Tuesday’s Reviews: Thor Ragnarok (2017)

Cate Blanchett, Chris Hemsworth, comic book, comic books, films, fuck yeah, fucking funny, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, review, silly, Thor, Tom Hiddleston

I have to say , considering the quality of the previous 2 Thor films, it’s been pretty difficult to be a fan of Marvel’s God of Thunder. He has always been my favourite male superhero in the Marvel comic book world but it’s been hard to convince non-comic book fans that he deserves that title. Iron Man is the funny and cool one thanks to RDJ. Captain America has, the best Marvel film, Winter Solider, to make himself look better. But Thor? He’s had a pretty poor showing in terms of solo film outings. I say as someone who adores the first Thor film but also understands that it leaves a lot to be desired. I understand the second one is dire but we don’t need to go into that again. This back catalogue of frustratingly weak films have meant that a lot of people have overlooked Thor. He hasn’t made enough of an impact. His own films are just irritatingly lacking and he tends to get lost in the huge ensembles of the two Avengers movies. Heck, he wasn’t even allowed in Civil War. Instead Thor was benched along with the other Avenger that nobody really knows what to do with: the Hulk. The problem is the very concept of the Thunder God. He’s so caught up in mythology that there is a tendency to play him straight. Living up in his own realm of the God’s means he feels even less realistic than the rest of the line-up and that really is saying something. His roles in these films have left Thor feeling like the weak link in the chain. He’s neither the funniest, the most badass, nor the most memorable of the Avengers. Hollywood just doesn’t know what to do with him. Or at least they didn’t. From the minute the first images of Ragnarok came out I was convinced this would be the film we Thor fans have been waiting for. It had Guardians of the Galaxy style humour, an 80s aesthetic, and a fucking awesome soundtrack. Even before I’d seen it I was sure it was going to be my cup of tea. Of course, the fact that it would also serve as the closest we’d get to a Planet Hulk movie was just an added bonus.

The main problem that I remember from watching Thor: The Dark World is that it tried far too hard to be dark. It was around the time that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was at the height of its popularity and before Zack fucking Snyder made us all weary of the grungy, angsty comic book movie. It didn’t really have that fun, silliness, or, at the very least, self-awareness that the best Marvel films have in buckets. It was all dark elves, family melodrama, and a naked Stellan Skarsgård. The second Thor film was trying to be something it wasn’t and the end result really showed what a mistake it was. Thankfully, for his third solo outing for the MCU, it seems Marvel have really learnt their lesson. Despite the title’s reference to Ragnarok, the apocalyptic demise of the Norse God’s, this film is anything but dark. Something we learn from the very first scene is that not only has Thor finally found an on screen presence but he’s managed to pick up a great sense of humour along the way.

For too long comic book movies have been trying to make themselves seem as grown-up and serious. Ragnarok understands that all of this is so crazy that it’s pointless trying to play it straight. Marvel films have dabbled in humour before but Thor 3 has a completely different feel to it. It’s more like a comedy film that happens to be about comic book characters instead of a comic book movie with more jokes. Marvel have always been good at letting unexpected directors have a go at massive Blockbusters but New Zealand born director Taika Waititi is, perhaps, the weirdest so far. Thankfully, he was allowed the chance to do his own thing and, as we can see, it works wonderfully.

Ragnarok has a bit of work to do before it gets down to the real business. We left The Dark World with Loki on the throne in disguise and we last saw Thor vowing the track down the remaining infinity stones. So Thor goes back to Asgard to sort shit out but, before he’s even got time to breathe, his long lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, turns up to royally fuck shit up. She wants revenge on her father and his people for casting her out years ago. Unfortunately, as this is going on Thor (Christ Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find themselves stranded on a distant planet, Sakaar, presided over by the villainous Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum). Whilst Loki is taken in as a friend, Thor is captured and turned into a gladiator. With no other means of escape, Thor is left with no other choice but to fight the Grand Master’s Champion; who, as we all know, just happens to be the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Can Thor, the Big Guy, his sketchy brother and their new ally, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), an ex-Asgardian warrior with a grudge to settle.

In terms of the basic narrative there isn’t a great deal of excitement and Ragnarok treads very worn Marvel ground. This rag-tag bunch of heroes come together to fight a big evil to save the world. However, there is so much more going on that it doesn’t even feel that familiar. The sub-plot on Sakaar is fabulous and both Hemsworth and Ruffalo get the chance they both deserve to flesh out their characters. His recent pitstop in comedy films has left Christ Hemsworth with a greater comedic confidence and, for the first time since he first donned the red cape, he looks comfortable in the role. Conversely, Ruffalo finally has something to do as he starts to flesh out the green monster before the upcoming Infinity War films. I’ve read criticism that the film completely rewrites these characters but I just see it as positive development. This is one friendship I can’t wait to see get stronger.

There are some amazing performances on display in this film. Jeff Goldblum is at his most Jeff Goldblum and manages to walk the line of annoyingly hammy without falling into oblivion. Tess Thompson is sensational in her role and more than makes up for the abysmal female presence in the previous Thor films. Tom Hiddleston is perfect as Loki, as usual, but over time I find myself tiring of the “is he good or bad?” narrative. It just gets old. Still, I’m always happy to see that face. Finally, Idris Elba, returning as Heimdall, is worth noting. If only for the fact that, at the point that he takes off his cloak, his beefy arms. I love the change Heimdall has made from Gatekeeper to fucking badass.

