By Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- With or without his hammer, Thor is nailing it at the box office. The latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Thor: Ragnarok" has powered itself to 650 million U.S. dollars in the global box office in less than three weeks, including a record-breaking opening in China.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its panoply of popular superheroes including Thor, Spider Man, Ironman, Captain America, Hulk, Deadpool and Guardian's of the Galaxy's irreverent rogues, has released 17 movies to date that have netted a total of 13 billion dollars globally. This makes it the highest grossing franchise in film history.
Clocking in with a huge Rotten Tomatoes critic' s index of 93 percent and audience score of 90 percent, critics attribute the third Thor movie's success to its fresh approach to the character and story.
The creators turned away from the darker, more angst-ridden stories of previous installments, and focused on giving audiences a rollicking good time instead.
Variety's Peter Debruge wrote: "Whereas the two previous Thor movies were somber battle epics directed by Kenneth Branagh (who attempted an awkward sort of pulp-Shakespeare hybrid) and Alan Taylor (a "Game of Thrones" helmer obsessed with making it gritty), respectively, the latest was clearly conceived as a wacky adventure comedy."
The Independent's Geoffrey McNab admitted, "Thor: Ragnarok is fun in its own kinetic, comic book fashion;" while Byron Bishop of The Verge unabashedly raved "the most fun I'd had in a superhero movie in years."
Chinese audiences, who tend to tire of Hollywood franchises that don't offer something new, responded well to the film's fresh approach, racking up 57 million dollars in ticket sales in three days to set a China November opening weekend record. China sales have now topped 95.2 million dollars.
New Zealand indie director, Tiaka Waititi, known for his irreverent humor in projects like "Flight of the Condors" and "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," steered the film back toward unabashed, family fun.
"I want people to be reminded that movies can be fun," Waititi told Xinhua. "We do take ourselves too seriously a lot of the time. What's nice is to be able to go and laugh and forget the outside world for a little bit. What I'd really love is for people to leave the cinema feeling happy with a smile on their faces."
"Thor: Ragnarok" also enables Chris Helmsworth to hone the comedy chops he debuted so well in "Ghostbusters" and show viewers a more amusing, less confident, more accessible side of the brawling Viking deity, while still doing justice to the complex emotional landscape and life-threatening perils confronting him.
There's "a much, much greater sense of humor in this film, a sense of adventure," Helmsworth told Xinhua. "We took bigger risks than we took before. Any time it felt familiar, we just went in a different direction. And that's when you get something unpredictable and unique."
In this installment, Thor learns the startling truth from his dying father about having a long-lost sister -- who just happens to be the demonic Goddess of Death who is Hell-bent on destroying Asgard.
Thor finds himself hammerless, powerless and kidnapped by The Grandmaster (brother of The Collector of "Guardians of the Galaxy" fame) who is humorously played by a gold-spangled Jeff Goldblum.
The Grandmaster forces Thor into an epic gladiatorial death match with his Avenger buddy, the Hulk, before they escape with a hard-drinking Valkyrie and head off to for an epic effort to try and save Thor's homeworld.
When considering having indie director, Taika Waititi, step up to direct Disney's latest Marvel Cinematic Universe installment, the studio brass told him they didn't want him to just continue what other installments had done in the past. "We want to do something very fresh and new," they said.
Waititi, who has laughingly admitted that his previous films have been about "the clumsiness of humanity," is known for his deft touch with small indie movies and quirky, 3-dimensional, authentic characters that he spools joyfully onto the screen without judgment and with a good deal of wry humor. `
But he readily embraced the chance to reinvent a Marvel superhero and said during a Business Insider interview: "I came in knowing I'd bring character, tone, and dialogue -- those are my strengths. Marvel's job really is just to keep me in my lane and make sure I'm not crashing the car," he joked.
This installment relies more heavily on the audience's connection to the characters and on revealing new and exciting worlds, while still delivering on the usual spectacular CGI-VFX and high-octane action sequences that audiences have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"From reading the comic books, I always thought we haven't always explored the other realms like we could have," Hemsworth told Xinhua. In "Thor: Ragnarok", "We get off Asgard, we get away from Earth, and we go to a whole different place."
If this box office smash is anything to go by, there's sure to be more exotic world-hopping in Thor's future.