Thor: Ragnarok – Review

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I would not have blinked had one of the characters in Thor: Ragnarok suddenly broken into song, bellowing “Kill the wabbit!”, because this movie was a live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon devoid only of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck.

And I enjoyed it, exactly for that.

Unlike previous Thor outings that tried to delve into the frat boy-cum-reluctant prince (Chris Hemsworth’s Thor) and then dueling brothers (add in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki), this third treatise tossed aside any pretense at character development and plot, replacing it with 2+ hours of slapstick and one-liners designed to tickle the 12-year-old boy in all of us, regardless of gender.

By design, this movie was stupid and silly and wocka-wocka, and in that, it worked on all cylinders.

At best, the plot was a series of expositional “what you need to know now” moments that extended the sibling rivalry to include a supremely ambitious sister (Cate Blanchett aka Hela, God of Death) who felt slighted by Dad (Anthony Hopkin’s aging Odin).

Interwoven with this story was a side-plot that attempted to quantify whose dick was bigger: Thor’s or Hulk’s. Not surprisingly, the biggest dick actually belonged to alcoholic side-kick and fallen warrior Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson).

Despite the carnage—LOTS of people get brutally wiped out, so not sure if this is kiddie fare—the movie was downright fluffy and vapid, and your memory of it will likely evaporate by the time you get home. That said, the process of watching the film is fun, and one or two elements come to light (NO SPOILERS) that you know will feature in an upcoming Avengers saga.

And while we wait for that film, I suggest you YouTube What’s Opera, Doc?

Rogue One clearly satisfies (no spoilers)

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The latest in the Star Wars galaxy of offerings launched last night to rousing applause, and I was there, in the audience, wearing my 3D goggles.

What did I think of the movie? I’m not really sure that it matters.

Like so many movie franchises out there, if you have bought into the Star Wars series, you are going to see this movie and there is damned little that any number of reviewers could say to dissuade you from that. Personally, I have been invested in this cultural icon since it first launched almost 40 years ago.

So, what is the point of reviewing the movie? None, other than an effort to satisfy my own self-importance.

This was a good movie that opens slowly, offers little in the way of character development, fulfills all of the expected (demanded?) tropes of battles and mentors and silly robots, and essentially adds nothing to the canon of Hollywood history or the art of filmmaking. I don’t know that the movie ever had the opportunity to be great, but if it did, it certainly walked the other way.

That said, the audience applauded or cheered several times throughout the movie, and I think it is fair to say that pretty much everyone left the theatre satisfied with their experience.

And there is my problem with the series, as much as the movie: satisfied.

[Hereafter, I will talk more about specifics within the movie, so you may wish to stop reading now. I will avoid spoilers, speaking more in generalities out of respect for movie-goers.]

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Ep IV and V changed movies forever. Everything else was merely adequate.

Movies have evolved extensively since the launch of A New Hope in 1977, especially in the area of special effects. With franchises like Alien and Star Trek getting complete reboots, comic book universes unfolding in myriad interwoven ways, and standalones like Interstellar and Inception dazzling the eye, it is becoming increasingly difficult for individual movies to stand out from the crowd, to chart new ground.

If for no other reason, this is why I raved about the recently released Arrival (my review), which stands apart not through its special effects, but rather the execution of its central theme. There is great intelligence behind a beautiful film.

When A New Hope arrived on the scene, it changed the game of movie-making by bringing the scale of a biblical epic to hokey old Westerns and WWI dog fight movies. If Jaws initiated the summer blockbuster craze, A New Hope solidified the idea. And if that’s where it stopped, this crazed then-teenager would have been quite satisfied.

But then came The Empire Strikes Back, which somehow managed to make A New Hope look hokey and dated, although I still contend that the first movie had a better, more complete story. For a young movie goer, The Empire Strikes Back was like riding in a bullet train only to have someone throw on after-burners; it was a whole new level of acceleration that pinned me to my seat.

