Thor: Ragnarok

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

Ragnarok is basically the Norse mythology version of the Apocalypse. I won’t get into the whole thing, because it can get pretty complicated, but it basically serves as the ultimate plot device of “Thor: Ragnarok”.

Kind of.

This is a Marvel film, and as we’ve come to know, these movies aren’t to be taken too seriously. They are cinematic comic books. Colorful, humorous, and full of action. All three have been strengths in the “Thor” series; and here, thanks to director Taiki Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”), it has been perfected.

“Ragnarok” begins with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) trying to thwart the impending prophecy by shutting down a demon named Surtur (looking like something out of “Lord of the Rings”). He thinks he’s stopped Ragnarok; but it’s only just begun. That’s thanks to the death of his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), which allows the re-emergence of Thor’s sister, and Odin’s first born, Hela (Cate Blanchett, looking amazing). Hela had been imprisoned, for her powers were getting out of control. But when Odin died, she was freed, and she can pretty much do whatever she wants–which is, of course, to control the world. Or destroy it. She is known as the Goddess of Death, so you can guess which choice she’d prefer.

Thor discovers that his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is actually not dead, and is still up to his impish, deceptive ways. However, Thor realizes he can use this to his benefit to thwart his enemies, which besides Hela also includes a being known as the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, in an hilarious return to form). He rules a planet that Thor is cast away on, having lost his hammer thanks to a fight with Hela, and is pitted against the Hulk (eventually played by Mark Ruffalo) in a Roman-esque gladiator battle. Grandmaster oversees a junk planet, and scavengers like 142 (Tessa Thompson) can get money for catching beings to use as gladiators against Hulk, who is the Grand Champion.

Meanwhile, on Asgard, Hela has enlists a right-hand man, Skurge (Karl Urban, always looking unrecognizable), to be her Executioner, to any Asgardian who rebukes her. There is a rebellion happening, led by Heimdall (Idris Elba–when is not a badass?), who also has the protective Sword of Asgard.

Thankfully, they left out the ongoing subplot of Jane this time, because there is so much going on in this film, cramming that ill-fated love story back into the narrative would’ve been a big mistake. The writers would rather write funny battle scenes and dialog, and that’s just fine with me. There is also enough tension between 142 (who also turns out to be a former Valkyrie of Asgard) and Thor to make a working “relationship” arc. They do, however, have a nice cameo by another potential Avenger. It leads to the funniest line (unintentionally) by Loki: “I’ve been falling for 30 minutes!”

Thor has a lot to do in this film, and has a few quirky friends to help him, such as Korg and Miek, fellow gladiators; and the quirky villain Grandmaster adds to the already comic angle the film boasts throughout. It works well because you can tell how much fun the actors are all having. It plays it straight enough to know it’s not just a total clowning, but it certainly makes it entertaining.

Hela, who is played the hell out of by Blanchett, is as stock as you can get with villains, though. The one weakpoint of Marvel films, for the most part, is that they all follow the same stock plot and resolution. Here, though, they cram enough fun stuff in there that you can’t help but just smile throughout. This is a popcorn movie after all, and it does deliver. If you’re cynical enough to be tired of it, you probably want to step away from Marvel films from now on.

If you want to stick with them, though, just sit back and enjoy the ride. And…in this case, the soundtrack too!

Ah-ah, ah!

Ah-ah, ah!

My rating: :-)

Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the sixth “Spider-Man” film, and it’s easily the best since “Spider-Man 2” (from the original trilogy). The Spider-Man franchise has had a bit of inconsistency, starting strong but ending a bit weakly with the dreaded (but somewhat over-hated) “Spider-Man 3”; then, rebooted with 2 completely forgettable films and a forgettable Peter (played as dutifully by Andrew Garfield as possible). As reliable as Spider-Man is as an entertaining comic book hero, his movie franchise hasn’t been as dependable.

Marvel still wants to save their golden boy, however; they threw him in “The Avengers: Civil War”, and a young, boisterous Tom Holland was cast. His cameo was brief but fun, and gave enough of an excuse I guess, to give him a full feature length film.

But this time, the studio was smart to not reboot the whole story all over again, so that in the 3rd time in 15 years, we’d have a “Peter Parker origin story”. In “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, directed by Jon Watts (“Clown”), we already know Peter is Spider-Man, and he’s already fought with the Avengers. This allows the character to be exactly where he needs to be, and not re-introduced again.

Parker has returned from fighting the Battle of New York, and is ecstatic that he’s been able to cut his teeth with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., if you didn’t know that already) and the Avengers. He’s given the guise of being an intern to the Stark company, so no one suspects what he’s really up to. His Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) encourages him in his internship, and he seems to be the envy of some students at school. But Parker has his teenage problems: he longs for a shot at a girl named Liz (Laura Harrier), a brainy and beautiful girl that is keen to Parker’s attraction. He also has a little rivalry with the school rich kid Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Tony Revolori), who competes with Parker in the ‘mathletes’. And, unfortunately for Parker, school comes before superhero. He still has to do his homework.

