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Third time is not a charm with “Thor: Ragnarok”

Chris Hemsworth is locked in a cage, hanging from the ceiling of a smoldering cave. Looking into the camera, he says,

“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Oh no, Thor’s locked in a cage. What happened?’ Well, it’s a long story…”

The opening scene of “Thor: Ragnarok” is the final transformation of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor into the overly witty, can-do-no-wrong superhero that has become a trope in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

“Thor: Ragnarok” follows the same cookie-cutter plot arc as pretty much every other Marvel Studios film since Iron Man in 2008, nearly a decade ago. The titular superhero learns that there’s a powerful world-destroyer on a mission to conquer the universe, comes up against an unforeseen obstacle in the path to victory, and inevitably beats the villain. There’s never anything really wrong when we know exactly how it will end the whole time.

That said, Marvel Studios has found a formula that works. At its worst, “Thor: Ragnarok” is certainly enjoyable. It’s saturated with clever one-liners and features a few quirky characters, such as Korg, a golem-esque rock man with a thick Kiwi accent. Jeff Goldblum plays the “Grandmaster,” the nutty dictator of Sakaar, a planet steeped in abstraction and art deco styling.

So much of Marvel’s draw is how much work they put into visual effects. They continue to improve, and every scene in “Thor” is breathtaking, whether it be a fight between Thor and a fire demon or a pan across the glittering kingdom of Asgard. Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) technology seems to have gotten over its awkward adolescence. Every shot is beautifully convincing.

It’s hard to get fully invested in recent Marvel movies without having seen every prior installment. A significant chunk of the jokes are nods to events in the previous movies, which leaves us in the dark, never getting swept off into the deep universe that Stan Lee created.

Movies in the MCU have turned into serial episodes, that without their astronomical budgets would be more at home as made-for-TV films. The newest installment is no different. My only hope for the future of the MCU is that events do seem to be getting a little more momentous. I have to believe that they’re building toward something big. The problem with that, however, is that superheroes will continue to bring in floods of cash, and I can’t see Disney finding a resolution that actually ends this epic series.

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