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.

TOP 10 WEN-SDAY – RANKING MCU MOVIES

Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, comic book, comic books, Edward Norton, list, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, Paul Rudd, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston

Tomorrow I’m watching Spider-Man: Homecoming and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve enjoyed the majority of Spider-Man films that have been released, probably only really excluding Toby Maguire’s third outing, but none of them have really done fantastic things. I think Andrew Garfield was perfectly cast but the stories just didn’t cut it. Toby Maguire was fine for the time and his films are still astonishing in terms of that era. However, his portrayal of Peter Parker just seems flat nowadays. With this film being the third time a new actor has taken up the spidey suit in 15 years, it’s starting to feel like every young-ish actor will eventually get the chance to play him. Still, I have high hopes for Tom Holland. His brief appearance in Civil War was an absolute treat within all of the heavy shit going on and proved that a solo film could be full of geeky fun. To get myself in the mood for watching this new film I spent today watching some past Marvel films: namely Civil War and Ant-Man. Both were great, obviously, but it got me thinking about my ranking of the films in the MCU. It’s something I’ve tried to avoid doing because it’s such a changeable thing. However, with another Top 10 Wen-sday upon us, I decided it was time to give it a go. Expect this to have changed by tomorrow.
Fifteen: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 was the first of man disappointing MCU sequels and it is still the worst of the bunch. I understand that it had a lot to live up to because Iron Man was the film that gave the MCU life. Still, this is just a lacklustre film. It is only saved thanks to Robert Downey Jr’s charm. The film offers us two underwhelming villains (wasting the talents of the wonderful Sam Rockwell) and spends too much time showboating to offer anything real. It’s just dreadful.

Fourteen: Thor the Dark World

I think I always look favourably on The Dark World because it contains Tom Hiddleston’s face. Ever since his brief romance with Taylor Swift I’ve kind of gone off the guy. I know it’s fickle but how can I be a massive fan of someone who made that choice? Anyway, as such I now no longer see all of his films through rose-tinted glasses and can see how awful this film really was. The dark elves are not fleshed out in the slightest and Thor becomes a supporting character in his own film. This was a let down from start to finish.

Thirteen: The Incredible Hulk

Before Mark Ruffalo came along I was more than happy to have an Edward Norton shaped Hulk. I mean, yes, you couldn’t have got much worse than Eric Bana (who I assume was only hired because of his name) but Norton brought depth to the character of Bruce Banner. He wanted to explore the pain and suffering that lay behind the huge green rage monsters and it was a welcome change. The problem that this film really faced was that it’s just not going to be easy to make a solo Hulk film. This is something that has become more apparent as time went on but, clearly, having a main character who is silent and ragey most of the time just isn’t a workable formula.

Twelve: Avengers: Age of Ultron

I so wanted to love Age of Ultron. It had everything: Avengers had set us up with a great team full of banter; we were going to see Vision, Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver; and it had James Spader as the voice of Ultron. How could it go wrong? Well, apparently quite easily. Age of Ultron was exciting, maybe, but it was a huge mess of a film. The narrative was all over the place and it was basically just a Michael Bay-esque feast of explosion porn. With every viewing this film pains me more. Not just for how bad it is but for how much it let me down.

Eleven: Captain America

I realise that Captain America is a much better film than I give it credit for but, personally, I just didn’t love this film. I admit that I liked it much better on my second viewing for my TBT post but I still find it difficult to get too excited about Steve’s first outing. Hayley Atwell is amazing and there are some great moments but it all feels a bit rushed. Considering what followed in Steve’s solo outings, this film just doesn’t quite cut it.

Ten: Thor

As with above, this is primarily on personal taste and I’m sure most people would have this film higher up. I get it. Thor isn’t the typical Marvel film but I adore it. Kenneth Branagh may not be the most obvious choice to direct a comic book movie but I loved what he did with Thor. He turned it into a Shakespeare play and I think it worked. He was on firmer ground and Tom Hiddleston excelled at playing Loki as though he was Edmund in King Lear. It’s not perfect and there are some incredibly dodgy moments but Thor always makes me feel full of joy. I don’t care if I’m the only one.

Nine: Iron Man 3

I kind of wanted to put Iron Man 3 higher up the list because of how badly it treated The Mandarin character. That would have been petty though because, all in all, this is a pretty good film. Shane Black did a great job co-writing the script and directing the whole thing. It’s funny, exciting and dramatic. A huge improvement on the second film in the series. Black and Robert Downey Jr. have a great working relationship and Tony Stark is at his best. There were a few moments I could have done without but, for the most part, this was a winner.

