Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Movie Review

thor ragnarok

The ultimate cinematic dilemma is how to make the next comic book movie stand out from the (many, many) others? The brilliant answer comes from director Taika Waititi and co-writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost – a screwball superhero action film that delivers not only intense action scenes, but also a compelling villain for the ages in a movie that may be the funniest of 2017.

For those who prefer their superheroes dark and brooding, you’ll be in for a shock. Prepare for Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster – the most polite villain we’ve seen in awhile, and one who looks to be straight out of the 1960’s “Batman” series. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is one of many returning actors/characters, only this time he really gets to flex his comedic timing on top of his Thunder God biceps. His love- hate, trust-no trust, see-saw relationship with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in full force, as is the rivalry and banter with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s certainly more in line with Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Avengers installments.

As much fun as Goldblum brings to the party, this is really Cate Blanchett’s show. She is the frightening Goddess of Death, long-lost sister of Thor and Loki, and daughter of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). With a costume which is very faithful to the comics (and we get a few versions throughout the movie), Hela’s enormous powers are powerful enough to destroy Mjolnir with little effort, not to mention much of Asgard and key players within.

Of course, with that title, we know that the story revolves around what could be the end of Asgard. Joining in the fun are: Idris Elba who is back as Heimdall, Tessa Thompson as a master of one-liners Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Skurge – rewarded with a wonderful exit scene, Ray Stevenson returns as Volstagg, and rocky alien Korg who is voiced by director Waititi. Fans of the series will be happy to know other familiar faces pop up periodically – one especially magical sequence teaches Loki a quick lesson.

In addition to the main rescue story line, the powerful villains, and crazy aliens, there are numerous nods and tributes to well known storylines from the comic books (notably Planet Hulk, and Fantastic Four), and a hilarious early stage play with three cameos that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Special acknowledgment goes to director Taika Waititi for adeptly taking the comic book film world down a different path. While he’s mostly known for his comedic projects like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, and his work on the brilliant but short-lived “Flight of the Conchords”, this is still very much a Marvel movie, with the visible fingerprints of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. It’s also a fantastic adventure film that sets the stage for 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, while also featuring the best use ever of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. This is without a doubt a great addition to the MCU.

 

9 out of 10 stars

……………………………………….

Advertisements

Annihilation (2018) – Movie Review

Annihilation is another solid entry in the dark, cerebral sci-fi genre for director Alex Garland, though compared to his debut (Ex Machina) it is decidedly less consistent. The film’s somber atmosphere and otherworldly visuals are its major strengths. There are some truly striking and memorable images in this film that manage to be alien, haunting, and disarmingly beautiful, often all at the same time. The final act of the film is certainly its centerpiece and is where its most powerful and piercing images reside. These final 20 minutes are where the film reaches its full potential, offering up a nearly wordless denouement that is hypnotic, visually spectacular, and unsettlingly bizarre. It’s certainly worth seeing just for this sequence.

What comes before the finale is more of a mixed bag. I get the sense that the core goal for this film was to capture that warped, uncanny quality of like-minded classic sci-fi films like Tarkovsky’s Stalker while exploring the nature of identity and other philosophical and psychological themes. It is at its best in its most uncompromising and avant-garde moments that dive head-first into achieving that goal. However, there are a considerable number of sequences in the film that feel more traditional and comparatively uninspired, more along the lines of what you would see in a less heady and ambitious sci-fi thriller. Given that Garland was picked up by a major studio (Paramount) for this release based on the success of Ex Machina, which was a much smaller and more independent production, I have to wonder if these were concessions made to the studio to make the film more accessible to a wide audience.

On further investigation, there is some evidence to support this idea as Paramount reportedly nearly forced Garland to significantly alter the finale due to poor test screenings, fearing the film was “too intellectual” and would not play well to a wide audience. Ultimately, Garland fought and won the battle to keep the film unaltered, though the result was that Paramount backed out on giving it an international theatrical release, shifting the rights to Netflix instead for regions outside of the U.S., Canada, and China. This kind of pressure from major studios is so often what suffocates the artistic integrity of directors and, although Garland succeeded in keeping the film unaltered for a hefty price, it’s possible that this pressure influenced the film and contributed to the clash between the more uncompromising elements and the somewhat mundane, typical thriller sequences.

Still, the film at large succeeds as a worthy addition to the genre even if it doesn’t quite reach the artistry of a film like Under the Skin (a much more uncompromising modern sci-fi classic that I highly recommend if you enjoyed this). Although I didn’t love the whole film, I wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of the genre based on the strength of its visuals and its fantastic final act. It certainly further establishes Garland as a talent to watch and I’m excited for his future output, especially if he’s able to work with a studio that is willing to trust him with full creative control.

 

8 out of 10 stars

…………………………………………..