My only real problem with Ragnarok (aside from the pointless and built up Dr Strange cameo) is Hela herself. The great villain looks the part but never gets the chance to get going. It’s a waste of Blanchett’s talents and a potentially great bad guy. Every time the action switches back to Asgard I couldn’t help but wish I was back on Sakaar. Hela feels out of place in this film just as all the references to genocide and darker elements do. These references are fleeting but they do stick out badly. There are also some poignant moments that are not dealt with properly. It can feel a bit weird. But, really, it doesn’t matter. Everything is held together thanks to an immense amount of charm, humour and utter silliness. This film knows it’s dealing with nonsense so plays up on that fact. I lost count of the time I genuinely laugh-out-loud watching this. Minor problems aside, this the greatest Marvel movie you’ll ever have seen.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Carol (2016)

Cate Blanchett, films, fucking beautiful, fucking sweet, fucking tragic, review

I’m currently away for a few days with my family and, during my week off, I had planned to watch today’s film and have the review ready to go. As usual, my aims for the blog didn’t quite work out so I only got round to viewing it on Sunday. Then I madly tried to scrabble the post together in between packing. So I have little hope that this will be my finest work. Nut considering I put off seeing this film for so long it was probably doomed from the start. I really wanted to watch Carol last year but I never got round to it. I suppose it was because I’d only heard amazing things about it. It always worries me when I desperately want to see something and it gets astounding reviews. It can only lead to disappointment. It seemed to have everything though: the brilliant Cate Blancett and Rooney Mara and a vintage feel. Still, as a lifelong cynic when it comes to romance, I may have been a little put off by the concept. An epic love story that builds from that classic rom-com cliche love at first sight. Now that I’m no longer 8 years old and wish I were a Disney Princess. I’m just not really into that concept. Although, considering the films is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel I was fairly confident that it wasn’t going to be too similar to those awful Tom Hank/Meg Ryan rom-coms from the 80s. I just needed to wait until my excitement had died down before I finally watched it.

There is a dreamy haze that settles over Carol and makes the 1950s seem like some sort of fantasy world. It means that the story, about a woman who’s unhappy marriage is ending falling in love with a young woman, has an unrelenting air of romance and mystery. Which, when added to the incredible performances from it’s leading women, makes it impossible not to get swept away with everything. Carol is such a visually spectacular film and director Todd Hayne’s has created a world full of delicate little details. Everything in Carol is suggestive yet subtle. Sex oozes from everything on screen but every single detail on screen is perfect and thought out. It is a visual battle that emphasises the battle going on before you eyes: the one between an expected 1950s stoicism and the secret passions bubbling underneath. This is a film that deals with the inner struggle between going after what you want and hiding your deepest desires because society doesn’t approve. It’s captivating from start to finish.

Carol has been adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, originally written under a pseudonym. The film depicts the relationship between a woman (Cate Blanchett) heading towards a divorce and her chance encounter with a shop assistant (Rooney Mara). Whilst trying to buy her daughter a Christmas present, Carol, takes the advice of Therese and orders a train set to be delivered to her house. Having left behind a pair of gloves which Therese returns, Carol insists on spending more time with the young girl and the pair eventually fall in love. Unfortunately, Carol is going through a divorce with her frustrated husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler). Feeling angry and betrayed at the discover that his wife was having an affair with a woman and is about to embark on another, Harge threatens to take their child away from her mother. Carol must decide what it is she is more willing to do: live a lie to keep her daughter or allow herself to be truly free.

It’s a film that is built on these types of dualities; something that is so key with all of Highsmith’s novels. Cate Blanchett is on top form as the woman struggling with this decision. It is an unforgettable performance that mixes a predatory older woman with a youthful smattering of self-doubt. Carol has put on a front for most of her life but, when she meets Therese, she becomes vulnerable and open. She doubts herself and her motives. It’s such a considered portrayal and Blanchett is only making is more difficult to top herself. Rooney Mara is equally captivating and offers a delicate performance full of fear, confusion, and isolation. Therese has an almost endless stream of potential male suitors but always feels that something is missing. Her first glimpse of Carol in the toy department starts to make things a little clearer. It’s a fantastic scene in which the camera pans past Carol only to pan back to focus on her. It’s a beautiful and life-changing moment.

Carol is a beautiful film in every aspect and everything comes together to convey this love story. The costume, set design, and the colour palette portray world that seems both alien and familiar. The decision to film on Super 16mm gives it a historic feeling but everything still feels contemporary. Everything that we see or hear in Carol is trying to hammer home the idea of doubles. The facade and the hidden faces. It is a society that resents the love that we see grow so sweetly. We see two women unable to openly admit their feelings or show the world the depths of their passion. They must play the role expected of them whilst secretly coming to terms with their new relationship. It is a heart-wrenching story that manages to both romanticise the experience of being a lesbian in the 1950s whist also showing the depressing and difficult reality. The performances and production are incredible and come together to make a film that I wish I’d seen earlier.