The city has its share of thieves and criminals, but none more powerful than a mysterious villain referred to (in credits only) as the Vulture. He’s only known in the film as Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a contractor whose business is co-opted by Stark’s own Damage Control following the Battle, to clean up the after effects. Toomes, dismayed but not detracted, steals some of the artifacts himself and sells the exotic weapons at a high price to support his family. Toomes is a lunch bucket villain. He’s blue collar, not looking to take over the world, just looking for a piece of American Pie.

But this doesn’t sit well for 15 year-old Peter, who trails him and tries to stop him by himself. This bothers Stark, and Parker’s chaperone Happy (Stark’s colleague, played by Jon Favreau), and it gets Spider-Man in quite a lot of hot water.

For us, as an audience, we’re licking our chops to watch Spider-Man fight. And, like Stark, his suit is powered by AI, a bit of a SmartSuit. His AI, Karen (voiced by Jennifer Connelly), helps him out of jams both with the bad guys, and gives some sage life advice.

Also along for the ride is Peter’s school friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who wants to be “the guy in the chair”, the one behind the scenes who aids his super hero friend. At first Peter is hesitant; but after some run-ins, and Ned’s assistance, he agrees. Ned’s contributions are essential to Peter’s escaping certain doom, and proves his worth as his “sidekick”.

There are some breathtaking action sequences that string the film along, including one that takes place on the Staten Island Ferry; and the other atop the Washington monument. The Ferry sequence may remind viewers of the subway scene in “Spider-Man 2”; but it doesn’t feel like a rip off. This is actually the bread and butter of a Spider-Man story: he has to save a piece of New York City. In the 1st movie, it’s the Queensboro Bridge (in the reboot it’s the Williamsburg Bridge).

Most of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is watching Tom Holland eat up the Peter Parker role. He’s the youngest actor to portray the character, which works to its benefit. There’s a literal breath of new life into the character; and for some reason, it makes him more believable than previous incarnations played by Garfield and Tobey Maguire.

The strongest parts, like much of the MCU films, involve humor. There are a lot of quality laughs here, and it certainly strengthens the film’s entertainment value. Stark’s scenes are amusing; but it’s a lot more than that. RDJ doesn’t have to save this film. He’s just a piece. Keaton is exceptional as the ice cold Toomes, just trying to make a good living, but is also cutthroat. Batalon as Spidey’s BFF is also cute and charismatic. And, can’t forget Zandaya’s Michelle, or “MJ” (duh!). On balance, the whole cast provides good performances. Holland and Keaton’s stand out, but they all do well to round out the film.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” brings confidence back to the franchise, and sets up nicely for its own series. I want to see more of Holland as Peter, and watch him grow up a little. He already started to toward the end of the film. Now, as a future Avenger, we can see the character finally reach his full potential.

Just don’t go forcing Venom on us again right now, mkay?

My rating: :-)

Kick-Ass

April 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, giving his nephew Peter a little bit of foreshadowing as he emerges as The Amazing Spider-man. True words.

But how about when you have no power? Kick-Ass, also known as David Lizewski (played by English actor Aaron Johnson), asks this question in the film “Kick-Ass”, a non-superhero super-hero movie that works almost as two movies. One, a light hearted comic book movie that features a lot of action, and cartoon violence. The other is a more serious undertone of betrayal, hatred, and exploitation on the part of fathers and their children. Do the two work?

Well, let’s back up for a moment. “Kick-Ass” introduces a super hero idea in which we live in the normal world, and one kid doesn’t understand why there hasn’t been a copy-cat of a comic book super-hero. He invents one that ultimately is named Kick-Ass, and goes to try and save kittens or junkies from being beaten up by a gang of other junkies. When he is incapacitated by one such group, he has lost some feeling in certain parts of his body so he is able to withstand more beatings than the normal human being. In all of the comic book movies I’ve seen, this was the most painfully realistic set up for an origin story I’ve seen. Nothing about military experiments. No explosions in the lab, no radioactive side effects from an arachnid bite. No, this was just a kid who got a little over his head and wound up surviving a stab wound among other injuries.

But, instead of deterring him from fighting crime, it inspires him even more. He is an internet sensation, and he designs a MySpace page (dating the film’s development process, obviously). He gets the attention of two others–a disenchanted father (played by Nicholas Cage) and his daughter, Mindy. He has an idea to showcase her as a superhero as well–but a much more violent one, as Hit Girl. She’s got a mouth that would give Irish Spring and Dove a billion dollar endorsement, and moves that make Cat Woman look like an amateur.

