Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – A Great Movie Trapped in a Good Movie

   This was a movie that could have been one of my Top 5 Marvel Cinematic Universe films. I really wish this could have been a Planet Hulk type film as the Hulk and Sakaar are the best parts of this film are everything having to do with the Hulk, the good is the Thor movie this film is trapped in, which is very much a Marvel by the numbers. It wants to be “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but the last films didn’t do the work for us to get that emotional investment. I’ll get into what I mean deeper into the review. For my non-spoiler thoughts though, it is well worth checking out, it is a good movie that is a lot of fun.

The film was directed by Taika Waititi, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost while being produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who is exiled from Asgard by a returned Hela (Cate Blanchett), who seeks to conquer Asgard and the known universe. Thor finds himself broken and is forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena on Sakaar for the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Now in a race against time he must get back to Asgard and find allies to save Asgard from Hela.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography and Soundtrack – The cinematography is colorful and pulls you in immediately and when tied with the soundtrack creates the feel of being in an 80’s rock album. Especially with ACDC’s “Immigrant” as the main theme song of the film. The style of the film is unique too, it looks like a B Movie done with an A Movie budget.

The World of Sakaar – I wish the entire film could have taken place here. Everything interesting takes place on Sakaar. It is where Valyrie is living as a mercenary collecting fighters for the Grandmaster and also playing with Hulk. This world is fascinating as the trash and beings from all over the universe fall into the portals above this world. The Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum is also a real treat and should have been the main villain of this film and the film should have taken place here. Hela should have been saved as a bigger bad for later, there are enough “Conquer the universe” villains in the MCU.

Loki – Loki is wonderful in this. His reveal of being Odin happens early on when Surtur tells Thor that Odin is missing. Loki is so much fun in this, he is sometime ally and sometimes enemy but always is serving himself and his ego. This makes when he gets tricked by Thor near the end all the more enjoyable as well as his relishing of Hulk’s pummeling of Thor. When he is exiled like Thor in the fight with Hela he gets in with the upper class of Sakaar easily, which is completely in character. He does eventually team up with Thor and Valkyrie as we see his good come out when he comes back to save the people of Asgard (though it largely because he wants to be loved by them…he did build a statue of himself when he was pretending to be Odin and do a play of “Thor 2” and his “redemption.” Hiddleson continues to nail this character as he continues to be the best part of the Thor films.

The Grandmaster – Jeff Goldblum plays the wonderfully insane Grandmaster in this. What we learn is he came to Sakaar back in the beginning and built it up to be his own source of entertainment. From the tournament, from references to his orgies this is a guy who doesn’t care about anything about his own amusement. He really is a great character and is a fun villain as his own ambition (cheating so Hulk will win the fight and keeping Thor locked up with Hulk) lead to his undoing and his people rebelling against him. He shows up at the end in an after credits scene so I hope he will show up in the future.

Asgard’s Past and What Asgard Means – A major theme of the film is that Asgard is not a place it is a people and that what a people are is important. Hela is the warrior who was with Odin when they made the 9 Realms and spread the will of Asgard through them. It was after peace time that she was trapped and erased as she wanted to keep fighting. I wish Hela had been addressed as we never get why she loves battle and war and her erasure from history is an evil that Odin is never called out on and Thor never recognizes. She was a female God who was Odin’s Right Hand in the end it meant nothing because Odin changed the past. Odin was toxic patriarchy and that is never addressed. I’m still putting this in the pro area for what could have been covered and for the importance of a people meaning more than a place. People are what make a place matter.

The Hulk Story and Hulk’s Relationships – Hulk is the best part of this film, he is friends with Valkyrie who trains with him and his relationship with Hulk is funny as he sees Thor as both a friend and a threat. Hulk is like a giant child who just wants to fight and win but we see him become more and become Banner once more after hearing Black Widow’s last video. From here Banner’s story comes in and in the final sacrifice becomes Hulk again to take on Hela and her undead army. This is by far the best Hulk movie and it is the great film trapped in the good film. I wish we could have got Planet Hulk from the comics.

Okay: Surtur – Clancy Brown’s voice is perfect for the God of the Fire Demons but he is a pretty useless villain. Thor easily defeats him and he exists only as a plot device to bring about Ragnorak, which is the only way to destroy Hela. I wish more had been done with this guy and that we’d received more history and motivation. He seems driven by prophecy but he is hypothetically so powerful, there is no reason he should be driven by that.

Hela – Cate Blanchett is a great actress and she wonderfully vamps this role up…but she gets no development. We never get why she wants to conquer or how Odin shaped her into the person she is, she simply does. This is lazy storytelling and the only reason she isn’t a con is because Blanchett is such a great actress and the costume design is on point. She looks like Maleficent and her giant wolf is Fenrir and army of the Dead are a lot of fun.