That feeling has never been duplicated by a Star Wars movie since.

[In fairness, there is one interesting technical achievement in Rogue One, but to describe it would be to spoil a couple of moments in this film.]

Hollywood, instead, has caught up and moved past the franchise. And perhaps even more broadly, entertainment has surpassed even Hollywood in the form of immersive video games, which I do not play.

For its part, the Star Wars universe struggles to achieve the bar, if it really even tries. And each successive movie feels like it was designed with a check list of tropes George Lucas did not invent, but that he executed perfectly in the early films.

Thus, for a Star Wars film, Rogue One is completely adequate.

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Adequate to their task, offering little more

Character development has largely been dispensed with. As the movie opens, we are presented with a seminal moment in the life of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the central character of this movie, and then we catapult ahead 10+ years to find her in imprisoned, where our adventure begins. And with the exception of the odd note dropped into the dialogue, we have no idea what happened in those lost years.

The same is true for almost all of the other characters. Each offers the briefest allusions to why they have arrived in this place at this time, but there is little to hold onto as the story careens forward. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) has done some bad things in the name of the Rebellion. Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) clings to his belief in the Force like a child clutching a blanket, while his partner Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) scoffs good-naturedly, mourning his lost faith.

And I have to say that I have no idea why rebel renegade Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) is even in this movie. If his subplot had been written around, the story would not have suffered one iota. Like so many other movie franchises these days, I will put this choice down to something in the cartoon, novel or comic book series.

Perhaps this reveals something about me, but much as I did with Prometheus, I found the robot character to be the most evolved. In Rogue One, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) stole the show, having the best lines of dialogue and routinely offering broader perspective on the chaotic stumblings of the inferior humans around him.

And as with the original movies, the villains proved the most exciting element of the story.

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Mendelson’s Krennic brings life and depth to this movie

Somehow, the writers and director managed to make Darth Vader even more imposing than he was in any of the other movies. This was something between the uncontrolled fury of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith and Lord Vader’s iron control in The Empire Strikes Back. Here, Vader was a cold-hearted menace who toyed with his food as time allowed, but was also happy to get his light saber dirty.

And then we have Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson), the man charged with the construction of the Death Star and who, but for an inability to tap into the Force, might have made a delicious challenger to Darth Vader. If they do more parallel timeline movies in the future, I would love to see the evolution of this character.

Aside from these few characters, however, the movie was merely passable as a Star Wars film. The plot was straightforward, if a little padded in places, with well-choreographed battles and requisite deaths (no spoilers).

And there must be at least 837 easter eggs in this movie, tiny moments that tie in to the other movies in the series, and as my friend Danny tells me, into the cartoons, as well. While a younger me might have been enthralled by these inserts, the present day me found them distracting, particularly as they almost always served no purpose to the plot and jerked me out of the story as I realized, “Hey, those are the guys from…” (no spoilers).

But as I said at the beginning, none of this likely matters to you if you are a Star Wars fan. You will see this movie, enjoying some parts and complaining about others. It is just what Star Wars has become…and I find that a little sad.

Doctor Strange quite ordinary – a review (UPDATED)

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As a disclaimer, you should know that I have grown weary of comic book movies and the various universes involved. Thus, I understand if some of you stop reading here.

Are they gone? Is anyone left?

Doctor Strange is the latest entrant to the ever-expanding Marvel universe. In this origin movie, it is the story of a brilliant, ego-driven neurosurgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) who suffers a debilitating accident that destroys his career and therefore his reason to live. In trying to regain use of his hands, he finds a mystical Eastern retreat and begins a journey into magic, multi-planed realities and lessons in humility through the guidance of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

The arrival of Strange might not be totally of his choosing, however, as he reaches the retreat at a time when it is facing its greatest threat, a former student (Mads Mikkelson) who has moved to the Dark Side and wants to feed the Earth to a Dark Entity (Dormammu) that swallows universes whole. And so the battle ensues, Dark vs Light (well, mostly Light), with weapons of magic, shifting realities, and literally shifting buildings that hearken back to the movie Inception.