Eight: Ant Man

It might just be because I’ve only just finished watching this film but Ant Man is much better than people give it credit. Paul Rudd is fantastic in the role of Scott Lang and there is plenty of fun to be had. It takes a character that nobody really wanted a film about but shows just how good of a decision it was. Yes, I still wish Edgar Wright had directed the story that he had wanted but this definitely showed the potential of the more random Marvel characters.

 Seven: Iron Man

When Iron Man came out way, way back in 2008 there wasn’t an MCU and Robert Downey Jr. was that drug addict from Ally McBeal. This film changed everything for the better. Downey Jr. became a household name and the MCU kicked off in style. This was a brash and exciting film that showed comic book movies could be a spectacle and also a really good film. As important as this film may be in terms of historical importance, it has to be said that it has been overshadowed by future releases. It’s still a great film but there are now better ones out there.

Six: Dr Strange

I can’t say that I was exactly overjoyed to hear that Dr Strange was coming to the big screen because I didn’t know enough about the character. Then I heard the immortal words: Benedict Cumberbatch. I will freely admit that my interest in the film was mostly linked to the face of this great actor but I think that’s reason enough to watch it. There are some fantastic moments in this film and breathtaking sequences where the laws of physics are just ripped to pieces. It’s a visual feast but I wanted this to be better. Dr Strange feels as though it wasn’t give the freedom to be everything it could be and was forced to fit into a Marvel template to keep everyone happy. I hope future films are given more of a chance.

Five: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

The second Guardians film was a great continuation of the series but it made the same mistake that most sequels tend to do. It wanted to make thing bigger and better. Yes, this still has the same funny and relaxed feeling that the first one did but there was something confused about it. The effects were too big and the fights too confusing. However, this was an emotionally charged film that finally added some consequences to the MCU. I adored this film but I wish it had been slicker.

Four: Captain America: Civil War

Again, it might be because I watched this today but Civil War is a fantastic film. It is the film that Avengers 2 wishes it could have been. Watching this film makes me truly sad that the Russo brothers weren’t allowed to direct Age of Ultron because it would have been a massive improvement. Yes, it still runs into the same problems as Ultron has because it deals with so many characters. Yes, the narrative isn’t exactly wonderful considering the comic book story it comes from. And, yes, the villain’s plan doesn’t exactly make sense when you think about it too much. However, this has some of everything. It had the fun and banter of The Avengers, the darkness of Winter Soldier, and the emotional conflict that has followed Steve through all of his films. It could have been better but it was pretty damn good.

Three: The Avengers

This was the film that nobody thought would be possible; something that gathered together every big name in the MCU up until that point and made them work together. With that many egos in one room, how was anyone going to be able to come up with a decent story. Thankfully, somebody agreed to let the legendary Joss Whedon have a crack and he managed to make it work. This was a funny, clever and exciting film. It knew what it was and it worked with it’s problems not against them. It gave us more of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, which cemented him as best villain in the MCU, and gave us our first glimpse at Thanos. As with all Marvel films, the evil minions could have been better and it could have been a bit slicker but this is still one of the greatest film the MCU has produced.

Two: Guardians of the Galaxy

The best thing about Guardians was that it was such a breath of fresh air. It came after Thor: The Dark World and Winter Soldier had given us a supremely grim and dark set of Marvel films. It seemed to be following the Batman trend that dark and gritty was better when it came to superhero films. Guardians was always going to be something of an underdog because the source material wasn’t as well known to the general movie going public at the time. So it decided it wasn’t going to take itself too seriously and, boy, are we glad. This was the first comic book movie in such a long time to have a real sense of humour about itself. Director James Gunn managed to create something so full of joy that was also exciting enough for comic fans. This had it all.

One: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I know a lot of people would put Guardians as their number one because it’s so watchable. I agree that it’s great but, in my heart, I know that Marvel as never been better than in Winter Soldier. Of course, it isn’t as fun or light-hearted but it’s really well crafted and it totally changed the landscape of Marvel’s future. It ramped up the emotional side thanks to Steve and Bucky’s friendship and it gave us the delightful Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson. It may have followed the Marvel staple of having a huge object fall to Earth in it’s finale but this film was so close to perfection. It deserves the top spot.

