Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok

By: Kevin Jordan

Party on.

Among other things, here’s what I said about Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 – “It felt like two hours of dudes fucking around on a film set for two-plus hours and calling it a movie.”  Thor: Ragnarok is those same dudes throwing an epic party where everything goes off perfect and everyone talks about it for the rest of their lives.  Lucky for you, everyone is invited.

(Mild SPOILERS and I’m sorry for all of them.)

The film picks up two years after the events of Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) dangling in a cage, then bantering with a fire demon.  This scene is extremely important in that it sets the tone of the movie at roughly a beer and a shot into the party.  Serious, semi-moody Thor is no more, replaced with a Thor who has obviously been hanging out with Star-Lord a lot.  Immediately following this scene is another in which Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is eating grapes while watching a revisionist version of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) death.  Since we all remember the end of Thor: The Dark World, we know that isn’t really Odin and Thor confronts him.  Like the opening scene, this one is all fun and giggles and the tone is now the same as you answering the door at the party and greeting the guy with the cooler full of Jell-O shots and he is Jeff Goldblum.

Fun Bobby is here!

In a movie bursting with great actors and brilliant performances, you can’t go wrong picking any of them.  For me, Goldblum as Grandmaster wins because the role fit him to a tee.  Grandmaster governs a planet that is one giant garbage dump (literally), running gladiatorial death games as the main entertainment.  Grandmaster is Dr. Malcolm, Jack Sparrow, and The Dude hitting a bong while hosting a game show.  Brilliant is almost an understatement in this case.

The rest of the movie is a series of those scenes featuring characters as awesome as Grandmaster.  It’s scene after scene of max fun, silliness, standout performances, and perfectly timed jokes.  And, it gets even better than that because this movie has a plot and also moves us much closer to Infinity War.  Ragnarok is a prophecy foretelling the destruction of Asgard, as Thor and Loki learn from the dying Odin.  They also learn they have an exiled sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the God of Death, who draws all of her power from Asgard.  Pretty ominous, right?  Don’t worry.  She is easily having as much fun in this movie as everyone else and Hela is weirdly endearing.  Anyway, she follows Thor and Loki in one of those rainbow teleporter tunnels and makes it to Asgard, while knocking Loki and Thor out prior to their arrival (that’s how they end up on the trash planet).  Unfortunately, Heimdall (Idris Elba) disappears with the big sword that works the teleporter, so she’s stuck in Asgard and can’t begin her conquest of the universe.  You might think the party just took a turn for the serious, but Blanchett is the one doing keg stands and kicking everyone’s ass at beer pong.

Best. Party. Ever.

That’s the crux of it and it’s so simple.  Thor must escape the garbage planet to stop Hela from going on a conquering spree.  Where it ties into the greater MCU narrative is in the supporting cast and where the movie ends up when the credits roll.  And what party isn’t complete without the main body of guests?  Since standalone Incredible Hulk movies have not gone well, and Ironman and Captain America got their buddy film, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) returns after disappearing during the climactic battle against Ultron to form another Avengers buddy movie with Thor.  Since there is no way you haven’t seen a trailer for Ragnarok, you already know that Thor has to face off against Hulk in Grandmaster’s arena and it is you doing navel shots and everyone dancing to Love Shack (baby).

Dancing with you is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who is as badass as anyone in the film in a fight and seems as if she’s been part of this franchise since Tony Stark blasted out of that cave so many years ago.  The chemistry she has with Hemsworth and Ruffalo defies belief and she damn well better be invited to the next party.  Behind you is Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who didn’t stay at the party too long (one scene), but reminds you why he’s always invited.  His scene is more of a foreshadowing of things to come, but he gets to show off his power and match witticisms with Thor and Loki.  If Strange’s toying with Thor and Loki and casually dismissing them means anything it’s that he’s going to be pivotal when Thanos finally makes his move.  Finally, that’s Skurge (Karl Urban) over there in the corner, wanting to join the dance, but not sure how to.  He seems out of place and uncomfortable and nobody remembers inviting him.  He hangs out with Hela for survival purposes and is basically a lost puppy dog for most of the film, but damned if he doesn’t bring it when the life-sized Jenga challenges are thrown down.  Ok, I’m really stretching the analogy, so let’s wrap this party up.

