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.



Ghostbusters (2016) Review

Few people were more down about a Ghostbusters reboot than me. The 1984 original was a gritty, adultish fantasy which trod a fine line between PG and 15. Heroes smoked and it contained scenes trimmed for prime time TV. Oh and it was both funny and scary. Seen at a formative time, like a footprint in the wet cement of my mind, it solidified and proved a hard mould to fill. 

Relaunching the franchise 27 years after Ghostbusters II was a bad idea. And it wasn’t about changing the protagonists’ sex. It was partly the presence of Melissa McCarthy (one of my least favourite actresses after her work on The Heat and Spy), and when the first trailer was released, it looked like Leslie Jones was being sold short as the hysterical African American subway worker. The costumes looked awful, the soundtrack was audio blasphemy and… you get the picture. 

So what a relief that the reboot is really funny, the cast are terrific and Chris Hemsworth is a hoot as the gloriously stupid receptionist, Kevin. 

It’s also a bold move to completely reboot the saga instead of just making it a third chapter 27 years on. 

Director Paul Feig does a good job of juggling cast, crew, effects and pacing. It ticks over at a fair pace, Kate McKinnon is a treat as the eccentric inventor of the team’s assorted gadgets, and while you do wonder where all their funding comes from, it scarcely matters. 

Most of the original surviving cast pop up in cameos, and there’s even a sweet nod to Harold Ramis in bust form. 

The 3D was pretty effective, not least due to a ratio which meant proton streams and ghosts could spill beyond the frame, giving an extra sense of depth. 

And the fact McCarthy tones down her potty mouthed patter makes her a stronger actress. 

We’ve had so many remakes of 80s classics, but this is not only one that works but almost demands a sequel. 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War/Midnight Special reviews

 I all but slept through 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, partly because I’d been to the midnight screening of Prometheus a few hours earlier and partly because it was so dull. 

The fact it starred Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, two of my favourite thesps and still made me nod of was an indication of how mediocre it was. 

So four years later I was far from desperate to see the prequel/sequel, and given the woeful reviews, went in expecting another two hours of dullness. 

However, with Hemsworth, Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon and Sheridan Smith on board, there was plenty of high calibre talent involved. And to my surprise turned out to be a fun, engaging pantomime with a touch of Frozen filtered through the lens of The Lord of the Rings. 

Starting with a prequel to SWATH, we fast forward past events from that movie and the meat of the film which sees the eponymous warrior and his mission to usurp the evil ice queen (Blunt) and retrieve the magic mirror from film one. 

The gags are funny, the set design impressive and though the action scenes a little too frenetic, it knits together well. 

The CGI effects are annoying, clearly rendered by an army of uninspired keyboard wizards. But it scarcely matters. 

While no fantasy classic, there are enough lavish set pieces to make it worthwhile. 
Midnight Special

Imagine a road movie with a Close Encounters vibe but all the cast had been told their best friend had just died. That’s the tone of Midnight Special, a slow, sombre, occasionally annoying Twilight Zone-style adventure which sets out an intriguing Akira-like premise (gifted lad on the run with a few guardians) but drags through a yawnsome second act. Okay there is one shock moment that wakes you up, and a great scene at a gas station, but on the whole it attracts more Zs than a dictionary-compiler’s final chapter. 

Yet the likes of Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton ensured I stayed with it the whole time the trio in front of me were checking their phones and discussing every scene. 

By the third act I was craving the ’special’ element, fearing I had been sold a dud, and remarkably it was something to wow at. I’ll not reveal it here, but safe to say it pays off. 

A great score helped but the whole thing was so earnest it hurt. Nice to see Adam Driver adding a little levity, but it needed more to work. Great punchline but the set up was a trial. 

Had I seen it at the eponymous time I’d have been asleep after half an hour. 

Jaeden Lieberher is quite rightly the star of the show as the young lad at the heart of the drama, but at 1hr 52, this is a good 20 mins too long. There’s just not enough story to justify the running time. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron- The Review 

Daddy, I’m bored“, moans a little voice a few seats away from me.
Clearly the noisy ankle-biter who’s assembled for this Sunday morning IMAX 3D screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron is not feeling the love for Joss Whedon’s sequel to his 2012 blockbuster Avengers Assemble.