Top 10 Wen-sday: Top 10 Films I’m Looking Forward To This Year

Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, comic book, comic books, films, Harrison Ford, Hugh Jackman, Kenneth Branagh, list, Marvel, Spider-Man, Star Wars, super powers, superhero, Top 10, Wolverine

So last week I released my list of books that I’m most looking forward to (probably not) reading this year. So I decided, as it’s that time of the month when I need to create a list of 10 random things, that it was only fair that I put down on e-paper the films that I’m most excited to see this year. It turns out that was really fucking hard. There are a lot of great films coming out and I’m super excited about all of them. Even really surprising ones. I mean, had you asked me this time last year, that I’d be quite looking forward to seeing Michael Keaton star in the story of the founder of McDonalds I’d have thought you were mad. Now, however, I think it looks pretty good. I mean I love Keaton and it stars the internet’s favourite man’s man Nick Offerman. Plus, there was a point when I didn’t think I wanted to see The Social Network but that turned out better than expect. I also, even more shockingly, became fairly interested in the Justice League film. I’m still not ecstatic about the release because the last two films in DC’s arsenal were utter dogshit. I think it’s basically just down to Jason Momoa though. And Batfleck. But, before I get distracted by sexy superheroes, I should present the list… with more than enough sexy superheroes.
Ten: War for the Planet of the Apes

I really enjoyed 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011. The rebooted franchise has created some fantastic pequels so I’m incredibly keen to see what’s coming next.

Nine: Blade Runner 2049

Of course I’m excited about the prospect of Harrison Ford returning to the role of Rick Deckard but there is still a part of me that worries. It’s been a long time. Still, everything we’ve seen so far looks good and gives a positive feeling. Plus, director Denis Villeneuve directed last year’s Arrival which everyone seemed to fucking love. So it’s probably in safe hands.

Eight: Murder on the Orient Express

Probably not going to be top of too many people’s lists but I think I’m going to enjoy this one. It’s Kenneth Branagh directing himself and a shitload of really famous actors to retell the classic Hercule Poirot tale. Yes, we all know who did it but that’s not the point. It’s about watching our favourite Belgian detective work out those “leetle grey cells” to figure it out. And, at this point, I think I’d allow Branagh to play anybody.

 Seven: Alien: Covenant

I know it received mixed reviews but I kinda liked Prometheus. I mean it was a bit of a fucking mess but, for the most part, I think it was a decent film. I get why people were upset though. It was billed as the epic prequel to one of the best films ever made but it didn’t even feature the titular alien creature. So, this year’s follow up should make amends for that if the poster is anything to go by. Really, this could be a retelling of the first Alien film and this would fair better than Prometheus. Plus, you know, Michael Fassbender is fucking weird in this role.

 Six: Logan Lucky

I’m kinda getting sick of Steven Soderbergh telling us he’s retiring and then making another film. Or at least I would be sick of it if it wasn’t for the idea of another Soderbergh film. It’s been 4 years since he made the announcement and now he’s back making a comedy about a robbery duing a NASCAR race. It’s got an interesting and star-studded line-up. What we know about the plot sounds kinda ropey but it’s fucking Soderbergh. How can you ignore it?

Five: Thor: Ragnorak

I know Thor isn’t everyone’s favourite part of the MCU but I’m a massive fan of his first film. I think the second was kind of dodgy but I still have faith in this series. The huge-armed Norse God is back for his third film and, for anyone that knows anything about Norse mythology will know, Ragnorok can only mean trouble. Thankfully, Thor is helped by his pal the Hulk and Marvel’s newest sign-up Doctor Strange. We’ve lost the unnecessary and bland Jane but I’m sure nobody, Natalie Portman included, is crying about that.

Four: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy was a sort of surprisingly huge hit when it came out 3 years ago. It introduced us to the ragtag bunch of people who accidentally get caught up in trying to save the world. Their second film promises much of the things that made the first one great so obviously I’m excited. But, as we’ve learnt by now, Marvel sequels don’t have the greatest track record. I mean, to date, only 1 follow-up manages to equal/improve on the first film: The Winter Soldier. At the worst we have Iron Man 2 (happily improved upon with Iron Man 3) but the rest were all just kind of meh. So, I do have a fear that Guardians 2 will just try and replay all of it’s greatest hits without offering up any new material. As much as I love him, I need more than just “I am Groot” but said in a baby voice now.

Three: Spider-Man: Homecoming

If Civil War taught us anything it was that a Marvel controlled Spider-Man film could be the best thing ever. Then the trailer for Homecoming was released and it definitely backed up the claim. Tom Holland looks set to steal Andrew Garfield’s crown as best portrayal of the web-slinger. Still, this is the 3 time in about 15 years that this franchise has been rebooted and it’s the 3 different actor to lend his face to the role. I’m not sure it was necessary and, more worryingly, I feel that Marvel are pushing Tony Stark too much. Maybe his role will work in the film as a whole but, from what we’ve seen so far, this could very easily become the Iron Man show. And that would be an injustice.

Two: Star Wars Episode 8 

Well, duh! Rogue One was the best Star Wars film to be released since the originals and it got me incredibly excited for what’s coming next. The Force Awakens did a great job of bringing us back into the world but left so many things unanswered. This is the time to find out. Plus, it’s directed by Rian Johnson who also did Brick and Looper so we’re in pretty safe hands.  

