Darke Reviews | Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

There are now officially seventeen movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They come in varying quality, public, and critical opinions. I have seen all of them at this point, including Doctor Strange when it came to Netflix. My issues with the movie stand. As it pertains to the rest of the series, I do find my opinions differ than many, many others, as I rather like Iron Man 2 and loathe Iron Man 3. I think the rationale for Doctor Strange as mentioned before is B.S. and even after watching it I found it even more so. I think Thor is solid, but slow, but solid and shows that Marvel was still finding its footing on the MCU. Thor 2 is completely and totally forgettable.

So where does Thor: Ragnarok rate?

It was quickly noted how much they (Marvel) was going for a Guardians of the Galaxy feel on this one. My criticisms of Thor being slow and Dark World being bleak AND slow were common; which lead to a complete and total 180 on film styles. I am going to refer to this going forward on all reviews as the Suicide Squad Effect (SSE). Why? Due to the initial grey and bleak promo for Suicide Squad, DC went back and re edited the movie, re-shot, and recoloured it to make it more vibrant and “fun”. It became even brighter and more colourful with each trailer that came with. With the unprecedented success of Guardians of the Galaxy and it’s style it was clear that Marvel decided to go in this new direction full bore with the third and ostensibly final in that particular franchise. This goes as far as bringing in director Taika Waititi best known for Flight of the Conchors and the new cult classic What We Do in the Shadows (he also plays Viago in that) – which I somehow haven’t done an official review of?

Going to a full on comedy director like this isn’t unheard of for Marvel but the brand of humor is an interesting choice, more on that in a minute since what he has to work with is based on script. A script by Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle, who have mostly done writing for Marvel cartoons and comics; though Yost was also behind last years bomb Max Steel. They both get points for creating X-23 though, but much of this work for non written media production is around cartoons, especially for younger children. Eric Pearson is our third writer, that’s right rule of 3 invocation has begun, who has only written some of the Marvel one shots, such as The Consultant, and Agent Carter. He was also an executive Story Editor on the Agent Carter series. What I take from this is that Disney and Marvel were running a gamble that newer writers with less experience on blockbuster movies might be a good idea. People who have written for their target demographic will be able to help sell a Thor movie, which has proven a challenge historically.

I’d like to say it worked.

It didn’t for me. There was just too much…of everything; yet at the same time some plot holes you could fly a Death Star through. The movie jumps across too many locations and shots so quickly very little of it has time to sink in and let it resonate. Some obvious green screen effects which differ from trailer shots don’t help. An early sequence extends what was previously a post credit stinger and just goes too long and has far too much near slapstick comedy to work for me. I am not saying the movie can’t be funny. I am saying you need to balance your moments and the movie doesn’t do that. The script doesn’t allow for it and Waititi’s direction during those moments save some of it, but make others worse. If you underplay your epic moments they cease being epic. Sure you can satirize them, but is that wise to use the humor as punctuation marks through the movie called Ragnarok? A movie where Thor loses his hammer? Is Prisoner? Is facing the Goddess of Death?

This isn’t to say it’s all humor all the time, but it never allows for any emotional resonance to take place that isn’t around the humor. There are some epic moments which are still well and truly epic, but surrounding clunky dialogue and odd beats can cheapen them. There are, again, some really great shots and moments but most of them are cheapened by a weird or off putting joke or bit of dialogue.

The acting though saves it. Chris Hemsworth has good comedic timing and does his best to let the more intense moments last a bit longer or be a bit bigger than the camera and script allow. He’s showing a Thor who actually has been through all the other movies and learned a thing or two which is nice. Tom Hiddleston is as always amazing, then there’s his performance as Loki. He…doesn’t work as well as he could. He works, but this isn’t the Loki we got to know through the other movies and I am not sure why. Hiddleston is as good as he can possibly can be with the shackles, but there’s only so much the man can do. Jeff Goldblum played Jeff Goldblum as you would expect and was fine. Idris Elba was fine as Heimdall. There are some amusing hidden cameo’s which are fine. Karl Urban is like the others and does what he can and is fine. Most of the actors are just fine.

I haven’t mentioned Cate Blanchett? No. I Haven’t because she is more than fine. She comes out in full force and not even this script can stop her. Her take on Hela (not Hel to be clear) is amazing and menacing. She does carry some weight even if the fight scenes with her don’t. She is bloody awesome, but you know what’s odd – there’s someone I like more, but only a little more. Tessa Thomspon (Westworld, Creed) is Valkyrie and we are here for it. She is an absolute scene stealer at all times. All times. She’s bad ass from her entry to the credits rolling and looks good while doing it. Her dialogue is only slightly less cringey than others but again she makes it work like Blanchett does. All points to the women in this movie.

