Film review Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok

Directed by Taika Waititi

Starring Chis Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston

Certificate 12A

Back in 2011, when Kenneth Branagh was making Thor, I was keen to see how he would tackle one of Marvel’s best loved comics characters.

The result was a solid blockbuster; a little talky in places, but the movie really came alive when the eponymous character arrived on Earth, fell for boffin Jane Foster and tackled a generic robot destroyer.

It rightly made stars of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, and paved the way for terrific sequel Thor: The Dark World. Another great mix of fantasy and comedy with Hemsworth and Hiddleston stealing the show again.

Wisely Marvel gave the saga a rest for four years while prepping more helpings of Captain America and Avengers.

So now we catch up with the god of thunder in a movie which throws out the rulebook and starts afresh. There’s no Jane Foster, sexy sidekick Darcy or seasoned boffin Erik Selvig. Most of Thor’s allies are also removed in favour of assorted monsters. This owes more of a debt to Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Thor movies, and the style change may be deliberate as Marvel preps its biggest film, the two-part Avengers: Infinity War, which will see just about every member of the MCU involved in a smack down with the galactic godfather, Thanos.

Hiring Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) as director was a stroke of genius. He brings an irreverent tone to the saga which is irresistible. At one point when the brilliant Jeff Goldblum is doing his eccentric bonkers routine as intergalactic villain Grandmaster, I’m laughing so hard I miss about five gags.

Getting rid of Natalie Portman was also a good move. Great actress, but I found her bland in the series. Newcomer Tessa Thompson is a terrific heroine. Smart, funny and lends the saga much needed femininity amid the testosterone. Cate Blanchett also has a great time as the antagonist, and even though her by-the-numbers dispatching of countless Asgardian troops is okay, it’s her bitchy comments that prove more effective. She chews whole chunks of scenery like a ravenous lioness.

And Hemsworth reminds us why he’s far more than just a gobsmacking six pack and set of biceps. His comic skills are excellent. Seeing improv so funny in a film this epic is a welcome breath of fresh air.

There are times when it feels like a couple of other movies. A bit of Lord of the Rings here, Warcraft there. But there’s also plenty of the usual Marvel staples: fight scenes; boss monster; dogfights in funky fighter craft and a lot more. It’s all expertly done and rounds out a great year for comic book movies with Spider-Man Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy: vol 2 fine additions to Marvel’s cinematic universe.

Obviously the presence of Hulk and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is a major selling point (in a storyline inspired by the comic Planet Hulk), but Taika Waititi’s rocky gladiator Korg steals many of the best scenes. Again, his improv is often side-splitting.

And as usual, stay through those closing credits for an extra scene or two which should keep fans intrigued over Thor’s future. Even if you’re not a fan, there are so many gags here, it’s guaranteed to brighten the bleakest autumnal day.

Good luck topping this Justice League. You’re going to need it.



Dr Strange – Movie Review

For the most part the latest film from the Marvel stable is a lot of fun, even if it does tick all the boxes of your standard origins story. 

Benedict Cumberbatch is on good form as the arrogant, wealthy Stephen Strange, a gifted New York surgeon who during one fateful night has a terrible car crash, careers off the road and sees his own career in tatters also. 

When his hands are crushed by the dashboard, Strange undergoes rehabilitation and even more painful surgery before realising there is little help. However, when he gets wind of a fellow patient who he thought was beyond help, but spends his time playing basketball, Strange goes to find out why. The recovered sports fan seems like the most unlikely person in New York to have gone on a mystical quest, but gives Strange just enough information for him to pack up his things and head off to Nepal. 

There he finds Chiwetol Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton as mystical warriors who will help Strange heal his hands and send him on a mystical quest.

Mads Mikkelsen is on good form as the obligatory bad guy, and there are nice comedic touches that help make the whole outlandish premise far more acceptable. Despite some dazzling visuals and stunning fight scenes, not to mention an impressive Hong Kong sequence in reverse during the third act, it was all a little underwhelming. 

Rachel McAdams was wasted as Strange’s under used love interest, and the finale with the big bad character felt a little dull.

It’s not the worst superhero film I’ve ever seen, and certainly not as bad as Batman versus Superman Dawn of Justice, but given the high water marks of Spider-Man 2 and the original Iron Man, Dr Strange ends up less in some weird mirror verse than in a limbo realm of also ran comic book-inspired movies. 

Thankfully, I’ll repeat the earlier statement. Cumberbatch is spot on as the eponymous spell caster, and is supported by some terrific character actors.