The Thor Story – Thor goes through the hero’s journey again. This time it is him realizing he doesn’t need the Hammer to be Thor as he is the God of Thunder. It is after discovering this he helps Valkyrie find herself as a defender of Asgard again and helps Hulk become Banner once more. He also shows Loki what it means to be a good ruler. This is all good, it isn’t bad but it is also Marvel by Numbers. There is nothing done here that wasn’t done butter elsewhere. I would have preferred more development of Valkyrie so she wasn’t just a support character or Hela having a reason for what she did. These are things that could have made this a great rather than good Thor story. The great story is Hulk and Thor trapped on Sakaar being gladiators that we don’t get nearly enough time with as in the end the Thor and Ragnorak story is what drives the plot, and that is only good, not great.

The Asgard story is a marvel movie by the numbers. Villain has world conquest plot but is stopped by the hero when he discovers the power of friendship and his own internal power. Thi is “Iron Man 3,” “Captain America” and the last 2 Thor films. This is a shame as Hela and Sakaar both could have been so much more than what we are given. Things change with the people of Asgard being nomads now, but it doesn’t have the same weight to it as the loss of of SHIELD in “The Winter Soldier” or the death in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Hell the great movie taking place on Sakaar could have led to a Planet Hulk type film with Thor, sadly at the end of the day this is a Thor film and that is what keeps it from reaching greatness. I’d still recommend this film, it is beautiful and fun and easily the best of the “Thor Trilogy.”

Final Score: 8.7 / 10

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Warcraft (2016): A Few Great Characters Can’t Save This Adaptation

Warcraft Film

    The game series “Warcraft” is one I have a history with dating all the way back to Warcraft II and it’s expansions. They were my introductions to this universe even though I think Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne is the best storytelling to come out of the series. At the end of the day, all the Warcraft books I read about the First and Second War didn’t draw me in the way the Scourge, Forsaken, Illdari and Night Elves did in Warcraft III, and World of Warcraft was always something I played more casually the few times I did. What bearing does all this have on the review outside of history? Metzen was starting from one of the more weaker places in the lore (Humans were always the most boring faction) so going in it was starting out weak, I wish we’d gotten “Rise of the Horde” as far stories go, that had drama and Orcs are the strongest part of this film….and there are a lot of human characters, making the film enjoyable but weak.

    “Warcraft” was directed by Duncan Jones who was a co-writer along with Charles Leavitt with Chris Metzen and produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Charles Roven, Alex Gartner and Stuart Fenegan.

    The story involves the arrival of the Orcs on Azeroth who plan on bringing their forces through the Portal as their world is dying. Lead by the evil Orcish Warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) as Durotan (Toby Kebbell) must work with humanity when he realizes what Gul’dan’s magic did to his world and will do to this one.

The Pros: The World – The universe of Warcraft is one that is fascinating…there different planets, different fantasy races and politics between them. Sadly we don’t see much of the politics in this one, but the factions are still present and you feel the size of the world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is just like the Warcraft cinematics. Simon Duggan really did a great job of transferring Blizzard’s style to film.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack also feels like the Warcraft games, which is a plus. The games have always had a beautiful soundtrack that captures the epic fantasy feel of the world. Ramin Djawadi did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters who work, work really well…those who don’t show the flaws in some of the writing that has come out of the books and games and the universe as a whole. I’ll get into what I mean later.

Blackhand – Blackhand is played by Clancy Brown with his usual large and vocal presence. He truly is perfecfr for this role and does a fantastic job as Warchief of the Horde, sadly his role underutilized (just like Ogrim) and he doesn’t survive past this film. Lothar kills him in honorable combat so the orcs let Lothar go free. Poor Felled up Blackhand goes out way too fast.

Khadgar – Khadgar goes from comedic relief to a smart magician. I like that he is humorous as he has had that aspect in some of the games he appears in. His being an outsider and being given up by his folks to be a Kirin Tor mage is really cool too, especially his rejection out of the order. He reminded me a lot of Sam from “Game of Thrones.”

Garona – Garona is a good character and the only female character who actually felt like she had agency beyond telling the guys they are doing a great job. She even got a romance with the hero and got to kill the King and be the double agent among the orcs working for peace between their races. I wish we could have got more of her backstory as we see she’s a slave and half her heritage (Draenie) was used to open the Dark Portal. Hopefully they’ll do more with her next film if they make one, she’s a hell of a lot more interesting than Lothar.

Gul’dan – Daniel Wu is awesome! It is wonderful seeing Gul’dan in all his badassery on screen. He is great here and the only competent villain as his people are so afraid of him that they follow him and he wins every fight he gets into. This guy is pumped so full of fel energy that he can take anything. He also is still living at the end (like in the games at this point in the timeline) so curious what they’ll change about him. I really want a “Rise of the Horde” story so we can see Ner’zhul (one of the best orcs and Gul’dan’s mentor).

Durotan – Toby Kebbell is the closest thing to an interesting protagonist. In him we see an honorable soldier just trying to look out for his people, and faced wit the fact that his entire race is dying out and all they have is the new world of Azeroth. He dies fighting Gul’dan in a pretty awesome fight.

Okay: King Llane – The King is kind of bland but at least he’s given something to do and notices the orcs aren’t all bad given his friendship with Garona. In the games he’s a non-presense too. I really don’t care about Stormwind in the lore and see them as a lore sink (was always a Horde player in WoW). He dies so that Garona can be accepted into the Horde as a hero.

