Archive for April 7, 2018

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I didn’t know Thor was supposed to be funny. And then I saw Chris Hemsworth playing the part with a smile as he hung from chains in a hellish setting asking for a moment while his face swings around to converse/interrogate yet another threat to Asgard and Earth. “One moment…” After which, Disney, pretty much the only studio that can afford it, sets the superpower rumble to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

Thor’s return from this battle to Asgard with the monster’s horns only to see his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) pretending to be Odin (Anthony Hopkins) enjoying a play about Thor and Loki’s recent conflict depicted in The Avengers and previous installments. A play written from Loki’s point of view. Thor exposes the fraud and brings his wayward brother along to Earth to find Odin. With the help of Dr. Strange, they find him in Norway, just in time for Odin to die releasing their previously unknown sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), from prison.

Thor goes on a journey where he lands on a garbage planet. Fights the imprisoned Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in the ring. Recruits him and the last surviving Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to come home and fight for Asgard one last time. And then, because any movie that references the Norse myth of Ragnarok can’t avoid blowing up Asgard, Thor releases the Fire Giant King from the teaser to blow up Asgard taking out Hela in an act of Mutually Assured Destruction. The surviving Asgardians travel to Earth figuring that there’s got to be nice real estate in Norway that humans aren’t using at the moment.

This movie succeeds because the script intentionally plays to the qualities Chris Hemsworth has brought to Thor through four previous outings: humor and an intentionally naïve charm that allows the Norse God of Thunder to know everything will be all right. This time around he’s caught between the competing needs of one brother and two friends (if you play up the Jekyll & Hyde split of the Hulk as two personalities) he thinks of as the brothers he chose.

Thor has to navigate that Loki might not like the thought of Hela in charge of Asagard, but will still enjoy seeing Hulk beat the crap out of Thor in the ring. Similarly, Thor also has to tap dance between Hulk (the green guy) and Dr. Banner who each accuse Thor of liking the other half more than the one currently in the conversation. This leads to a wonderfully amusing four-way buddy story that also manages to inspire the disillusioned Valkyrie to clean herself up and rejoin the fight. So, actually a five-way buddy story with gladiator fights, gladiator revolts, space ships and things blowing up, the movie designed just for me.

If I were to find any fault with how this movie landed with me, I would say that what was actually on the page concerning Hela proved thin. While as a general rule good writing is required to get an actor’s best performance, every now and again a good actor just adds to the story. Cate Blanchett achieves this mugging her way through the character’s outrage and annoyance at being written out of the family history once Odin thought Asgard had conquered enough of the known Nine Realms. But, without Ms. Blanchett’s facial expressions at key moments we’d think that the filmmakers basically decided to just have Hela blow stuff up and move on.

The rest of the cast rises to the level required of a movie that needs to grow Thor into his true self. Idris Alba gets good time in as Heimdall as does Anthony Hopkins wistfully bowing out of Odin full of the regret at being unable to do more to stop Hela. But, for me director, Taika Waititi, brilliantly adds to the cast mix when he does double duty in the motion capture suit voicing and moving gladiator Korg, a rock being. This rebellious bundle of rocks speaks with a Polynesian/New Zealand accent and freely admits that his past experiences with successful revolutions is nil – “only me mum showed up.”

Technically speaking, this movie continues Marvel-Disney’s track record of effects and music that rolls up sleeves and gets to work. The most visually cool part of this spectacle has to be the fight between Hulk and Hela’s pet, Fenris the Giant Wolf. The Green Guy isn’t having any of the slobbering giant zombie dog throwing fists and generally trying to yank out the canine’s teeth. It’s the most notable battle in this movie, but there are others. Though for someone that’s actually read the overview books of Norse Mythology, it was a little odd for Heimdall to be absent from the Fenris fight. Perhaps Asgard’s gatekeeper took credit for the win after the fact. A setup for completely unnecessary fan fiction…

All of these pieces add up to a charming buddy road picture humorously touching the same bases as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, if you can actually think of Thor as George (the lines get blurred with Thor’s almost as equally considerable super-strength). The friends have a few scenes together where I’m surprised they didn’t share beer; it’s not like the never-ending beer teased in the mid-credit sequence for Doctor Strange didn’t make its appearance. Perhaps they were showing restraint because their friend, Valkyrie, has a trauma-induced drinking problem? A story element for the mythical not so Disney version of the movie.