It’ll be intriguing to see how Strange fits into the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe, and we get a hint of that during the closing credits. 

Doctor Not That Strange

Many years ago, in an era before video recorders, (imagine that kids!), I stayed up late one Friday night to watch a 1978 movie. That film was Dr Strange, a forgettable TV fantasy epic starring Peter Hooton and John Mills, based on the classic Marvel comic of the same name. I was never a fan of the comic, but hoped that one day we would see a lavish big screen version. So when the news arrived at that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing the eponymous sorcerer, like millions of fans around the world, I was thrilled by the news. 

Now the trailer has arrived, I’m not so sure.

Thanks to the success of films like The Avengers Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy, we are in an era where Marvel are taking some serious risks on the lesser known properties. 

One problem with Dr Strange is it looks like it was ghost directed by Christopher Nolan.

Consider the scenes: maverick hero staggering around a Nepalese wintry location? So far, so Batman Begins. A city folding in on itself? Didn’t we see that in Inception six years ago? Even the score sounds like it was composed by Hans Zimmer.

Obviously as these movies cost hundreds of million dollars, the producers want to make it look like the blockbusters we’ve seen before, so we know we are in safe hands. But are we? 

Director Scott Derrickson was responsible for The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, which was not a bad take on the classic 1950s Michael Rennie sci-fi offering. However, the third act turned into a generic orgy of pixels and CGI jiggery-pokery. In short, it was a massive letdown.

If Deadpool taught us anything this year, it’s that fans of Marvel movies are a bit tired of sci-fi fantasy epics that take themselves a bit too seriously. 

We are about to embrace, or run from, the epic that is X-Men: Apocalypse, another of those Bryan Singer movies in which Magneto hovers around, lifting things up and dropping them from a great height. 

The twist this time is that the ubiquitous Oscar Isaac plays the purple bad guy, who looks like he’s stepped from a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie.

Judging by the trailer to that movie, there’s not a single laugh in the offing. 

Obviously in the DC camp, there have been reports that Suicide Squad, the Dirty Dozen of superhero movies, expensive re-shoots have been taking place to inject more comedy into the proceedings.

Why? Because many fan boys and girls thought that Batman versus Superman: Dawn of justice was a bit too serious for its own good, and obviously with Deadpool costing a little over $50million and grossing almost $800million, comedy was the way forward.

Marvel’s next big movie, Captain America: Civil War, (or should that be Avengers 2.5?), is with us in the next few weeks, and that also looks like it will test the patience. 

Shoehorning even more Marvel characters into the good guys versus good guys concept, it reminds me of that classic Python sketch in which a world of Supermen is not that special, but one man steps out from the masses – Michael Palin’s Bicycle Repair Man.

And if you exclude excuse the obvious segue, we are in a cycle of costumed hero flix that have outstayed their welcome.

What we want from our heroes is something super, but because there are so many of them Dr Strange is going to look more like Doctor Mundane as he fights for his place in Marvel’s rather crowded cinematic universe.

Black Mass – The Review

How much you like Black Mass depends on your fondness for watching assorted characters dying in horrible ways roughly every 10 minutes. 
On the plus side Johnny Depp is superb as “Whitey”, the psycho Boston crimelord who commits or commands much of the killing. 

His performance, complete with android blue contact lenses and receding hairline, commands much of the screen time. When he’s not on screen, you wish he were. 

There’s an awkwardness about Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s political VIP brother echoing a long lost Kennedy brother, while I kept expecting Kevin Bacon to talk to camera and try and sell me a phone service. 

The score by Tom Holkenborg is pretty good, but the problem is I didn’t care about any of the characters. The trail of carnage went from occasionally tiring to a little predictable. A dinner party scene involving “a secret recipe” was a little too reminiscent of Joe Pesci’s psycho gangster in Goodfellas. In fact many scenes were a little too reminiscent of Scorsese gangster flick or Depp’s earlier crime epic Donnie Brasco.  

And it also commits the cardinal sin of including a St Patrick Day Parade, something inevitable in any movie about Boston and Irish American relations. 

Then there were more recent “American” offerings such as the humdrum Gangster and the superior Hustle. You do spend a lot of time looking at the 70s and 80s decor and costumes, which takes you out of the moment. 

It’s well made and ticks over, but it lacked any sucker punch moments. Because most of the characters were so toxic, it was hard to sympathise with anyone. 

A good watch but it may have worked better as a mini series where characters had more room to breathe and the killings were spread out.