Who wouldn’t do shots off that?

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen actors visibly having as much fun in a movie as in Ragnarok.  The ease in which these characters come to life in the most entertaining ways possible is astounding, even for such seasoned actors as these.  I especially loved unrestrained Hemsworth and Blanchett knocking their performances out of the park.  The movie pushes the boundaries of action-comedy to the brink of absurdity, but there’s just enough restraint to keep it from crossing the line.  Yeah, there are tiny moments of stupidity (they couldn’t resist a bad poop joke, Hulk somehow stays Hulk for two solid years, and Hulk even manages to speak in almost complete sentences now), but what epic party doesn’t include the guy puking in the bushes?  Everyone else helps puking guy to a bed to sleep it off, then they all sing 80s rock ballads until they’re hoarse.  By the end of the night, they all pass out together in one giant mass of bodies in the living room, waking up with all their clothes on and realizing, with a smile, that everyone is still just friends.  It’s the party of the year, friends.

Rating: Worth ten times (or more) what you’ll pay for it and you won’t stop talking about it for months.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

By: Kevin Jordan

Give me more!

avengers_age_of_ultron

Are you tired of superhero/comic book movies yet?  Apparently, a lot of critics and film snobs are, based on their latest round of whining in reviews of The Avengers: Age of Ultron (the film was released internationally last week, so reviews are everywhere).  And, it’s not just them – a lot of regular moviegoers have been complaining about the number of superhero/comic book movies too.  Listening to all of these people talk, you’d think half the movies released in the past ten years or so fit in that category.  Of course, we’ve heard this Chicken Little refrain before, and they were rightfully ignored as well.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth and I’ll prove it.  If we start with the beginning of Marvel’s domination of Hollywood and your bank account, we also find the most saturated year for those movies in the history of the industry – 2008.  Already, you’re thinking “bullshit; that can’t be right.”  2008 saw the release of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, Punisher: War Zone, Hancock, and The Spirit.  Toss in Jumper (actually a novel and not a “graphic novel”) and Wanted (which really comes off as just a straight action movie) and you have nine of those movies.  No other year has had more than six and this year has the fewest releases (three – Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Fantastic Four) since 2002 (only Blade 2 and Spider-Man).  Not convinced yet?  In any given year, there are approximately 600 movies released world-wide, 200-300 of which make it to theaters.  If we do the math, that’s between three and nine superhero/comic book movies out of more than two hundred or more.  That is not too many unless you don’t understand math (in all fairness, I understand why people think there are so many – it’s because they make tons of money and get tons of attention).  If anything, there are not enough because nothing belongs on a big screen more than these movies.  In contrast, there were 24 American and British horror films released just last year (which is how many total superhero/comic book movies were released from 2010-2014), and nobody complains about that, even though most horror movies aren’t worth the time, effort, or money of a theater trip.  What I’m trying to say is sit down, shut up, eat your popcorn, and enjoy a movie that is ridiculously entertaining.

In related news, Age of Ultron is the eleventh movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is easily as good as Guardians of the Galaxy, if not The Avengers.  Incidentally, that’s the other reason I don’t understand the complaining – the quality of these movies has only improved and every one of them is, at worst, very entertaining.  More is not a bad thing unless we’re talking about mutant turtles or exotic marigold hotels.  The Incredible Hulk may have been a fairly bad movie, but it beats sitting through slogs like Boyhood.