One: Logan

There was really no other choice for the number 1 spot. Logan is a key film this year for so many reasons. Mostly because, after 17 years, Hugh Jackman is finally saying goodbye to the character. It’s so weird to think that he’s been playing the guy for so long. He basically is Wolverine at this point. I can’t imagine anyone else having taken the character this far if Jackman hadn’t got the role. Add to that the fact that it’s the character’s first film to receive an R-rating. Last year’s Deadpool showed us that it’s no bad thing to make comic book movies just for adults so it feels right that Jackman should get to show us what Logan can really do for this final time. The comic book Wolverine was always an incredibly violent character and that’s not really been able to come across in any of the others. We need to see him really letting his anger out. I’m so fucking pumped for this film.

TBT – Thor (2011)

Chris Hemsworth, comic book, Kenneth Branagh, Marvel, review, superhero, TBT, Tom Hiddleston
With the release of Ant-Manrecently we’ve been preparing ourselves for a new Marvel line-up. We’ve known for a while that Robert Downey Jr. is out of the door post Avengers 3 but just how much time awaits his fellow big hitters? Chris Evans is keen to step away from the camera and direct so it seems clear that either Civil War will have its comic-book ending or the Cap will meet his maker whilst fighting Thanos. At least when Steve exits the scene we can take comfort in the form of Bucky Barnes. What happens when the contract runs out for everyone’s favourite God with the best pair of arms in existence, Thor? I’ve said several times before that Thor is the Marvel character that I love the most but I can’t imagine a situation where the character carries on without Chris Hemsworth. I know that the recent comic-book series has meant that spoiler could take his place but it just wouldn’t be the same.

According to Rotten Tomatoes Thor is the least liked of all of Marvel’s superhero debuts. It was closely followed by Captain Americabut, as far as first outings go, Thor didn’t really make the best impression. This is something that has always pissed me off because I really liked Thor. It’s not your typical Marvel movie but it’s still fucking enjoyable… and that’s only partly to do with Tom Hiddleston. Thorhad a big job to do when it first came out. Not only did it have to continue to prep for the upcoming Avengersbut it also had to introduce movie fans to a wider Marvel universe. A universe made up of nine realms where God’s live, play and fight. It could easily have been a huge disaster that was rushed and not at all thought out. Instead, it was a huge blockbuster that provided dazzling visuals, great performances, and plenty of wit.
Directed by dear Kenny Branagh, Thoris played out like a Shakespeare play but with a much spacier locale. Thor is essentially a Shakespearean character so it’s fitting that this is the case. We have brotherly jealousy, usurpation, backstabbing, love, and an elderly patriarch/ruler: it has all the trademarks of one of Will’s typical plays. It is easiest to see Branagh’s Shakespearean touch in the way he presents Loki. It was thanks to Ken that Tom Hiddleston came on board with the film and it was a massive relief that he did. Loki is a complex character who exceeds all expectations. He may be too nuanced for such a massive project as this but Loki certainly made an impression here.
Playing against his strengths, though, makes it feel as Branagh became so caught up in the idea of making a superhero movie that he got carried away with himself. There was huge scope to make the Kingdom of Asgard an amazing spectacle but it all seems a bit too CGI. It’s trying to be dazzling and beautiful but there is something cold and unappealing about it. Branagh is a great director when he is given the right material. He tries so hard to get into the spirit of things but the action sequences aren’t the greatest and there is a great deal more human drama instead of God vs God fisticuffs. The two major showdowns towards the end of the film are exciting enough but don’t really have the same edge-of-your-seat appeal as many of Marvel’s other offerings. Of course, in a lot of ways Thor doesn’t need to compete with the Marvel films that came before and after it. It had a simple task to complete: namely to introduce us to the first son of Asgard before he was needed to join Nick Fury’s dream team. Chris Hemsworth is the perfect Thor in terms of looks and, in some of the films comical moments, plays the fish-out-of-water part to great effect. You could tell from this film that he would warm into the role and he really has.
I can admit that Thor isn’t the best film that Marvel has ever made. We know there are mistakes there and things we all wish had been done differently. What it does possess is a sense of fun and entertainment that runs through the entire thing. With Kat Dennings as Jane Foster’s sassy sidekick and the very premise of a Nordic God making his way through modern day New Mexico, there is a lot of wit on display. It isn’t afraid to make fun of itself and that is something to appreciate. It also contains a badass, eye-patch wearing Anthony Hopkins. How can anyone not say this is their favourite Marvel film?