They somewhat “team up” when Kick-Ass is asked by The Hot Chick at David’s school, as they have become chums since she thinks he’s her gay BFF, to tell one of her former “clients” at a help clinic to back off of her. When Kick-Ass goes to this guy’s pad, he realizes he really is way in over his head as there are five or six other guys in there and they can easily kill him. But Hit Girl comes in and saves the day, and from there, the other more insidious plot develops.

A drug cartel is being run in the city underground by a powerful “lumber entrepreneur” named Frank D’Amico (played by another English actor, Mark Strong), and his plans are being spoiled by an unidentified “masked man” who has been killing his men. On this night when Kick-Ass is identified as being a part of the scheme (since the “client” was working for him), he is indicted fully by D’Amico, who wants him dead. His son, Chris (played by McLovin, or Christopher Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to create his own super hero persona to lure Kick-Ass and let his dad catch him. He wants to “learn about the family business”. His father allows it, and thus creates Red Mist.

When we learn about Mindy’s father’s past, the plot becomes a bit muddled in its purpose. What was once a fun loving, cute, and somewhat realistic approach to what it would be like to be a “real life superhero” becomes a darker, more sardonic tale of revenge and manipulation. Mindy’s Dad, Damon (super hero persona is Big Daddy, and he sports a very funny Adam West impersonation), raises his daughter to be a lethal killer so he can exact revenge on D’Amico for selling him out and causing major family complications. When she is enlisted as Hit Girl, she is more than willing. It’s hard to tell whether it’s just brainwashing and we should dislike Damon; or, we should feel he’s justified. It’s a slippery slope, and one that may be a little too heavy-handed for otherwise such a jovial movie.

The film’s fork in the road occurs when Kick-Ass and Big Daddy are captured by D’Amico’s men, and there’s a very real danger of them being killed. While David is narrating the film, he reminds us of other endings in which the hero narrates even when he’s not alive. Is it a ruse? Or will this film go that far to prove a point?

The film, from this point, sheds its realistic layer of skin and uncovers what I guess it was going for all along–superhero comic book violence and big explosions.

It’s hard to say whether it’s a total failure. I was, by this time, completely enthralled by the film. I really liked the characters, and I really hated the bad guys. In the climactic ending, it is extremely unrealistic and extremely violent. It bears no resemblance to the sweet and funny movie it started as. But I didn’t dislike how it progressed. If you look at a lot of comic book stories, some of them do resemble normal stories of normal people in fantastic situations. Peter Parker is the perfect example. He is exactly what “Kick-Ass” is emulating, except that Peter Parker *does* possess super powers.

The lesson of the film is certainly muddled because of the bombastic way the film ends. It goes from being about taking responsibility for who you are, the loss of identity, and the exploitation of society, to being about getting revenge and losing yourself in the super hero persona. My feeling is that’s what the filmmakers wanted. They wanted this ultimately to be a sarcastic super hero film that ends like all other super hero movies end. And of course, it ends on a note that leaves it open for a sequel.

I liked this film a lot, and I would love to see a sequel. I’d love to revisit these characters. But I wonder if maybe they were missing something here. It’s hard to feel sorry for Damon, Mindy’s dad, because he’s made her a victim just as much as he made himself. Whether Mindy likes her lifestyle as being a cold-blooded killer or not, she wasn’t really given the choice. It’s a bit dark and moody and out of place in a movie that’s supposed to be mostly for laughs. However, I do find it daring that they chose to make her so young. This is an age when the younger generation has an advantage over the older ones. They have technology, and so many more things at their fingertips. Is it really overexposure and exploiting? Or is it just the way things are now? Every generation takes a few steps back and a few steps forward. The invention of Hit Girl is tricky because I certainly wouldn’t like to see anyone try to mimic her in real life–they’d be killed. But her spirit is nothing to be offended by or be ashamed or afraid of. Her heart is in the right place. I also would hope that David has realized how much his docile and sympathetic father has been so much better for him letting him make his own choices, unlike Chris and Mindy, who have had their destinies and decisions forced upon them by their fathers. I do think the film missed the boat on that revelation.

Overall though, this is a good yarn, and it’s fun. Yes it gets a bit heavy handed at times, but I still find it very entertaining–and before you start feeling bad about reveling in Hit Girl’s ability to kill 5 men in less than 1 minute, remember that these are heartless criminals who do nothing for society except have more money than you and make crass remarks about women and double park when they shouldn’t. So really, she did us all a favor.

Take the film as an origin story for a comic book, and there’s not a lot of difference between this and any other comic book movie you’ve seen. And it delivers as well as the best ones out there.

My rating: :-)