Given the moments of exposition and downtime between literally blockbusting scenes, I can understand why a little fatigue has set in.
This might be a film for little kids but it’s also a movie for serious comic book fans who like substance and story with their explosions, something of a rarity in the age of Transformers.
Whedon is no stranger to keeping plenty of plates spinning, as he proved with Buffy all those years ago.

If Avengers Assemble involved his kitchen full of revolving crockery, then Age of Ultron is Whedon’s warehouse full of rotating dishes.

So, on top of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Hawkeye, added to the mix are Scarlet Witch and her twin brother Quicksilver, as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy‘s closing credit cookie.

As a fan of The Avengers comics in the 1980s, I dreamed that one day we’d see Scarlet Witch and red faced android The Vision on the big screen.

Of course there’s a gulf between comics and movies, and seeing how well cast and crew bridged the gap was engaging to my 46 year old self and the 11 year old within.

By the end of the first act, Tony Stark’s Hulkbuster versus the green muscle mountain was enough of a finale for any movie.

The second act was a welcome spot of downtime as our heroes had a rest at a key character’s safe house.
Smartly giving franchise-carrying protagonists more of a backseat in favour of beloved secondary Avengers, writer/director Whedon helps flesh out his ensemble.
When the inevitable full-on, explosive finale occurs, there’s a sense of peril for those characters we previously knew little about.

Does it work?
Well, some of the effects are a little weak, and Ultron looks like a snarky Terminator on steroids – not sure about his metal lips – but it scarcely matters.

There’s so much to gawp at throughout, with moments to reflect on how daft the whole thing is if you think about it for a few seconds, some may leave the cinema elated and exhausted.

Performances are all great – Robert Downey Jnr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson gel beautifully.

Series newcomers Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) and Paul Bettany (now in Vision as well as sound having played Stark’s AI sidekick Jarvis since 2008) slot in perfectly, but Aaron Taylor Johnson’s Quicksilver was less engaging than the same character featured in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

However, the overlong running time could have been tightened up, without sacrificing any of the story or character development.

Given a shopping list of all the other Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises that needed setting up (Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War), Whedon does a fine job of ticking all the boxes, while keeping the viewer hooked.

Okay, it’s not a perfect film by any means, but while it lacks the freshness of movie one, and Tom Hiddleston’s superb villain Loki, there’s much to enjoy here.

It’s a good job there’s usually a three year gap between these huge Marvel epics, because it might take that long for my overloaded brain to recover.

Blackhat – The Review

Contains possible spoilers

Cyber thrillers can fall flat if they slip into the realms of cliche, but thankfully Blackhat gets the cardinal sin out the way early: assorted close up tracking shots of data transfer through chips and microscopic tech landscapes.

Chris Hemsworth is terrific as Nicholas Hathaway, the ace hacker released from prison to help the US government find the villain responsible for a nuclear power plant meltdown in Hong Kong.
Chicago’s Mercantile Trade Exchange is also hacked, causing soy futures to soar. Okay, less urgent but relevant to the plot, which was reminiscent of 007 epic A View To A Kill.

With the aid of Nicholas’s old mate, Captain Chen Dawai, a military officer in China’s cyber warfare unit, and his sister Lien, they set off with Hathaway to find their man.

Hathaway is the world’s least likely hacker seeing as he looks like a Norse god, but it scarcely matters; viewers will be just itching for the moment he beats up a bunch of assailants in a restaurant.

The first act is nothing special as director Michael Mann sets out his stall and lets his tale unfold.

Viola Davis is terrific as FBI Agent Carol Barrett, the figure of authority keeping an eye on Hathaway and slowly developing respect for him. (There’s a back story about 9/11 shoehorned in to give her a little depth, but she does rather well in a generic role).

Tang Wei, who plays our hero’s love interest, is good not great. I’d have preferred Maggie Q or Gong Li in the role, but she looks nice, while the action scenes are okay.
A shootout at a dockside dragged on a bit, but thankfully not as long as the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.