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Chris Hemsworth, comic book, Joss Whedon, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, review, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson
avengers_age_of_ultron_poster
Those of you who have been paying close attention to my Twitter for the last 12 months will know that I’ve been fucking excited about Avengers: Age of Ultron: it’s been my not so secret obsession since James Spader was announced as the voice of titular nemesis. As it happened, it took me a week after its release to finally get around to seeing Age of Ultron and I did so well at avoiding spoilers regarding the shocking ending. That was until the day I had arranged to see it when my fucking dick of a colleague ruined it for me. I haven’t yet forgiven him and its not an exaggeration to say that I probably never will. He fucking knew I was scheduled to see it but still he blundered on, determined to ruin my viewing pleasure. This meant that I was a little underwhelmed when leaving the cinema because I saw through all of Joss Whedon’s intricate plot weaving to the closing act that I knew was heading my way. It was a fucking travesty. However, in the time since my viewing, I’ve had time to calm down and reflect properly on the latest massively multiplayer Marvel movie.
 

Age of Ultron doesn’t waste any time getting us right back into the action. It’s been 3 long years since the World’s Mightiest Heroes were last seen out together and we pick up right in the heart of battle. Yes, no slightly tedious semantics about how the team pair up again in this sequel: we know who everyone is, what they can do and, in many cases, what they’ve been up to in the interim. So fuck the heart-warming reunion; let’s pummel some bad guys. Following on from the aftermath of Winter Soldier, the Avengers are trying to breach a Hydra research facility to get back an all too familiar mind-control staff. Taking place in the fictional eastern European city of Sokovia, the opening action scene is, quite frankly, fucking incredibly. I didn’t even mind the awkward inclusion slow-motion and 3-d friendly visuals. The scene works well by moving between the team one-by-one, neatly allowing each to do their thing before moving along to the next.
 
 
The opening sequence also gives us our first real look at the twins, first introduced to us in the credits of Winter Soldier, and their freaky superpowers. Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) uses his immense speed to expertly fuck with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch (Emily Olsen) uses her psychic powers to just fuck with everyone’s head. As villains go, they have an awful lot of potential to actually beat the most powerful group of heroes in the world. Out for revenge against Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in particular, Scarlet Witch implants a vision of death and destruction in Iron Man’s head and leads us all on the road to ruin. Wishing to put “a suit of armour around the world”, Stark and physicist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) begin experimenting with artificial intelligence: a seriously dangerous move that could have been avoiding if anyone in the Marvel Universe watched a fucking movie from time to time. As such, Ultron (James Spader) is born and he’s not happy with his creators.
 
 
With more than a few knowing nods to Frankenstein, Ultron is born due to his creator’s out of control ego and takes on many of the worst aspects of Stark’s personality. With his tough robotic body, Ultron makes it his mission to destroy the Avengers and bring about “peace in our time”: unfortunately that peace can only be found once mankind is wiped-out. Picking up the Maximoff twins as allies, Ultron looks set to become a real threat once he gets his nifty new body. Age of Ultron just seems more sure of itself than The Avengers ever did. Something that can be seen within the numerous action sequences. The visual effects are fantastic and the way the action moves between each member of the team is much less chaotic than in their previous outing. As further proof that we’re on surer ground here, the fight choreography brings greater emphasis to the group’s teamwork. It finally feels like we’re watching a real unit working together to save the world.
 
There is a real sense of camaraderie oozing out of every scene and its a fucking joy. Something that is even more apparent in the script which features the traditional Joss Whedon style quips and banter that so wonderfully juxtaposes the ensuing mayhem. Everyone gets a chance to make with the funny but in the Whedonesque way that never breaks up the tension or the action. Like The Avengers before it, the film is so much fun that it almost feels wrong. Whedon’s greatest asset will always be the way in which he throws himself into every project with such joy, energy, and care. It’s impossible not to get swept away by it.
 
Although, Age of Ultron does have its flaws. Just as The Avengers was the first step into Marvel’s Phase Two, the sequel has the daunting task of helping to prepare us for Phase Three. As such, Marvel crams so much extra stuff into the film that it often feels a bit too bloated. We see references to a fucking cavalcade future Marvel films: Captain America: Civil War; Thor: RagnarokBlack Panther; and the two-part Avengers: Infinity War. The Ultron plot was enough for the audience to get their head around without glimpses into the fucking future clogging their brain space. Still, Whedon manages to bring his unique style and vision to the film and ensure it never fails to deliver on the one most important thing for a comic book movie: fun. Despite my spoiler-inspired negativity post-credits, I’m happy with the way the film worked out and am happy with the new faces to the Avenger’s line-up.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Asgard, Chris Hemsworth, comic book, Loki, Marvel, review, sequel, Thor, Tom Hiddleston

It has been two years since the God of Thunder first exploded onto our cinema screens and Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the Asgardian prince with an incredibly heavy hammer. Personally, I really enjoyed Thor and was looking forward to seeing what the sequel had to offer. As I’ve already mentioned Thor is probably my favourite superhero and I think he has a lot of potential for film adaptations. Especially because the literature nerd in me loves the fact that I am essentially watching a Shakespeare play about Norse gods with a comic book twist. Plus, what kind of card-carrying Hiddlestoner would I be if I didn’t relish the thought of watching the most beautiful and talented actor around get to grips with his evil side?