You probably want to know about the action and fight scenes? Yes. They are good. They are shot pretty good too with a mix of wides and mids to let you see what the action even looks like. It really works for the movie. The Hulk vs Thor scene is worth it. The fight on the Rainbow bridge is excellent (see above for Valkyrie entrance on this). The action is really solid in the movie when it happens; but at 2 hours and 10 minutes the movie runs a bit longer than it needs to. There are other technicals I could harp on but they mostly go back to script, editing, and what can only be some significant material on the cutting room floor.

TL:DR?

Everyone and their mother will be talking about how fun Thor is. How awesome it is. How it is one of the better MCU movies.

I think it’s OK. I found myself annoyed at the overt comedy, distracting beats, and odd pacing. It is certainly not the worst of the MCU by a long shot. I know comedy and I don’t typically get along well so your mileage may vary on this one. The action is solid. The acting is the best it can be from the actors with the script they have. The effects are pretty solid as well as is the camera work. The movie just suffers on a genetic level with it’s tone because it leans too far to the comedy to carry any weight to the moments that should.

Should you see it?

Matinee. I mean I know a lot will pay full price, but I wouldn’t. I am not sure if 3-D will help on the visuals. I know that D-Box was kinda interesting for it.

Are you going to see it agai – wait D Box?

First – no. Not likely. Second – most theatres are going through and adding reclining seats to their houses in light of how well that is taking off and to compete with chains that have seating like that plus alcohol and such. They also have a “4 D” experience as well with chairs that recline and such, but also move and jostle and vibrate with the action. You saw this in limited scope in shows like T-2 3D at Universal Studios 20 years ago, it’s advanced enough to get into main chains and try out. It’s been interesting so far, but between this and Geostorm I don’t have a lot to judge on. If you do get motion sick – no.

Ok cool – will you buy it?

Probably if I am being honest. I think the movie is Ok. It was fun mostly. Valkyrie and Hela make it work. Some of the third act effects and fights are really nice.

You know we have to ask – whats the MCU order right now?

This comes with a caveat – Dr. Strange is at the bottom due to justifiable (in my opinion) boycott and is based solely on what I think of them as movies. Still not 100% on the middle of the list, but I am pretty sure on my top 5. The list has changed with time since some of the reviews have come out and I had time to think on them as well. I was once far kinder to movies than I am today. I am not sure if the movies are worse or I’ve come to expect more. Maybe both? Probably just me though.

A lot of the reviews linked. I would rewrite now, but they are what they are.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. Marvel’s The Avengers
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Iron Man
  5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  6. Iron Man 2
  7. Captain America: Civil War
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Thor: Ragnarok
  11. Thor
  12. The Incredible Hulk
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  14. Ant-Man
  15. Thor: The Dark World
  16. Iron Man 3
  17. Doctor Strange
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Darke Reviews | Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

So I did the math on the way home. Took the day off and spent the better part of it at the theatre. Granted I slept til 1:30 then headed over, but yeesh. Was it worth it though? Double Feature of Avengers and then Age of Ultron, discounts on food and drink. Conversation with another movie geek on the comics, animated movies, and general geektitude. Yep all of it was worth it. It was weird hearing people in the audience who hadn’t seen Avengers first and odd to note things that raised questions in the first Avengers in light of Winter Soldier. But…did Age of Ultron live up to the hype?

Let’s be honest folks – you are going to see it anyway regardless of this review. This easily falls into the #seeitanyway category. Let me see if I can keep to my usual spoiler free territory.

Written and directed by geek god Joss Whedon, the film picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the events of all the previous films. It starts mid-stride with the Avengers continuing to try to find Loki’s staff in the wake of the events of Avengers. It’s clear they’ve worked together awhile on various missions enough so that they have clear roles and methods in how they work with each others powers, or lack there of. A new threat of their own making rises in the form of Ultron. An AI with a goal and the Avengers must overcome their internal issues and external ones to win the day, will they?

Lets talk the cast a moment. Our favorites return in the roles that we love them for. Chris Evans is once again on point as Captain America, he still has his ghosts, but as Dr. Irskin asked of him – be a good man. RDJ of course returns as Iron Man with no real acknowledgement of the events of Iron Man 3 one way or the other. I think we are better for that. He was made to play Tony Stark, but it is clear that he is both comfortable and tired of the role. Mark Ruffalo is given significantly more time as Bruce Banner and is allowed to show more than he did in the previous film. I still believe he is a secretly genius casting and he does well with what he is given. Chris Hemsworth takes Thor out for his 4th outing and doesn’t do much new or at all I suppose. ScarJo gets her own 4th showing as Black Widow, the assassin and spy, and is actually given more depth this time with the barest glimpse into her background.  Jeremy Renners complaints were clearly heard after the last movie and has a lot more time as Hawkeye with some significant divergence from his comic roots. They don’t hurt, but they are surprising. Samuel L Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders all become proof positive that the writer and producers heard the complaints about Iron Man 3 and went ‘oh yeah, all of these guys exists and you know should be here…even briefly’. Sadly we get no Paltrow or Portman as Pepper and Jane; which we do hear some snark about in film – it’s nice. Of course we also have the introduction of Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick Ass, Godzilla) as Pietro Maximoff, who can’t be called Quicksilver due to rights issues, and his twin sister Wanda Maximoff, more commonly known as the Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Old Boy). Ultron is gifted with the voice of our favorite man in a fedora from Blacklist, James Spader. I swear this man could read a phone book and make it sound delicious.

