Thor Ragnarok
Hulk, Thor and Valkyrie prepare for battle on Asgard Marvel

Chris Hemsworth is an excellent Thor, but Marvel Studios has always struggled to tell his story on the big screen. Kenneth Branagh's origin tale set up the character and his world, but failed to strike a consistent tone between the grandeur of Asgard and the dusty streets of Earth.

Alan Taylor's sequel fared worse, suffering for its weak villain and dull story. Neither film excelled, but Thor remained popular through his appearances alongside his fellow Avengers and opposite brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) thanks to his co-stars and Hemsworth's natural leading man charm.

Thor's debut played a key role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it took the evolving story into space for the first time. Given how important the intergalactic side of the series has been to date, it was important that the expansion worked.

And it did, but only just.

It wasn't until Guardians of the Galaxy that Marvel found real quality and success among the stars, and it's to James Gunn's adventures that studio bosses looked for Thor's latest. There, and New Zealand.

Thor: Ragnarok isn't shy about trying to recreate that Guardians magic. Its heroes are a ragtag group of misfits, it's loaded with laughs and a visual treat. All that's missing is a full pop soundtrack, and even then Ragnarok dabbles.

The difference, and what makes Ragnarok more than just a Guardians of the Galaxy tribute act, is director and proud New Zealander Taika Waititi.

Rising to fame with absurdist comedy What We Do In The Shadows and last year's sublime Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Waititi brings to Marvel a unique brand of weird, good-natured comedy that is a perfect fit for a story about strange worlds and family.

The humour of Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost's script permeates the film, and Waititi brings it together well, coaxing the best out of his talented cast. Those laughs help cover for a familiar problem: the scenes set on Asgard are generally the worst.

It's a good thing then that so much of the film is set on an entirely new planet whereThor finds himself a prisoner.

Thor Ragnarok
Cate Blanchett as Hela Marvel

The God of Thunder ends up there after an opening 20 or 30 minutes that sets the plot up, with Thor discovering that Loki is still alive and the pair then running into Cate Blanchett's Hela - the latest evil intent on ruling Asgard.

Hela's reasoning for pursuing her goal is just, but otherwise her strength as a villain - the first major female villain in the MCU as it happens - comes down to Blanchett's performance and her natural gravitas.

She's a huge improvement over Christopher Eccleston's Malekith - one of the worst antagonists to grace the big screen - but doesn't remedy Marvel's villain problem either.

As Hela heads to Asgard, Thor and Loki find themselves on Sakaar: a junkyard planet for misfits and lost souls. Here Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster makes slaves - sorry, "prisoners with jobs" - do battle against his champion: an old pal of Thor's by the name of The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Sakaar is also where Thor meets a fellow Asgardian Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and it's here that the film comes alive thanks to Thompson, Ruffalo and Goldblum.

Hemsworth is a great lead, with a natural knack for comedy that's always been present but never fully utilised. In Ragnarok he's allowed to really shine, without the pursuit of humour taking away from his performance.

Ruffalo is a good companion Hemsworth whether he's Hulk or Bruce Banner. The former is more articulate than we've seen him before, with a more developed mind and vocabulary, and as Banner the film gains a straight man bewildered by the madness going on around him.

Goldblum meanwhile is at his most eccentrically Goldblumy, radiating his eminently-watchable charm and making Grandmaster his before even uttering his first 'ahhh, ohhh'. It's Thompson who really stands out however, and hopefully she'll be around for a while yet.

This excursion to Sakaar is the bulk of the film and where most of its enjoyment is had - filled as it is with weird creatures and lively scenery. The rest of the film serves plot over entertainment and when that plot amounts to "Asgard is in trouble, we must save Asgard" you just wish they'd get a move on.

Most of the time the film does, but the need to set up the requisite stakes for a superhero adventure comes at the sacrifice of some enjoyment.

Our verdict
Thor: Ragnarok

Marvel turned to Guardians of the Galaxy to inspire the best Thor to date and while it's not exactly shy about that fact, Ragnarok certainly proves it was the right move. The film still suffers from the same big problem that afflicted its predecessors - that the scenes on Asgard are its worst - but otherwise it remedies many of the trilogy's other problems.

This is thanks to a script packed with laughs, charm and most importantly, good character work. Not just for Thor, but for all its leads both familiar and new. Leading it all is Taika Waititi, a natural talent whose transition to big budget filmmaking has been seamless.