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.



Kong-Skull Island Review

We didn’t really need another King Kong movie 12 years after Peter Jackson gave us his bum-numbing three-hour epic. That featured some of the ropiest CGI and most stomach-churning scenes I’ve seen in a mainstream monster smackdown. 
However, the makers of Godzilla have a plan: they revamp the classic old radiation-born lizard one year; wait a while; resurrect the king of all monsters movies and then team them up for the ultimate smack down. 

But first we have Kong-Skull Island, the two-hour epic which sees SAS veteran Tom Hiddleston striking heroic poses: hands on hips in a tight tee shirt, showing where all that gym work went.  

He’s teamed with a small army of US soldiers and assorted experts sent to the eponymous region to investigate mysterious goings on before enemy forces do. 

Thrown into the mix is Weaver (Brie Larson), a likeable photojournalist and one of the few women in the entire movie; obsessed military man Samuel L Jackson; John Goodman, adding gravitas to the proceedings as one of the team who get the mission green-lit, and countless military and money types who may as well walk around with VICTIM stamped on their jackets. 

The whole thing is brisk, snappy and feels like its edited in the dark with garden shears. 

There’s barely a chance to build up any tension before another poor soul has met their fate at the claws or jaws of another monster predator. 

But let’s start at the beginning. 

After a Second World War-set intro when two opposing soldiers face off on a rock on that isle of mystery, we are given another Godzilla-style intro featuring fast cuts before things jump to 1973 Vietnam and the assorted members of the mission are assembled. 

We know what a couple of them do because the tools of their trade are shown in close up. Thankfully it’s a gimmick that isn’t pursued for long. 

The influence of Apocalypse Now is so obvious in its scenes and some advertising that I’m amazed it wasn’t crowd funded by a Francis Ford Coppola fan club. But if you’re going to lift inspiration from somewhere, lift it from one of the best war movies ever made. 

Following the Army’s squad of helicopters through an electrical storm, in which Sam Jackson spouts the sort of rousing dialogue probably polished by an uncredited Quentin Tarantino, we emerge in the Jurassic Park-style land that time forgot. Had a Doug McClure lookalike turned up with a U-boat full of extras as a homage to those creaky 1970s fantasy movies involving plastic dinosaurs, I would not have been surprised. 

What KSI gets right is that roller coaster sense of fun. Yes, it’s nonsense, but those assorted films with prehistoric creatures and daring explorers has been the staple of books and cinema for centuries, and they’re not about to fall out of fashion any time soon. 

While some of the dialogue is so-so, the creature effects are mostly terrific. 

The nightmarish skull-headed lizards are gloriously creepy, and it’s hard not to feel for Kong every time he takes a bullet or a bite. 

I’m glad Kong isn’t shipped off to the States for yet another New York-set finale. We’ve seen enough of those in previous incarnations, though arachnophobia sufferers be warned: one scene involving a giant spider is bound to give you nightmares. 

Is it the best film of the year? No, but it is an engaging B-movie with a great cast and some wonderful action scenes. 

I don’t emerge from the cinema feeling short changed, but I do wonder whether Godzilla vs King Kong will be a let down on a par with Batman vs Superman when it finally sees the light of day in a few years. 

Well worth a look.

Crimson Peak: Review

I’m 30 minutes in to Crimson Peak and my eyes are closing. I’ve already spent 20 minutes talking to actual people to get two cinema tickets because it’s sometimes nicer than just booking online. The assistant misheard me, gave me two tickets for Hotel Transylvania 2 and it took two more people and another 18 minutes to rectify the situation. I’ve already given a Paddington hard stare to the Chatty Cathy behind me and now I’m nodding off. 

Not because it’s a bad film. It’s not, but I’m still on Florida time after a couple of days back in Blighty, and dark cinemas are not conducive to that wide awake feeling. 

The first hour of Guillermo del Toro’s latest is a sumptuous affair. Mia Wasikowska on fine form as Edith Cushing, the aspiring novelist with a rich father seduced by the Byronic Brit Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) who seeks funding for his clay mining enterprise. A genuine dragon’s den this it seems as assorted other potential investors are already “out” and Thomas is desperate. 

Then there’s his rarely blinking, ivory tinkling enigmatic sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Hard to believe this is the same actress who proved so compelling in The Martian and assorted other films released recently. 

Her scenery chewing performance is a joy to behold. Alas, the weak link in the chain is Charlie Hunnam as Ms Cushing’s concerned doctor and old friend Alan McMichael.

As with GDT’s Pacific Rim, I just don’t buy him in either movie. 

Crimson Peak looks terrific and like Tom’s mining machine, really gets going after building up a head of steam in the third act. 

Any jet lag was buried as revelations were revealed and the plot became as clear as Ms Wasikowska’s doll-like skin. 

There are a few wince-inducing moments here and there, but this is less a horror film and more a gothic romance. 

Guillermo is a master of the genre, and after the comedic Hellboy movies and occasionally clunky Pac Rim (as the fans call it), good to see him get his teeth into something a little more adult and full blooded. 

Of course Hammer used to do this on a fraction of the budget 50 years ago, but despite the elaborate set, it doesn’t overshadow the drama too much. Yes, the house is a key character, like the Nostromo in Alien, but there is much to admire here as well as the fancy costumes and Haunted Mansion-style proscenium. 

It’s not as good as I’d hoped it would be, and could have done with a serious shot of adrenaline in the first act; it’s as inert as a still pendulum at times, but eventually the machinery kicks in and makes you glad you stuck around. 

Yes, eventually it does peak. 

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.