Whew….was that too busy?

That there is the movies problem. It’s taken me twenty minutes to think about this and a good twenty minutes talking with my partner in crime this evening. The problem here is the film is too busy. Too big. We aren’t given a chance to breathe, save one scene. The scene we are ostensibly supposed to be able to revel in the quiet, is just too tense to enjoy the moment. It’s off putting rather than relaxing. The tension was ramped up and kept at a certain level that left you bordering on uncomfortable. It all was too much. Too many locations, too many fights, too many cuts. Too busy.

Things that need explanation are left painfully vague or explained too quick to sink in. There is expectation you have seen everything to this point and if you haven’t you may scratch your head at a few scenes. It’s clear there are significant cuts and edits to the film as well as a few scenes from the trailer are noticeably missing. I think Joss stumbled on this one, it’s not a failure, but it is a clear stumble. He wrote himself into corners he didn’t know how to write himself out of elegantly or cleanly. When he did give himself a needed out, the outs came off awkward. While I am rarely one to encourage films to be split into two, I think there was enough material here that this could have or should have been. It wasn’t in the plan so it couldn’t be and the narrative pays for it. I feel, I believe the studio interfered more this time as well. Joss is far from perfect, but there’s just something wrong about the entire picture on a level I can’t quite put my finger on. It is almost as if they were trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle they had with the first Avengers and didn’t quite stick the landing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve overly expounded on the problems here, but the movie is still solid. You will continue to love and hate the characters as appropriate. The fight sequences are solid in their own right. The movie properly zooms into comic book physics without batting an eye and we are ok with all of this. The movie still has humor in the right places and darkness in the others. The famous Hammer and party sequence are everything I hoped they would be. Spaders voice work and mo cap of Ultron is in a word incredible. The man’s presence can be felt even if he himself is not on screen.

TL;DR

The movie lands solidly in the better than average to as low as the “it’s ok” realm. I might (probably) watch it again to see if my opinions on it shift the needle in either direction. This is still likely to be one of the biggest movies of the year, though Furious Seven has set a benchmark that will make it hard for other films to hit. This one, probably will though – and deserves to. The movie **is** good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t quite as good as the last Avengers and doesn’t quite have the same magic.

If you were going to see it – see it! You’d ignore the review or not want to read it anyway (despite me being spoiler free when possible)

If you were on the fence – eh…see it Matinee.

If you were curious – I’d ask what rock you’ve been living under and why you haven’t seen the others. You definitely don’t want to start on this however, and you’d likely feel lost as there’s enough history required for this one to not make this a first timers film.

 

Coming Soon

Review season has begun, I get the next week off after that. Mad Max and Pitch Perfect in the same weekend – thankfully not vying for the same audiences. Tomorrowland follows with San Andreas the week after (though that review will be late due to Phoenix Comicon). The rest of summer after that looks to be hit and miss. Here’s hoping folks.

Sunday, you might get a special throwback review…Big Trouble In Little China has a screening at one of my local theatres.

Darke Reviews | Thor: The Dark World (2013)

 

Ah how I love Hollywood and its need to get even a few more dollars to make the opening weekend look even better. First it was Midnight showings, technically making them released on the official release day. Then the 11PM, 10pm and 9pm showings came; now we have 8pm. Soon a Friday release means noon thursday! Though in all fairness and sarcasm aside it’s nice for an amateur like myself to see a film “early” so I can give my dear readers a review before they take the opportunity themselves. It’s even better when I can see it with friends who do not keep my hours. Let’s get to the review shall we?

Honest Trailers really nailed Thor in their recent video. This movie exists so you know who the Point Break guy will be in Avengers. It had a difficult job ahead of it and quite honestly not the best director to do it. Kenneth Brannagh had to find a way to introduce Thor, Jane Foster, Loki, Odin, The Warriors 3, Sif, the realms of the universe, tie it to the current continuity of the Marvel verse and still not introduce the concept of magic. That’s a tall order for any director. It’s also interesting that both Marvel and DC have explicitly avoided the mystical characters to date in their successful films. Brannagh did alright, not great, but alright with the first film. It created an unexpected bonus where Loki was the most interesting thing about the film, a trend to be repeated apparently. I really think us girls love him because hes adorable and would be a project we can try to fix. That’s a discussion for another time.