And this is where I struggle with this movie. There is little here that is in any way original.

For me, this is The Shadow (look back in the archives for that one) meets Inception, with a soupçon of Kung Fu Panda and Harry Potter And The Who Gives A Damn, each of which I felt were better movies than Doctor Strange.

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From Inception to Strange with little improvement

On the plus side, Cumberbatch is perfectly suited to this role, his droll delivery of cornball one-liners perfectly pitched—a la Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. And the visual paintings of colour, perspective and sound are insanely rich and dazzling, worthy of the best recreational pharmaceuticals (so I am told).

But that is really all that this movie has going for it: big-screen kaleidoscope and Tony Stark 1.1 (can’t even manage 2.0).

The story is pretty linear with zero twists or turns. And even with that, the writers felt they needed to explain the story every 30 minutes or so with long streams of exposition. Apparently, all of the budget was spent on special effects and so they were forced to break the “show, don’t tell” writers’ convention. These aren’t reveals; they’re explains.

And aside from Cumberbatch’s waltz through ego and bon mots, all of the performances by the supporting actors are largely wasted.

Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One couldn’t hold the chopsticks of Dustin Hoffman’s Master Shifu (Kung Fu Panda). Mads Mikkelson’s Kaecilius is totally silly-us and I don’t recall any explanation as to why he chose to leave the school and work for the Dark Side.

And what the hell happened to Rachel McAdams’ career? Here, she plays Strange’s estranged love interest Christine Palmer and is given nothing to do aside from roll her eyes, squeal at loud noises and apply defibrillator paddles every half-hour or so.

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Sometimes, it is just about cashing the cheques (Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams)

As my friend and Movie Review 360 partner Danny suggested (see link to his review below), origin stories are throwaways, their only job being to set up the characters for the following movies and cross-overs. I can’t disagree with him on that point…this movie should have been thrown away.

As just the latest piece in the Marvel cinematic universe, the real meat of Doctor Strange will come as he begins to interact with all of the other tight-wearing, planet-razing whackos—and stick around through the credits for the first hints of that.

So, why even bother with this movie?

Nothing in Doctor Strange was necessary for any of what follows, I am confident.

Okay…comic book fans can come back in the room!

If you’re looking for some dazzling eye candy and a few choice ripostes worthy of Tony Stark, Doctor Strange is the perfect popcorn muncher. For everyone else, check out 1994’s The Shadow…it really is better than it should be.

 

See also:

Movie Review: Doctor Strange (Danny F. Santos)

Lively Doctor Strange breathes new life into Marvel Universe (CTV News)

This is the champagne of Marvel movies (Global News)

Movie Review 360 (reviews Doctor Strange & Fury)

Facing the gap

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With 6 weeks until my 53rd birthday, I think I finally understand the concept of the generation gap.

You know when you’re with a group of people and two or more share a joke that isn’t funny? You stare blankly as they laugh and laugh and laugh. And when they finally catch their breath, one of them looks at you and says “You had to be there.”

That’s the generation gap.

It’s being faced with events or concepts for which you have little or no context. It simply fell outside of your life experience. And truthfully, it isn’t necessarily about age.

As an example, for months now (and possibly years), I have been struggling with comic book movies. They bore or bother me rather than entertain me, and yet I am surrounded by friends who adore them. Given my childhood fascination with comic books and Saturday cartoons, this just didn’t make sense to me.

Today’s comic book movie characters seem so dark and angry and violent that I leave the movie theatre depressed about the future of the world, not hopeful. Superheroes don’t inspire me anymore.

As a child of the 1960s and 1970s, my Batman is funny and my Superman is pure (for lack of a better word). And the only superhero that experienced anxiety was Spiderman, but he at least met it with self-deprecating wit.

