“Thor Ragnarok” movie review

Norse mythology meets Gladiator meets 80s vintage video game in this non-stop adrenaline pumping action film. Suffice it to say, everything you’ve heard about Thor Ragnarok from your friends is true. It is an incredibly fun movie that is equally well written and directed. For anyone who follows my blog, it is no secret that I typically do not like the Disney-Marvel films (and for good reason), but the focus of this review is on THIS particular film. I state that because, honestly, I very much enjoyed this film! So, it comes from liking the structure, characters, plot etc. not just from being a fan boy, or lack thereof in this case. Not only an excellent third sequel, but this movie can easily stand on its own. Whether you have watched the other MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films or not, you can rest assured that you can enjoy this superhero movie. With the way the initial trailers were cut, I thought that this was MCU’s way of jumping onto the 80s nostalgia band wagon–not so. Oh, there is definitely an 80s video game vibe about the film, but the focus is on the characters and storytelling, not the nostalgia. There is also a self-aware element of this film. Not to the extent Deadpool is self-aware, but Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has a twinkle about his eye that winks at the audience so that we know that he is aware of the corniness and ridiculousness of the characters and plot. But the magic of this film is just how well balanced the content of the film is. There were many times that the plot lended itself to falling apart, but the solid cast held the film together and provided audiences with one of the best movies in the MCU.

When Thor learns of a dark, hidden family secret, he must confront the deadliest enemy he has ever faced off with in his life. But the legendary hero encounters far more than he ever expected. The mighty Thor finds himself imprisoned on a faraway planet and forced to battle in gladiator-style games. Little does he know that the winningest challenger on the planet is his former ally The Hulk. Thor must survive the deadly gladiator-like battles in order to build his team to defeat Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death who is destroying his home world.

One of the principle themes in this film that enables this one to be more and deeper than other MCU films is just how similar it is to a conventional war picture. There are hints of courts of intrigue as well. The complex plot provides a comprehensive foundation upon which a more superficial story can be developed in order to appeal to wide audiences, with few appreciating the deeper themes and subtext. But it takes more than effective and well-developed writing to build such a solid movie, it takes multi-dimensional characters portrayed by impeccable screen talent. You’ll find all of that in Thor Ragnarok. Although his screen time is brief, Anthony Hopkins’ Odin commands the screen with confidence, wisdom, and sincerity. Few actor’s can take a few minutes of screen time and put more cinematic magic in it than Hopkins. After all, he won his Oscar for Silence of the Lambs for his collectively few minutes on screen. Joining the cast are Jurassic Park’s Jeff Goldblum and the beautiful, talented Cate Blanchette. Goldblum’s Grandmaster of Sakkar is hilarious and brilliant. As you’d expect a Goldblum character in a film like this to be: detached intellectually from that which is seen as conventional, smart-alecky; yet, he is also petty, sadistic, and relentless. Blanchette’s Hela is elegant, sadistic, and intelligent. She is perfectly able to be the comic book-esque villain she needs to be, all while bringing about a pedigreed acting to it.

All the technical elements of the film works excellently together. The most memorable of those elements is the music, for me, followed by the visual effects. I absolutely loved the nod to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory during Thor’s transport to through Sakkar. This works because (1) the scene it shot and edited similarly to the boat scene in the aforementioned movie and (2) Goldblum’s Grandmaster is a Willy Wonka type. Throughout the film, there are 80s video game sound effects and a score that could fit into a nostalgic 8bit video game. However, the nods to Willy Wonka and video games do not overpower the more conventional score. Whereas the visual effects could have gone overboard and made the film play off as a video game, the video game like effects where carefully integrated in order for the film to maintain a high show quality.

The film was initially sold as a funky, colorful, comedic MCU film. And there are times that the film also encroaches upon that animated feel, but it never crosses that line–thankfully. The more serious aspects to the film balance out the slapstick moments. All of this works together to execute perfect pacing and plot/character development. Like with most MCU films, the more adventurous parts of the film are not quite adventurous enough to be an adventure film and there is typically a predictable nature about the film. I find that this film is not as predictable as previous MCU movies, but there is still that experience with this one. There is one particular part to the showdown of the film that prohibits this from falling victim to another cliche MCU ending with an epic battle, bodies flying through the air, and cities on fire, but I cannot reveal that without giving away the ending.

Looking for a fun movie to watch with your friends? Then this is a solid choice. Although the film has its diegetic flaws, the ways it succeeds outweighs the shortcomings. You also do not have to have seen the other Thor movies and really don’t even need to have seen the previous Avengers films, albeit helpful to understand some of the minor plot points. It’s definitely one that has re-watchabbility.