So anyway the movie races to a conclusion of the embrace your fate variety of the type where Thor has Loki resurrect the Fire Giant King tossing his horned crown into a magic fire. Hulk, of course, didn’t get the memo leading to a funny moment and quite a few social media back and forths concerning imaginary dialogue cut from the first draft of the script. Basically, Thor promises Hulk there will be other “Big Monsters” to smash and that no, Asgard doesn’t need saving because they’re redecorating. Or not, it is a lot of extra words.

You can’t go wrong with fun movies like Thor: Ragnarok.

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© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

“Of course not, we’re family” – Drax the Destroyer.

And with that, we’re back with the dysfunctional family led by Peter Quill the Starlord (Chris Pratt) just a few months after saving the galaxy the first time. Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the amp and air guitars while the rest wipe out an inter-dimensional whatever intent on stealing The Sovereign’s batteries. And this must simply be Tuesday.

We travel with the Guardians across the dark places of the galaxy searching for the pieces to a greater understanding of family. Starlord confronts his father Ego (Kurt Russell). Gamora (Zoe Saldana) makes peace with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), intent on murder because she could never beat Gamora. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) pushes members of the family away. Yondu (Michael Rooker) acknowledges that he raised Starlord and bonds with Rocket. Lastly, Drax (Dave Bautista) develops a friendship with Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Family in all of its fractious variations.

I liked the movie. There a simple caveman statement that says how fun this movie has been over the several times seeing it, including finally ripping open the shrink wrap on the disk. I liked seeing a pack of warm and engaging interstellar misfits save the galaxy one more time and that Starlord met his godlike father and, like Captain Kirk, ultimately just wasn’t that impressed. I suppose it helps that they pretty much broke every ship they flew.

If I had to pick out highlights, I’d go with the slow moments between Starlord and Gamora as he emotionally sneaks up on her what with sharing the earbuds to his Walkman with her. Prodded by Drax, Peter convinces her to dance amid the popped out dreamlike explosion of color on Ego’s planetary surface. And of course Thanos’ first daughter doesn’t dance thank you very much and will resort to violence if this leaks. Still, it was a nice dance, a date even, a promise for the sequel.

The rest of the movie is a massively fun blur of action, one liners and exploding ships. This all leads to Yondu, exiled from the Ravagers for his past misdeeds concerning Ego’s children, accepting his fatherhood of Starlord – “I’m Mary Poppins, Ya’ll!” He risks his ship and crew because he has always cared about the boy who started out “small and skinny and could fit in places for thieving.”

This time around the songs on Starlord’s Mommy Mix Tape Vol. 2, while they do the emotional job required of each scene, went a little deeper into the catalogue from the era when Starlord was snatched from Earth. For someone who started paying attention to music released just a few years afterwards, it was similar to hearing Quentin Tarantino’s original use of Hooked on a Feeling (also a feature of the first Guardians), where a song had already been blasted off the radio and didn’t resurface in my hearing until the movies brought them back. So, yes, I have some song archeology ahead of me.

Films like this live or die with the villains. Kurt Russell simply let his entire career do the heavy lifting as Ego the Living Planet. The father figure that pretty much just elbowed Darth Vader in the ribs for the Worst Father Ever Award smiles and is almost convincing playing catch with Starlord using an energy ball that might blow up whole cities if care isn’t taken. And maybe he shouldn’t have told his son that he inflicted Meredith Quill with a brain tumor precisely because he loved her and he wouldn’t continue with his plan to remake the galaxy in his image, if she lived.

And then I just had an interesting thought that perhaps goes to an underlying hilarity of not only the MCU but the comics that inspired them. The galaxy seems overrun with two kinds of villains, the ones that match up against the more human superheroes and those that threaten reality, as we know it. Yet, few of these nefarious plots ever get underfoot with the next villain’s plan. So as we watch Ego try to inflict himself everywhere there is life with his smug demeanor, what does Thanos have to say about it? It’s important because we’re building up to Thanos’s turn on stage in Avengers: Infinity War. “Hey, Asshole, my galaxy to conquer and enslave!” Never mind, just the uber geek that needs restraining from his usual fan fiction impulses.

Anyway, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is just a really fun movie.