[Note: Speaking of wit, I have an incredible soft spot for Robert Downey, Jr.’s Ironman, who for my money is 1000X funnier than Deadpool.]

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Today, to my eyes, Batman is psychotic. Superman kills people. And Spiderman is neurotic to the point of paralysis.

What I am quickly discovering from my gob-smacked friends is that I completely missed the graphic novel phase of these characters, where shit went south very quickly. My view of these characters is like the classic memory of “the old country”, a snapshot stuck in time.

I have also had a lot of friends rave about the new Netflix series Stranger Things. It hearkens back to classic Steven Spielberg or The Goonies, I hear. It is the 80s, they proclaim.

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That must explain why it is only vaguely interesting but not particularly gripping to me. For all my love of and respect for Steven Spielberg, the 1980s wasn’t my decade and so the references and throwbacks hold much less significance to me than they do to my friends a decade or more younger than me.

So now what?

Well, for one thing, I can stop complaining about this stuff…which is good because I don’t have a lawn to tell kids to keep off of. If it doesn’t talk to me (whatever it is), I need to just accept that and move on. It is nobody’s fault. It is simply a generation gap.

I had to be there, and I wasn’t.

And more importantly, there are plenty of other things that I can enjoy, stranger or otherwise.

Ant Man (a review)

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Paul Rudd and his dimples want to don a motorcycle suit and play superhero. Yeah, that’ll work, I thought with a ready batch of vitriol sliding around my tongue-in-cheek.

Thus, I went to Ant Man last night expecting a disaster…and was surprised. Not only was Ant Man not a disaster, it was actually a delight; easily becoming my favourite Marvel movie to date.

As my friends and I discussed over beers, Paul Rudd plays Paul Rudd. It is the only character he knows. The immensely likeable fuck-up doofus who somehow manages to do the right thing in the end. As such, Paul Rudd is perfectly suited to likeable fuck-up roles in movies like Our Idiot Brother (you’ll never guess which role he plays in this movie).

But a superhero? Really? I didn’t see it.

But it is the doofus that makes Ant Man work. And it is the doofus that makes this movie so approachable to a mass audience.

Sure, these are all comic book movies. You are asked to leave your credulity at the door as you make your way to your seats. These are gods, aliens, spirits and every once in a while humans with supernatural powers or genetic mutations.

Let’s face it. Tony Stark only gets to keep company with these guys because of his smarmy wit, which is his supernatural ability, brought to life deliciously by Robert Downey, Jr. The suit is just a nice-to-have.

How the hell did Paul Rudd and Ant Man get into this picture? Even the movie makes fun of the costumed crusader’s name.

Rudd manages to make Ant Man believable and by that, I mean both the character and the entire concept. The doofus brings a heart to this character, a grounded reality to this character that no one else has ever managed. He is what Peter Parker was supposed to be, but without all the angst.

Doofus as superhero? It works!

Doofus as superhero? It works!

You could have a beer with Ant Man, and that is why this movie will do incredibly well.

Ant Man is also amazingly funny, rife with jokes and awkward moments that completely work. Even a sourpuss like me was heard to laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Some of that comes down to Rudd’s timing, but no character is left without laughs. Everyone contributes in this movie.

Another factor is that you don’t have to be immersed in the Marvel universe to get this movie. You don’t have to have seen every predecessor movie to understand what is happening—see my previous thoughts on Age of Ultron. Only in a couple of places would that knowledge have made the joke better, but even there, the jokes worked.

The story is a comic book story, and so has the depth one might expect of something aimed at 10-year-olds, but again, that’s the kind of story in which a doofus revels. And unlike the other Marvel films, this adds a touch of Wile E. Coyote, just to keep it light.

My only other notes of…well…note: Michael Douglas is amazing; Evangeline Lilly is gorgeous and fun; and I have never wanted a pet ant more in my life.