Thor: Ragnarok-Movie Man Jackson

Ah-ah, ah! After the events of Sokovia, The God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), has been busy scouring the Earth for Infinity Stones. He’s been hell-bent on prepping his city of Asgard from a destruction known as Ragnarok, a feeling he possesses as a result of his reoccurring visions of this event. Believing that he has prevented Ragnarok from happening after defeating Surtur the fire demon, the hero returns home in good spirits.

But, those do not last long, as the defeating of Surtur wasn’t the catalyst to stopping Ragnarok. In truth, Ragnarok has already begun, and the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), announces it with an impact arrival, obliterating Thor’s legendary hammer and banishing him, along with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to a foreign planet called Sakarr. Led by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), it’s a place where fatal battles are fought for entertainment, and Thor is forced to enter and fight an old friend in The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). To get back home and save his home, Thor must fight, and somehow get the help of Banner, Loki, and even a mysterious nomad by the name of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to drive out Hela.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if it’s fraying, re-coat it. Terrible similes aside, the two Thor movies showcasing the God of Thunder weren’t exactly broken, but the fact is, they are two of the more forgotten or rather, nondescript movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to fans, especially The Dark World (truthfully, yours truly is rather fond of 2011’s Thor). So with Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has certainly left behind a movie that won’t be considered “nondescript.” Has he left a movie behind that many are calling one of Marvel’s best? That’s up for debate.

The direction is certainly worth taking note of and remembering. The style the trailers promised is front and center throughout. Asgard has never looked better, but it’s the world of Sakarr—a trippy, futuristic hue of neon colors and post-apocalyptic feel—that stands out the most. It makes the somewhat bumpy first 20 or so minutes worth sticking around for. Waititi’s action, visual flair, and predominately 80’s inspired score/soundtrack coalesce to create something so unlike what has been seen in the MCU up to this point. Even the movies that Ragnarok will be most compared with in Guardians of the Galaxy volumes 1 and 2, the third chapter of Thor is substantially different than those.

One main thing Ragnarok shares with those movies is an appetite for humor. It wouldn’t be out of line to consider Thor: Ragnarok comedy first, action/adventure second. And for the most part, the comedy hits more than it misses. Seriously, there are some very funny jokes and awesome delivery found in all characters. But honestly, it can get to be a bit much. The story, while functional, kind of seems to be written around the jokes (apparently 80% of the film is improvised). Absolutely nothing is wrong with a lighter superhero film, though going so light while still trying to generate emotion can undermine some of the more dramatic moments of the production. In a few “big” moments, Ragnarok seems to struggle with this, wanting to immediately cut to the next visual gag or joke from something with a serious or vice versa.

With that said, one does have to commend those in charge who say they’d like to flip the script and actually achieve in doing it. Thor: Ragnarok isn’t a Jason Bourne, a franchise in which director and lead actor said they’d never do another unless they could do something else—only to proceed with doing the same thing they had done three movies prior. The changes in Ragnarok seem to revitalize the main holdovers from the prior installments in Hemsworth and Hiddleston. Both seem to really be having fun like never before, and the machinations of the story allow them to take advantage of their natural chemistry. Those who wanted more Hulk get their wish granted; the not-so-jolly green giant has a load of screentime and Ruffalo handles the two parts of the beast and Banner like only he can.

Newbie to the MCU Tessa Thompson brings a great new character into the fold as Valkyrie, the foundation and backstory being laid for her own potential standalone journey. As for other newbies, their characters don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but in the ride that is Thor: Ragnarok, they fit right in. Anytime a wide-eyed Jeff Goldblum is cast (save for Independence Day: Resurgence), it can only amp the fun factor up. There are some disappointments, but not due to performance. The villainous Hela is introduced wonderfully and played up wonderfully by Cate Blanchett, only to be forgotten in long stretches of the movie. Karl Urban, always a joy to watch, is a little underutilized as a basic henchman. Taika Waititi probably possesses the biggest laughs lending his voice to Korg, a rock-based gladiator-turned-gatekeeper of the battle arena.