Thor: The Dark Worldopens on a Lord of the Rings style flashback which lets us witness, in all of its dark and grainy glory, a great battle between good and evil. Many years ago Thor’s grandfather gathered the armies of Asgard and set out to Svartalfheim to prevent the leader of the Dark Elves, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), unleashing the mysterious Aether and turning the world to darkness. So the first few minutes of The Dark World are as intensely Fantasy as you can ever expect to see. Every genre trait that you can imagine is dropped on the audience in one fell swoop. It’s over-the-top and lacking in subtlety but, to be fair, it’s a wonderfully epic sequence that manages to justify its derivative nature. Let’s face it, if you’re going to adapt the adventures of a Norse god onto the big screen then you either go all in or you go home.
However, before we really get to grips with the story that comes out of this prologue, The Dark World first sets out to tie up any loose ends that may have been left hanging since The Avengers. We see Thor (Chris Hemsworth) deliver his brother back to Odin in chains and watch as he is sent to live out his days in a jail cell. So there we have it, only a few minutes in and Tumblr are gifted with the image of Tom Hiddleston in handcuffs. Marvel really knows who they’re making films for these days. The fangirls favourite has now become more appealing to all the hormonal youngsters out there as the Loki we come face-to-face with is at his lowest point; angry, beaten down and no longer possessing the familial support of his brother or father.