“Huntsman: Winter’s War” movie review

HuntsmanWintersWar“Let it go” Universal, Disney already has dibs on the Snow Queen. Prepare for the unnecessary prequel/sequel Huntsman: Winter’s War this weekend. It won’t take long for you to realize that you have seen this story before. Albeit, a more family friendly and Disney’d version, but this plot nevertheless. However, after researching the actual Hans Christian Andersen fairly tale The Snow Queen, it is clear that Universal Pictures does a more accurate job of adapting the fairy tale’s words than Frozen did. The problem with this attempt is that it feels like it’s coming around a little too late. With one-dimensional characters and a predictable plot, Huntsman attempts to tell the “real” story of the Snow Queen that appeals to teens and adults, but it looks so incredibly “Frozen” that it leaves you feeling like you’ve done this all before. Although there are increased action and romance scenes in the film, the whole idea of close sisters having a falling out, the one heading to the frozen north, while the other remains in the south with the north creeping on its doorstep, and love melting frozen hearts, is the foundation of the narrative and feels like a bad case of deja vu with little to add.

Travel back to the land of Snow White, and come face to face with a little known story that has yet to be told. Before poison apples and dwarfs, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister were running the kingdom after the death of the good king (Snow White’s father). Ravenna’s younger sister Freya (Emily Blunt) falls in love with a man promised to another woman but has come to bare his child. After Freya finds her lover having set fire to the nursery and the innocent child, Freya becomes acutely overcome with anger, grief, and hatred and suddenly displays powers of ice and snow. Unable to control her anger and power, Ravenna send her sister to the north to find a kingdom of her own. After having her child murdered, Freya decides to raise a kingdom by making love illegal and taking children from villages and raising them up as warriors known as huntsman. When she finds that two of the huntsman Brighton (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) have committed the unpardonable sin of falling in love, Freya steps in to put a stop to their forbidden love. Banished from the kingdom of the frozen north, Brighton is contacted by Snow White’s kingdom to retrieve the infamous mirror filled with dark magic before it falls into the wrong hands.

Every once in a while, I come across a movie that really doesn’t require a lengthy description of the critical elements of the film; and this is one of those. Just felt very much under-developed and forced. Anyone who has seen Frozenand let’s face it, that’s practically everyone whether they wanted to or not–will instantly pickup on the parallels between both movies. Huntsman: Winter’s War is definitely geared towards an adult audience but it still feels like it stole many elements from Frozen. Even the coloring and costuming are very similar. For those who have examined Frozen from a critical perspective and read up on the development of the blockbuster, you may be familiar with the evolution of the script: it starts out as an adaptation of The Snow Queen but then the writers scrapped that idea for more of a contemporary Disney animated feature story. But then the writers didn’t like that direction either, they essentially took the first half of the first draft of the script and spliced it together with the second half of the second draft, added in some catchy music and boom! You have FrozenHuntsman is similar to what you would have got in Frozen had the first draft been the produced movie.

On the plus side, this film contains some beautiful imagery and simple but stunning visual effects. The goblins are extremely well done–too bad you get so little time with them in a scene that is completely removable from the rest of the film. That scene and others were clearly under-budgeted and under-developed. Despite the fact that you can watch this movie in D-Box and IMAX, there is really no reason to spend the extra money. Watching it in a standard auditorium will suffice perfectly. If you want to get a better idea of the darkness of the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale before Elsa and Anna, then you may enjoy this movie. However, if you would rather wait for it to be on Amazon Prime or iTunes, then that works too.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers2The Avengers: Age of DULLtron. Get ready for the first big movie to usher in the summer blockbuster season. Only, you will probably find you enjoyed the first Avengers better. Writer-Director Joss Whedon returns with the highly anticipated sequel to the 2012 smash hit. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a mesmerizing, overly stuffed science-fiction/fantasy that will, in the end, leave you hungry and unsatisfied. Unlike the previous installment, this flashy yet underperforming sequel lacks satisfying plot development. It’s almost as if the movie is at its climax the entire time, with no apparent windup, little exposition, and nearly non-existent rising action. There are movies that are two-parters that have no business being split, and there are others that are one-movie that desperately needed its story to be told over two films–this is the latter. There was such potential in the story, but the plot was executed poorly. If the writers paid more attention to and spent more time on plot development and less time on funny one-liners and running jokes, which are quite appropriate and help keep the dialog balanced, then we may have had a better movie.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron takes us on an a high energy journey around the world from Eastern Europe to Africa to New York City. At the center of the movie is a once-dormant peacekeeping program initiative that was designed by the brilliant engineer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) that was inadvertently activated and developed an artificial intelligence of its own with a dark vision of what peace should look like. Taking to the internet, the AI peacekeeping program (aka Ultron) is everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. Teaming up with Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Iron Man and the Avengers must overcome personal differences and ban together to confront the peacekeeping initiative that is hell-bent on destruction. Ultron, along with other enhanced humans designed by Striker will prove to be the most daunting enemy faced by our heroes, and will have to work together like they have never done before to save the world from catastrophe.