 

Thor: Ragnarok is a sugar rush in the most positive and negative of ways. But Marvel does deserve some praise for wanting to tweak its formula and try a few new things with one of its less beloved lead Avengers. No matter what…Marvel, uh, finds a way.

C+

Photo credits go to collider.com, polygon.com, and comicbook.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Creed: Movie Man Jackson

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“One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time.”

A name is just a name…right? Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) has lived a tough life during his 20-something odd years on this Earth. He’s been in and out of group homes never knowing his mother, or his father, who happens to be the deceased boxer and former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.

Adonis, like his father, is a hell of a fighter. But, after realizing his connection with the legendary prizefighter, he knows he needs to go all in to realize his true potential, knowing, however, that he wants to make it on his own without his father’s name. Which means leaving Los Angeles for Philadelphia to be trained by Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), now old and less than enthused to have anything to do with the ring. But, sensing something special in the kid, he relents, as Donnie may just have what it takes to be as good as, if not better than, Apollo.

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It seems like most, if not all, boxing movies pack the same punch story-wise, from the more recent Southpaw  to the granddaddy of boxing movies in Rocky. Really, Creed kind of follows the same structure. But, with that said, Creed is a complete crowd-pleaser. And, even though it is a standard boxing plot (coming up usually in a struggle, training, the main event), there are real surprises that give a movie a freshness that I did not know could exist.

“Your legacy is more than a name,” is the tagline, and message, that Creed carries. This message is one that isn’t seen too often, and makes a perfect point about accepting your “name,” history, and all that it entails while still making your own name and history. For some reason, I found this to be message and plotline to be hooking. As stated, this is the standard boxing tale of the rise of a fighter. But, the story doesn’t feel so rote because of the extra steps it takes to highlight aspects that aren’t about boxing. The fights outside of the ring are just as compelling as the ones inside of it. A few moments and dialogue can be a little corny, but it wouldn’t be in the Rocky universe without a little corniness and unintelligible speech, right?

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Make no mistake though, the action inside of the ring is a spectacle, filmed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station). He cares about the product that he’s putting out, mixing in many different camera shots (can’t remember the last time over-the-shoulder looked this great) to capture the sweet science so fluidly. The boxing is edge of the seat thrilling, with a haymaker of a score (with an great soundtrack as well) composed by Ludwig Göransson that brings in elements of the prior Rocky movies but ultimately making something original.

If there were those who believed that F4ntastic was a body blow to everyone, including Michael B. Jordan, involved in it, his knockout work as Adonis Creed proves that the man has a lot of staying power, if that wasn’t clear already. Adonis is a great character, with more to him than a man who just punches another man. Not to spoil anything as I believe the trailers did a relatively good job, but an early life reveal gives the younger Creed a ton of meaty backstory and actually differentiates him from most other cinematic boxers from a narrative perspective. He’s a complex character in the opinion of yours truly, full of confidence and self-doubt, his own man but not completely. Jordan gets the opportunity to show all of these aspects of his character and then some, and in the ring, he absolutely owns it, as fluid and natural as an actor can be. And though this shouldn’t matter, visually, he does look like he could be Apollo’s son.

Whoever thought that Rocky could ever be just as good of a trainer as Mickey was? As the old sage who is ready for life to pull the plug on him, ol’ Sly Stallone is better than he’s ever been since the first Rocky. He feels like a real character, going through real things that a man Rocky’s age goes through, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Criticism has been given to Sly in the past for taking too much responsibility in films he appears in and not excelling in one particular area. Here, with a little creative control, he’s just asked to act, and he’s all the better for it. Tessa Thompson’s Bianca levels out the intensity with the type of support that Creed cannot get from Rocky. As far as in-ring opposition goes, the “big bad” played by real life fighter Tony Bellow may not be all that memorable, but he is a competent foil for the titular character, and in the story, it makes sense as to why the finale would happen.

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The sport of boxing itself has been on a steady overall decline, but with Creed, there may be a future for it on the big screen. With a dazzling three punch combination of excellent writing, superb acting, and detailed production, Creed lands flush and precise punches.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to theatlantic.com, and popinquirer.net.

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