The sequel picks up where The Avengers left off and while my spoiler free disclaimer remains for Thor 2, the Avengers is beyond the statute of limitations. Loki has been imprisoned back on Asgard. Thor has not returned to Jane since he left her in New Mexico. Jane for reasons we cannot tell fully is not working for, with or even near SHIELD. Thor, The Warriors Three and Sif have been battling across the Nine Realms trying to bring peace and order to them after the Bifrost was destroyed during the events of the first movie. Everyone seems happy to tell Thor he needs to stop pining for Jane and Jane herself is doing a poor job of trying to move on. She still has loyal and snarky wingman and intern Darcy helping to track anomalies with a slightly off kilter (justifiably) Erik Selvig. During an investigation Jane is reunited with Thor and an ancient enemy resurfaces in a ploy to destroy the known Universe. Pushed to his very limits Thor is forced to obtain the aid of the one person he knows he cannot trust, his brother.

There is the high level synopsis spoiler free. Marvel handed the reins (reigns?) of this film to Alan Taylor. Don’t know the name? Neither did I. He is mostly a TV director who did 6 episodes of Game of Thrones and 9 of the Sopranos. How they picked him? I do not know. What I do know is he didn’t do a bad job. The shots were good, the acting was good, the fighting was watchable, all in all good direction on a script that had me scratching my head a few times.

The movie does fall prey to the too many writers problem in which we have 5 different writing credits; not including the comic books three credits. The story is by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot) and Don Payne (Thor, Fantastic Four 2). Knowing this in retrospect I can see where certain script elements appeared and why other elements were the way they were. The story was then adapted to screenplay by three men. Stephen McFeely (Captain America, Pain & Gain), Christopher Markus (same), and Christopher Yost (a slew of animated Marvel shows). This to me explains why there were scenes where the entire theatre erupted in laughter ( for good reason). sadly it also explains between the five of them why there was a women in fridges moment and a certain air of ..a very unwanted love triangle. I know that the film is supposed to be about Thor, but the Warriors 3 and Sif were his companions more than any other and they are woefully and painfully under utilized here. Granted they get more to do here than in Thor, but its still not good. And Love Triangles! Gah. I was annoyed when I suspected it, then it was confirmed. They aren’t needed, they are rarely liked and even more rarely handled well.

Ok, lets talk the actors. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki steals every bloody scene he is in. No one can keep up with him even if they try. One particular shape-shifting scene brought the house down. He is the absolute best thing about the movie. Hemsworth is delicious to look at and really acts well beyond the looks. There are times I think he was sick when his accent gets so thick and his voice drops an octave or two. It’s clear he gets the arrogance that Thor is to have, but has also learned humility over the years. Portman plays the fish out of water and love interest remarkably well and in a way that isn’t annoying. I was hoping to see more proactiveness from her early on but they deliver well enough at the end.

Anthony Hopkins seems to be showing his age beyond the make up in this turn as Odin. Rene Russo is actually given something to do briefly and gets more than two lines which is nice to see as she’s the bloody Queen of Asgard. I reiterate that Jaimie Alexander isn’t utilized well enough through the film as Sif and some of the times she is I want to hit a writer. Zarchary Levi (Chuck) replaces Josh Dallas (Once Upon a Time) as Fandral seamlessly and he even gets to buckle some swashes. Hogun and Volstag are barely used thus their actors have little screen time or epicness that could have been given. Kat Dennings returns from being a Broke Girl to playing Darcy the snarky. She’s almost overused.

Christopher ( Dr. Who) Eccleston plays the villain Malekith. I will be honest, through the trailers and much of the film I did not recognize him. The make up was superb and the post production work on his voice were really well done. He actually brings a suitable air of menace to the film that we didn’t have in the first much.

The technicals. Le sigh. During one sequence I half expected to hear a young Jake Lloyd go “Yippee” and some bad commentator talk about the Pod Racing. The sound mixing and effects were so completely unoriginal it took me out of what should have been a fun sequence. Visually Asgard looked slightly less CGI than before and overall was rather well done. The effects of the big bad however. Not so much. While they did for the most part have some of the best lighting for it that made it match the atmosphere and environment around it – it just wasn’t working. There were times it reminded me of Blade or Fantastic Four 2. Hmmm…

Also – Puppeh!!!

TL;DR?

Despite some of the harsh comments above, it really is an enjoyable two hours. It’s far from a perfect film and still less flawed than the original. I don’t regret the time or the price unlike another Marvel film this year. I can safely tell everyone go see the film; I doubt you will be as critical as I am. I think this one is a movie people of all ages can enjoy but I do recommend watching Thor and or The Avengers first.

No breakdowns on this one, just see it. Matinee or full price, I think you will get your monies worth.

Stay allllllllllllll the way through the credits. Two scenes in this one.