Whilst the God of Mischief stews in confinement that is far too comfortable when compared to the severity of his crimes, Thor is working hard with his loyal band of warriors to restore peace in the Nine Realms. Apparently, destroying the Bifrost at the end of his premier outing had greater consequences than merely preventing him from getting it on with his physics hottie back on Earth. Speaking of which, Jane Foster and her mismatched team have made their way to London to continue their search for unexplained science-stuff. A mere six years after Valve released their popular puzzle game the science friends are able to start having fun with portals after they stumble across an abandoned warehouse rating high on the WTF scale. Unfortunately for the world’s prettiest astrophysicist, Jane is transported to a strange place; a strange place that just happens to be the exact point where Odin’s father hid the Aether. No surprises for guessing where this is going then.
With the Aether back in play, the foundation is set for Malekith to do the very thing the Daleks did just in time for the finale of every Russell T Davies season finale; he and his remaining Elves reappear to carry on with their deadly dealings. Thor must use his mighty hammer to save his home, the woman he loves and everything he has just been fighting to unite. Thanks to massive pre-release spoilers we are all well aware going in that, in true Wife Swap tradition, the God of Thunder must work alongside the one person he would do anything to avoid. Can the brothers set aside their differences and prevent their world from being destroyed? The plot is hardly inspirational and what follows is going to come as little surprise to most. However, just like the first film, The Dark World approaches the narrative with such self-awareness and in a tongue-in-cheek manner that is doesn’t really matter.
Thor: The Dark Worldis far from being the slickest offering that Marvel has presented us with over the years. Yes, it’s no Avengers but nor is it Iron Man 2. It keeps moving thanks to the strength of its cast. Hiddleston and Hemsworth are a wonderful team and their chemistry and inherent charm is infectious. It is a relationship that more than eclipses the other significant relationship on screen. Unfortunately, the combined talents of Hemsworth and Oscar-winner Natalie Portman are not enough to bring any kind of chemistry or realism to this flat and dull romance.
In fact Portman as a whole is pretty hard done by here. Many reviews out there praise the increased role she has been given in this sequel but, rather than being a positive thing it only goes to show just how forgettable she was in the first one. There is an interesting role reversal where Jane, finding herself on Asgard, is placed in the fish out of water position and is given a few good lines as she gets to grips with this new culture. However, she is mostly used as the damsel in distress who is called upon sparingly to look at some ridiculous science gadget and attempt to relate the magical events to real world ideas. It is a purpose that is not evidence enough to make her presence seem necessary and, when she’s not taking part in one of cinema’s least convincing love stories, she is constantly overshadowed by the superior in every way Darcy (Kat Dennings).
For his part, Hemsworth is given slightly more to work with in his third outing and we see Thor start to become more than just a loud and comical fish out of water. Thanks to Thor, our hero is no longer plagued by hubris but is finally preparing to be the leader that his father expects him to be. The Thor we see now is just as confident as the one we are used to but with the necessary humiliation and dedication to help others that is required of a Norse God. There is still a hint of humour surrounding the character (Hemsworth is allocated a few more juicy one-liners and sight gags than last time) but Thor is all about emotional development as we see him battling with romantic and familial demons. Ultimately though, it is Hemsworth’s innate likeability that makes the character work so well on screen. Without a doubt he’s joy to watch in the role but, of course, that could just be down to those magnificent arms.
Thor may have given his name to the title of this sequel but we are never in any doubt that it is actually 
Hiddleston who is the main attraction here (for both audiences and money-hungry distributors). Loki gets the majority of the juicy lines and is able to have the most fun with his character. That said, Loki hasn’t exactly developed since the original Thor and is still, underneath the fantastic cheekbones and theatrical performance, a jealous child who just wants his brother’s favourite toy. You can’t fault Hiddleston in the slightest but, given his popularity with everyone, there has been no need for him to be anything other than he was from the start. Well, with slightly longer hair and feeling a little sorry for himself. Considering this is also Loki’s third outing it would have been wonderful to see a bit more depth to the character.
Something which I would also say is true for much of the supporting cast. There can be no denying that there is a great range of acting talent on show within the realm of Asgard but very few characters are really living up to their potential. Antony Hopkins is the ideal casting as Odin but, understandably I suppose, has relatively little to do (there is a slight chance that this is simply a personal thing as I’m of the opinion that most movies are flawed due to their lack of Hopkins). Idris Elba is always memorable as the all-seeing Heimdall to the extent that I want him to be around more. The same can be said for Ray Stevenson’s Volstagg who seems to be less like the Falstaffian wonder he should be and more like the stock fat character you see in classic episodes of Little Britain. Most heinously of all though, Christopher Eccleston and his Elvish band are forever on the outskirts of the action. After their appearance in the prologue, it takes a large portion of the film for them to reappear and then another long wait before they do anything about it. Like the Chitauri in The Avengers, the Dark Elves are nothing more than a flimsy plot device to bring all of the characters together. Hardly the terrifying bad guys we’re used to these days.
Jamie Alexander and Rene Russo in their roles as Sif and Frigga (Thor’s mother) are, in a similar fashion to Portman, “developed” here. Alexander has, from what I can tell, received a great deal of praise for her role but has in fact done very little. In the first film she was just the jealous female sidekick and now she is the jealous female sidekick who has a small fight scene and some slight banter. Then she disappears. Sif deserves to be used in a better way not least because, in a world of beefy, drunk men and stupid scientists, we deserve an ass-kicking female. So I demand to see more of Jamie Alexander in the future (and that’s not just a reference to the insanely revealing dress she wore to the premier).
Speaking of insanely good-looking things, in terms of aesthetics The Dark World is pretty damn impressive: the initial reveal of the shiny new Bifrost and the expanded Asgard slaps you round the face in such a pleasurable way you’ll think you were that woman in 50 Shades (I assume. I haven’t read that shit.). There are some truly breathtaking set-pieces throughout the film: Malekith’s assault on Asgard is a great action sequence and a later scene showcasing an Asgardian funeral where light and CGI are used to tear-inducing effect. Just like the first film, it is the scenes that take place away from Earth that prove to be the most exciting and enticing to watch; probably because, despite how wonderful London may be to look at, it can’t compete with a shiny CGI space realm.
For the most part, the plot that unfolds in London feels either unnecessary or that it’s trying too hard. There are a lot of moments of forced humour and dull moments of exposition. The scene where the portals are first discovered goes on for far too long and Chris O’Dowd’s bizarre appearance as a potential love interest for Jane just wasted time that could have been spent making the Dark Elves feel like more of a presence. There is only a brief section of the film where his character helps more the plot forward and a friend and I were able to rewrite that to something much funnier and less time consuming.
However, by far the greatest sin that this film commits is the development of Dr Eric Selvig. Apparently, that time that Loki took over his brain caused some pretty serious damage and the once reliable scientific mind is now struggling with his grip on reality. This meant that for the majority of his scenes Stellan Skarsgard was left to frolic around in certain states of undress. This not only took valuable time away from the major plot points but has caused permanent scarring to my visual memory. It’s one of those things that clearly sounded hilarious in a script meeting but never found its feet in the final film.