Like its predecessor, Age of Ultron isn’t going to win any awards for plot, but like its predecessor, it doesn’t need to.  The plot is the same as every superhero/comic book movie before it – bad guy wants to destroy humanity and the Avengers must stop him.  What matters is that the characters don’t get ruined by bad writing, the overarching plotline of the Infinity Stones progresses, and things go boom.  Anyone complaining that the plot isn’t original or that the movie is overstuffed (and a lot of critics are saying just that) are people who hate life, kick puppies, and write things purely as click-bait.  They also dismiss all of the smaller things happening in the movie that are very interesting and make it well worth watching.

(Mild SPOILERS coming.)

For one thing, James Spader steals the spotlight as Ultron, the titular villain and artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to bring peace to the world. (Ultron wants to bring peace alright, but quickly realizes – like Skynet before him – that the only way to do that is to rid the world of humans.)  Spader’s smarmy delivery, sans any robotic or growly Batman-esque intonations, sets Ultron apart from any other movie robot before him.  He’s so humanlike, you often forget he’s a robot until he reminds other characters of that fact.  Essentially, he’s playing a James Bond villain if Bond villains had a sense of humor.

Building on top of that, the movie takes time to further humanize the rest of the team.  Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a family, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a heart, Banner and Stark have scientific blinders doubling as fatal flaws, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) have doubt, and Jarvis (Paul Bettany) gets a body.  I’d argue that saving the world is less interesting than what all of those things mean for the future of the characters and the team.

Another thing is that the wit and banter between all of the Avengers is as fun as ever (and the thing that is sorely missing from DC’s movies, save The Green Lantern).  There’s a running joke about bad language and an entire scene devoted to lifting Thor’s hammer – as well as dozens of smaller quips and japes throughout the film – all of which kept the audience laughing and the film from taking itself too seriously.  Perhaps the best moment of the film comes when Hawkeye acknowledges how ridiculous it is that he fights with a bow and arrow.  I mean, come on – how can anyone not like a movie that can pull off a stunt like that without coming across as a joyless hobgoblin?

Perhaps the best thing about the movie is what I liked the most about the first film – none of the characters seem expendable, none of them are short-changed, and there seem to be more than ever.  The film introduces two new characters – Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) – Russian siblings who have been enhanced by Hydra with the help of Loki’s scepter.  The two are given back stories that explain how they got their powers and their motivations and ample screen time for the audience to enjoy them.  The two actors even manage to make us forget how bad they sucked in last year’s Godzilla.  Plus, even the bit roles for lesser characters (War Machine, Falcon, Agent Hill, Agent Carter, Nick Fury, Heimdall, Professor Selvig, Thanos) work since they remind you that this movie is just a chapter or two of a very large story.  And yes, that’s a lot of characters.

If the movie has any real flaw (besides the 3-D), it’s that a couple of the action sequences rely a little too heavily on CGI and it’s very noticeable.  The opening scene in particular, while exciting and fun, leaves a little to be desired in the realism department (yes, I realize how that sounds).  I think the problem is that Joss Whedon (writer/director) had something in particular he wanted to show, but that something was impossible to do with actual humans, so the computer got the full assignment.  Maybe time and schedule dictated it be done this way, but it’s definitely the worst part of the movie.  It’s a flaw, but a small one that is easily forgiven because of the rest of the movie.

The real problem with this movie is that the rest of the summer is going to be downhill.  There are quite a few movies to look forward to this summer, but what are the chances that any of them are going to be as fun and entertaining?  Sure, Mad Max: Fury Road looks like a crazy romp, Chris Pratt may or may not actually be a velociraptor (Jurassic World), Arnold will be back (Terminator: Genisys), The Fantastic Four is rebooting itself, Paul Rudd is Ant-Man(?!), and Rogue Nation is Tom Cruise’s next impossible mission, but….wait, nevermind.  Give me more!!!

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, then, pay to see it again.  Nobody ever ate steak and thought “there’s too much steak being made.”  They just sat down, ate it, and enjoyed it.