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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Kong: Skull Island: Movie Man Jackson

The king stay the king. In 1973, the Vietnam War is winding down, and the United States is beginning to pull all of its assets out of it. While this is going on, a small government organization known as Monarch makes a pitch to its higher ups about exploring an uncharted territory known as Skull Island. Monarch’s leaders William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have their reasons for wanting to go, but all they’ll say is that this is for geological purposes.

Going to a place no one has traversed before means Monarch is going to need an expedition squad. Led by former British military operative James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his unit, Monarch is able to make their way unto the island and conduct research. Immediately, King Kong himself appears, defending his home from these intruders. Little do these people know, Kong is actually protecting them, for what lies on the island is just as dangerous—if not more so—than Kong is.

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or in Hollywood’s case, hoping to make money. Having a shared universe is all the rage now, starting with Marvel’s first stab at it almost a decade ago and now Warner Bros’ attempts with the DC Extended Universe and a “MonsterVerse.” Why a universe needs to exist for what only looks like two main characters in King Kong and Godzilla, I’ll never know, but we have it. Kong: Skull Island is here, and…it’s a passable, relatively entertaining, blockbuster.

Even though the two share a genre and now a universe, in many ways, Skull Island is the inverse of the Godzilla we saw in 2014. That monster movie was so methodical in its approach, it almost wasn’t a monster movie, and it chose to hide its star well into the runtime, which divided some people. For those looking for mayhem immediately, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers on that front quickly.

Kong smashes. Kong pounds his chest. Kong causes massive collateral damage. Simply put, Kong does what one expects him to do, and he does it well, he’s rendered well, and it looks well. The fictional island serves as a good playground to showcase Kong, despite its lack of verticality. Not all of it looks stunning; some of the monsters Kong does battle with look a tad cheap, and a massive set piece hazed in green fog gets a little wonky, but as a whole, Kong: Skull Island features solid cinematography.

The script, penned by Nightcrawler writer Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, is another story. No, it’s not deplorable, but it’s hard to tell if they wanted the story to be more than it is. Which isn’t much. On one side of the prism, Kong: Skull Island aims low, simply providing a vehicle in which a 30-something foot tall behemoth can wreck things, people, and other large creatures, with some mostly poor attempts at humor thrown in for good measure. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are moments where it feels like this movie is aspiring to be in the vein of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, etc., and it doesn’t possess those movies’ narrative/character impact.

Many of the characters that land on Skull Island are rather bland, which is surprising for a cast that features such big names in Hiddleston, Goodman, and Larson, along with up and comer Corey Hawkins. Not to mention other fairly notable names such as John Ortiz, Toby Kebbel, and Shea Whigham who end up being fodder or take space. Three characters that stand out a little are Samuel L. Jackson (refreshingly not in complete SLJ mode until arguably the end), John C. Reilly (great backstory), and Jason Mitchell, mostly due to his charisma. Unfortunately, the glut of characters featured gives Skull Island a feeling of overstuffedness. Just five or six less could have given more attention to the ones that mattered.

As it stands though, Kong: Skull Island does its part in laying a nice base foundation for The Eighth Wonder of the World, placing him on a collision course with The King of the Monsters.

C+

Photo credits go to birthmoviesdeath.com, toofab.com, and movieweb.com

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Marvel’s The Avengers: Movie Man Jackson

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 “Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’ll avenge it!”

And this is the story all about how a little blue box turned the world upside down. Director of S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) makes his way onto the Santa Fe headquarters of the agency one day during an evacuation. The fabled blue cubed Tesseract is beginning to act funny, and before the research team can figure out why, a portal to another realm opens, and out of it arrives Asgardian Loki (Tom Middleton). Having lost his rule over his homeland previously, Loki has struck a deal with an otherworldly race: If he seizes and gives the Tesseract to these beings, they will be under his control to rule over Earth.

With the powerful cube gone, Fury decides it is essentially code red. What is code read? The Avengers initiative. This is war, and not a war that can be fought singularly by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), or the Norse God of Thunder. Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and and others are going to need each other to take down this threat. Getting these guys on the same page, however, may be a tougher war than taking down Loki.

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No matter how many times it is watched, The Avengers still carries a feeling of astonishment, to yours truly at least. Whenever I think of this movie, I think of that semi-iconic scene where the camera does a nice pan around all of the heroes. It is a geek-out moment, and this is coming from a guy who isn’t a comic book nerd. The fact that director Joss Whedon can extract that feeling, or make it from nothing in some cases, is quite the feat.

That is to say that Whedon has made something in The Avengers that works well enough standalone, but the true magic is seeing how all of the other films tied to Phase 1 before it have built up to the specific moment. Some might have been better quality than others, certainly, but at the end of the day they all had enough linkage to each other to comprise the intertwined universe that Marvel envisioned.

It’s little things like, for example, hearing Tony mention to Bruce that Steve is the guy his father worked on. This intertwining gives depth, and also makes the rather simple plot of “taking back item X (the Tesseract) from the bad guy” a bit more substantial and meaningful because the object of attention has had a presence in many of the previous films.

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Where Whedon shoots for the moon and hits the target over and over again are the massive action set pieces. Aside from some lumbering and very stylized hand-to-hand combat, when it is time for buildings to crumble, planes to come down, and intruders to get hammered, blasted, smashed, or “shielded,” the movie dazzles consistently.

Even with the high quality of superhero action in this, the best moments, at least to yours truly, are the smaller moments among the heroes. Unlike some later films that really forced the humor (looking at you primarily, Iron Man 3), the humor here is natural, and comes from well-written lines and the simple clashes that come with these larger-than-life personalities.

Each alpha carries distinct traits that make them who they are for mostly better but worse when forced to assimilate in a group. Watching Captain America and Iron Man spar verbally with different ideologies (really planted the seeds early for Civil War), or Thor flexing his demigod status making it occasionally difficult to connect with others is compelling. One can tell there’s a real comfort level, whether a good guy/woman, a smaller side character, or bad guy, everyone has with their roles, which also applies to the guy who has the least experience with his superhero character. Mark Ruffalo absolutely nails The Hulk from appearance to personality, adding to the spot-on casting that Marvel always seems to bat close to 1.000 on.

Nothing said here about The Avengers by yours truly is groundbreaking, insightful, or newly eye-opening. But years later, it is still clear that Whedon has assembled many parts to create something very whole that will last the test of time.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to impawards.com, comicvine.com, and fanpop.com.

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