I instantly loved Thormainly because of how unlike traditional superhero films it is. Branagh, Hopkins and Hiddleston brought a theatrical and Shakespearian quality to the narrative that stays true to Stan Lee’s influences for the original comic. It was understated and introduced the idea of a wider Marvel universe wonderfully. The focus was on the set-up, the characters and the rules of this new world. In terms of action sequences there was really only one or two fairly minor ones which, as far as I can tell, is the major disagreement people had with the film.
In an attempt to counteract this, director Alan Taylor (his first outing as feature film director) decided to throw as much as possible at this sequel. There is an abundance of action set pieces, interesting new locations, unnecessary exposition and callbacks that manage to inflate the underdeveloped plot to three times its actual size. I don’t understand why we had to go from such a well-crafted and unashamedly subtle introduction to a cluster-fuck of genre stereotypes and CGI. As you watch you can almost hear the execs ticking off bullet points on the Michael Bay and JRR Tolkien check-lists.
The Dark Worldisn’t a terrible film: I’ve watched and walked out happy from lesser films. It’s just not a clever one. I liked it but I can’t ignore the fact that I wanted more for Thor. However, I did appreciate the handy reminder that Captain America: The Winter Solider is on its way thanks to a pointless cameo by Chris Evans. After all, it had been about an hour since the actual trailer had been played for us. Gotta make sure the money keeps rolling in I guess.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Avengers, Chris Hemsworth, comic book, fucking awesome, Joss Whedon, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, review, Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston

I have eagerly awaited the release of The Avengers for about 3 years now and there was very little chance that I would walk out of the cinema without a great sense of glee. To say I had high expectations from Joss Whedon’s turn within the Marvel universe is a disgraceful misrepresentation of my pre-Avengers state of mind. I avoided any review or article that I felt would potentially spoil my viewing and resigned myself to watching the trailer repeatedly for the months before release. I was on fucking tenterhooks.

Thanks to the necessary task of ringing together a fuckload of existing characters, the plot takes a bit of time to get going. The film mainly shows the team coming together and is a lot less focused on big action pieces. It isn’t until well into the film that the super group really get to show off their skills and even then the display isn’t that spectacular. Now I didn’t mind the sedate opening sequences or the elongated sequence where Iron Man and Captain America mend things but  Whedon could have done with fleshing out his villains more. This is a comic-book movie afterall. It’s nice to know why we hate the people we really want you to punch in the face.

Although, as you would expect of Whedon, is is the script that’s the key here; it is funny, dramatic and sentimental. There was always a danger that putting such larger than life characters together in one room would create issues and, more likely, the overpowering talents of Robert Downey Jr. would overshadow the newer members of Marvel’s cinematic family. Whedon does a good job of raining in Stark just enough to allow the group to bounce off one and other and create enough tension.

Downey Jr flourishes within this setting. Playing off the already theatrical and narcissistic Iron Man with the nostalgic Captain and Asgardian Prince creates some truly amazing moments of dialogue. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth continue in the much the same vane that we have seen in their previous outings as Captain America and Thor respectively. They both do a good job of portraying the fish out of water within the situation. However, I think their role as outsiders could have been utilised to greater effect.

It is Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Bruce Banner that is the biggest revelation of the film. This is the third actor to take on the scientist in recent years and he is simply marvellous. Ruffalo gives the Big Green an even bigger heart and he brings a vulnerability and humour to the character that neither Eric Bana nor Edward Norton managed in their films. His blossoming friendship with Tony provides some wonderful scenes and some exceptional dialogue. He provides some of the most tender and emotional scenes and garners many of the biggest laughs. So much so that it is the Hulk that comes out on top of his fellow Avengers by the end credits.

Jeremy Renner, as Hawkeye, unfortunately gets little to do here but the moments where he is deeply involved in the plot show a great deal of potential for a rather dismal character (I’m sorry he’s hot but being able to shoot arrows at people is neither an awesomely useful or very unique ability.) In the same way Black Widow (played by a rather uncomfortable looking cat-suited Scarlett Johansson) gets very little to do after her first fight scene. She is, like Renner, used to bring extra sex appeal and very little else. She shows off some kick ass moves but this is overshadowed by the many gratuitous shots of her in her skin-tight costume. Consider the directing choice that caused her face-to-face with Loki to be shot from a camera placed at arse height. I’m not entirely sure that scene tells us anything more about Black Widow other than the fact she is rather pleasing on the eye.

The Avengers themselves are such a powerful force both physically and in terms of their screen presence, that every other character is sort of thrown into the shadows. Well all but one. 2011’s Thor introduced us to Loki and set out his path to become the God of Mischief. The Loki we see in The Avengers is something else entirely. Tom Hiddleston is obviously in his element playing the disgraced (adopted) son of Oden and is just phenomenal. Every line is venomous and he has truly perfected the look of madness and pure evil. It is no wonder, then, that it is Loki who has come out of The Avengers with the biggest army of supporters. Yes he’s trying to take over the world but he’s both very beautiful and vulnerable.

The best moments obviously come when the Avengers are doing what they do best. It was always going to be difficult to spread the time between six individuals but the end result is a necessarily confusing, loud but incredibly exciting battle for the earth. Whilst it is uncertain whether Whedon will actually come back to direct a second outing for the super group I certainly hope he does. This film wasn’t perfect but it was certainly worth the wait for those of us who have been desperate for this day to come.