Sounds like a great movie right?!? Well, not so fast. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the movie truly had great potential and, despite its short comings, has a phenomenal cast. But, the story structure and well-crafted writing just wasn’t there. The plot is quite dull. It really is almost as though this was a glorified filler movie to make way for the next installment Avengers: Infinity War Part 1. From a technical perspective, the film is fantastic! The special-effects, practical effects, and CGI were woven together seamlessly. Both the cinematography and direction demonstrated a true gift for telling a story visually. And, to that, I applaud the filmmakers for a commitment to visual storytelling. With the exception of the casting of Maria Hill, a role better suited for Anne Hathaway than Cobie Smulders, the cast was once again brilliantly selected and truly brought the iconic comic book characters to life for the silver screen. The additional roles of Quick Silver (Aaron Tyler-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) were also cast impeccably. And I do not feel anyone besides James Spader could have brought such life and incarnate fear to the voice of Ultron.

Before I tackle the shortfalls of the plot, the character of Ultron needs to be examined. Most any competent filmmaker, or more specifically screenwriter, will tell you that a well-developed story needs a protagonist with a well-defined external goal (often accompanied by an internal goal), and in this respect this film checks that box off; however, a screenplay–especially one of this genre–needs a well-defined antagonist with both an external and internal goal as well. And in addition to the goals of the antagonist, we also need to love or love to hate the villain. Knowing WHY the villain/antagonist does what he or she does is paramount to proper character development. Unfortunately, the audience is not told why Ultron hates humanity so much, unless you count the CNN footage Ultron quickly scrubs through in his rushed genesis. It is never a good idea for a writer-director to just expect the audience to accept the actions of the antagonist without explanation or reason. Not knowing why Ultron is determined to create peace by destroying humanity without reasonable exposition does not create a well-developed character. Whether dealing with a protagonist or his/her opposition, it should never be expected for an audience to engage in blind acceptance.

Here’s where the plot went wrong. Now, in order to critique the plot, it is unfortunately necessary to reveal information that may, but not necesserilly, spoil the movie for those who are unfamiliar with the story or the comic book series. But, I will do my best to not reveal too much. At the center of the movie is this dormant peacekeeping AI initiative designed by Stark Industries called Ultron. Funny how it was never acknowledged in the previous film and came across as a plot gimmick just to hurriedly explain the vague origins of Ultron. The simple and elementary observation of the disregard for proper story structure is evident through the fact the movie lacks an adequate introduction and development/rising action. We basically go from a rushed first act and touch on the second act, then skip directly to a bloviated third act. Where’s the windup? Not here. Being a science-fiction movie, that means that certain laws of science should be adhered to in order to increase the believability and sell-ability of the story. Most anyone who has taken a science class in middle or high school knows that the higher the elevation, the lower the oxygen level, the lower the oxygen level, the slower the brain functions and the more mitigated the functionality of the lungs. I just don’t buy the fact that no one suffers from high altitude sickness when the Eastern European city hangs in the atmosphere above the mountains. The lack of oxygen isn’t even mentioned at all. Even if you buy the fact that the Avengers have somehow overcame this physiological obstacle, the citizens of the city are certainly bound by normal human respiration and circulation.

Over-all the movie is exciting and, despite its shortcomings, is a perfect movie to usher in the coveted summer blockbuster season. It is the first of many highly anticipated summer movies including Disney’s Tomorrowland and Universal’s Jurassic World. Hopefully the next installment in The Avengers series will make up for the structural and logical fallacies in this movie, and spend more time on the writing for the next one. Whether you’re a comic book or super hero fan or not, this is definitely a movie that will add excitement to your weekend. And, for those that are graduating this weekend and next, this film makes for a great way to start a weekend of parties and celebrations.