and Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) are supreme dramatic filmmakers, but their heavy handedness doesn't translate to comic book fare.
Enter Taika Waititi, the director of Thor: Ragnarok. Undoubtedly familiar with the two previous Thor movies, it seems Waititi made it his mission to create a sequel as far from those two as possible. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople director even inserts a cameo-heavy Asgardian play early in the story that seems to take aim at the previous Thor movies. His vision then devolves into the usual Marvel CGI bedlam near the end, but Thor: Ragnarok is easily the best Thor movie thanks to Waititi's deft comedic touch. And the Hulk. The Hulk rules.
Ragnarok begins with the torture of Thor. Captured by the fire demon Surtur while searching for infinity stones, Thor learns the fabled end of his home realm of Asgard, called Ragnarok, is imminent. After escaping, the Thunder God returns to Asgard where Loki is posing as the dying Odin (who's now exiled in Norway). Thor takes Loki to retrieve their father, but once there, they learn Odin's death will allow the King's estranged daughter, Hela (Cate Blanchett), to walk free from the prison she's been in since trying to do her own conquering years ago.
After Odin dies and Hela arrives, she proves too powerful for her brothers and they're cast out into space where they crash land on Sakaar, the trash planet made famous in the famous "Planet Hulk" comic storyline. Lorded over by the colorful Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Sakaar is the place for alien gladiator fights and the Hulk (last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron) is the celebrated champion.
Together again, Thor and Hulk, along with Loki and new friend Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), head back to Asgard to defeat Hela. Aside from two surprisingly violent occurrences, you won't be shocked by how the film wraps itself up. It's in the getting there that Thor: Ragnarok prevails.
Nearly every aspect of the third Thor film is different from the original. Even Thor's hair has been cut. It's a funny, colorful movie that takes itself seriously just enough to maintain a dramatic edge. Waititi brings jocular excitement to the film that borders on camp at times. Hemsworth is able to display some comedic stylings and play more to his human strengths. Hulk talks! As seen in the trailer, Hulk is no longer a big, green mute. He's pretty much a big, green bully, but it's hilarious seeing him interact with others like a real person. Hiddleston brings his usual attractiveness to Loki. There isn't a more devilish character in the MCU and he walks the line between good and evil again in Ragnarok.
The ladies also infuse Raganrok with needed new blood. Thompson hides a secret as Valkyrie, Marvel's first bisexual character who fought Hela years ago. And Blanchett is like a gothic version of Hannibal's Stag with her monstrous antlers and seeming invincibility. Blanchett doesn't really have much to work with other than "Be menacing!" but she's still the best villain of any Thor movie (we don't count Loki).
The rest of the cast is also gloriously in tune with Waititi's deadpan sense of humor. Utilizing many non-American actors around the main cast, the sarcasm and dry wit flow throughout the film. One actor who brings his own unique personality (as he tends to do) is Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, the ruler of Sakaar. He's all eye-liner and Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Behind the lens, Waititi doesn't take many risks with the action. It's a staple of the Marvel movies to wow the audience with fake people killing other fake people against a fake backdrop, and that's Ragnarok's shortcoming as well. However, the length of the film, until the final showdown, proves entirely lovable. The goofy side of Thor is much more endearing than the brooding side, and Hemsworth turns in his best performance yet. (It seems Ghostbusters has given him brash comedic confidence — and that's a good thing.)