That’s the last time I sat through a Mann movie at the cinema, 20 years ago, and given his hit-and-miss output, I’ve not been desperate to soak up his big screen output.
(For me he peaked with 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, but this is possibly his best work since then).

It’s not perfect. There was some confusion over a character’s death in the second act, possibly intentional, and an incendiary scene was framed like many exploding car shots: long shot, characters on the left, vehicle on the right. Boom. Textbook.

Just once I’d like to see a car explode behind characters, instead of it being framed to capture the hard work of the pyro experts.
There’s also a scene when Hathaway makes his way through a procession with gun drawn, and nobody bats an eyelid. Personally I’d have run a mile.

Blackhat is not the best thriller of the past 12 months, but it ticks over nicely and sustains the interest. However, without Hemsworth dominating every scene, it would have been a weak rejig of Swordfish.

Thor: the Dark World review

A bearded hero with a magical weapon on a planet of noble warriors clashes with an army of masked, laser-blasting invaders.

Thirty years ago Krull, a British mash-up of sub-Tolkien mythology and Star Wars-style effects was launched on an unsuspecting world.

Alas, the hero was rather bland, the cheap effects a bit rubbish (even for ’83), and the likes of pre-Eastenders Todd Carty, post-Carry On Bernard Bresslaw and a badly dubbed Lysette Anthony failed to make the project fly.

Fast forward to now, and in Thor: the Dark World, a bearded hero with a magical hammer on a planet of noble warriors clashes with an army of masked, laser-blasting invaders. Only this time Marvel (with a far greater budget admittedly) hit the blockbuster nail squarely on the head.

Chris Hemsworth is so perfectly cast as the eponymous Asgardian warrior it’s hard to imagine anyone else filling those boots. The slightest smirk creates screen gold. (The god of thunder and charisma might be more on the money).

With a snazzy new Marvel logo, Thor 2 hits the ground running with an epic battle, and escalates from there.
Fans of the original should revel in the scale; director Alan Taylor exploits the skills learned on Game of Thrones to craft a 12A-friendly epic, hammering the various plot strands together to form a fun, frantic, dark, occasionally moving yarn.

Anthony Hopkins can be annoying when phoning in his performances, but here adds gravitas as Odin; ’One Broke Scientist’ Kat Dennings delivers comic relief as Natalie Portman’s sexy assistant Darcy; Idris Elba is given more screen time as gate keeper Helmdal, and the Warriors Three also return from film one.

As ever, Tom Hiddleston chews chunks of scenery as Loki; aside from Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark, few actors are as funny or mischievous in the Marvel universe.
(A Thor movie without Loki is as pointless as a Spider Man flick without Peter Parker).

Rounding out the regulars are Stellan Skargard as boffin Erik Selvig, still a bit bonkers after being possessed in Avengers.
Christopher Eccleston is on good form as the malevolent big bad Malekith, spouting Elvish dialogue, while his ship is gloriously ominous and aptly hammer-like.

Assembling the multi-film plot strands from Thor and Assemble, this is huge fun.

There’s little doubt Marvel have mastered the modern blockbuster, melding great heroes, villains and effects with the brio of the original Star Wars and JJ’s Star Trek.

Okay, Thor 2.0 is not perfect. Portman looks gorgeous, but her character is too wholesome and sadly a bit dull. Maybe thunder-wielding Gods need partners that are safe and yawnsome.
I’d rather have seen Thor romance Darcy or Asgard squeeze Sif. (The latter’s sub-plot sadly goes nowhere fast, but may pay off in Thor 3).

However, seen at midnight in 3D D-Box, TTDW was a pre-Hallowe’en treat.
It also made me delighted that as a forty something, I lived long enough to see the comic heroes of my youth given the big screen epics they deserve.

Stay tuned for a couple of cracking credit cookies; the final one is rewarding and hilarious.

Roll on Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, and let’s hope we don’t have to wait an age for the inevitable Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner and Silver Surfer movie.