Ogrim Doomhammer – Doomhammer is a Frostwolf in this rather than a member of the Blackhand clan. In this he betrays Durotan but leaves the Horde after he sees how the Fel is turning his people into demons and that Gul’dan has no honor. He is the one carrying on the Frostwolf legacy in this after the death of Durotan and Draka.

Medivh – Medivh is bland, he is supposed to be crazy but he doesn’t feel there. This character felt invisible and we never get any good interactions with characters except a strange scene with Garona. He dies fighting for Stormwind though after the Demon is beat.

The Ending – The orc ending isn’t bad (would have like Blackhand to survive) and I felt Garona becoming the heroic champion was really cool. The human side is just bland though. Maybe this will work as a movie series, but it felt unfinished.

The Cons: Lothar – Guy has a son who he has no chemistry with (he doesn’t have chemistry with anyone). He acts a cool and distant and it comes off as forced. He is Action Hero Man*TM and it hurts the story since he’s the main character.

Draka – She makes sure Go’el (hate that name, Thrall in the games) is freed on the river and eventually picked up by humans. She exists only as mate and not much else. The games also had this problem too. Draka deserves better.

The Queen – The Queen is just kind of there. She shows kindness to Garona and maybe befriends her but she feels like a non-entity. She is scenery…

Women as Scenery – Both Draka and the Queen, who besides Garona are the any female characters with any presence feel like non-entities. They exist as plot devices and I wish had been written as actual characters.

 The Demon/Sargares? -This guy posses Medivh to open the Dark Portal (like in the game), and in this he’s beaten like a little punk. Khadgar drops his own golem on him. At least in the books it was a more epic fight and in WoW he’s an actual raid. This is supposed to be the guy pulling everyone’s strings.

    Weak villains that aren’t orcs (that Demon who was  weak Sargares if it was him) and bland human heroes kept this from being a great B movie. The orcs were awesome as they are in lore and the film really should have been about them. The only things we get that are interesting from the humans are Khagdar as comedic relief and Garona making friends with the humans. Outside of that they are bland and uninteresting. I hope they make more of these films though, there is so much lore in Warcraft and the Rise of Illidan or Fall of Arthas would make an amazing story on the bigscreen and would work within time limit of a film. This film is still okay, but I’d only watch it for the orc scenes.

Final Score: 6.2 / 10

“The Flash” Season 1 – Fun and Light Finally Comes to the DC Cinematic Universe

The Flash Season 1

   A show that manages to have both drama, fun and keep a consistent tone. I never expected such a thing from the CW as so much of there shows are grimdark and have characters stuck in a cycle (like the Winchesters) so no growth happens. Not so for the 1st Season of “The Flash.” Every episode has consequences and leads to something greater. There are obviously issues, mostly that come from being a CW show and falling into some of the traps that seem to come with the territory of that network hosting your show but it is counterbalanced with fun and joy while still keeping drama.

      “The Flash” was created by Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg.

 The story involves the Flash’s creation after Dr. Wells’s Collider sets off an explosion that creates Meta-Humans in Central City. From here Barry Allen must become the hero the city needs while solving the mystery of his murdered mother and stopping the Meta-humans in Central City.

The Pros: Central City – Central City is awesome! It is a city with hope that still has to deal with the problems of Super Humans who can cause problems. The fact that our protagonists made it this way adds another layer to that conflict within the city as well.

The Tone – The tone is uplifting even with Barry’s mother being dead and his father in prison. It’s very Disney in that way. It works and it is the only hopeful DC project I’ve seen so far. “Gotham” doesn’t have any for obvious reasons as that doesn’t really mix all that well with modern Batman and even Superman has gone grimdark. Not-so for the Flash who is still allowed his hope and innocence.

The Meta-Humans and Rogues – These folks are interesting even with many of them just being common thieves out for revenge. There were two who stood out though.

Everyman – Hannibal is a shapeshifter  and takes a lot to take down. He’s good at getting into our heroes’ heads.

The Trickster – Mark Hamill (who played “The Trickster” in other shows including the animated “Justice League”) is so much fun in this. He is like the Joker who he’s also played as we see him hold people hostage and put on a show. I can’t wait to see this character return as he almost outsmarts and beats the Flash, showing besides Captain Cold and Reverse-Flash and Grodd, that he is the best opponent.

Captain Cold – This guy is cold as ice and manages to manipulate our heroes to free the Meta-Humans. He isn’t a meta-human and more than makes up for it with his guile and his own version of honor as he never reveals who the Flash really is.

Allies – I enjoyed the allies even though they can fall a bit too much on to referencing “Arrow” sometimes. I get they are in the same universe but there is a better way to do crossovers.

Dr. Caitlin Snow – Snow is awkward and also one of the smartest members of the team and helps save Barry from the foot he often puts in his mouth on many occasions. I liked her character and that it took her a long time to come around to Dr. Wells her mentor being a villain.

Cisco Ramon – Cisco is the guy coming up with names for all the Meta-Humans. I really liked how we discover he is a Meta-Human as he remembers an alternate timeline where Dr. Wells kills him. Their relationship is great as he is the mentor and father Cisco never had and it is at S.T.A.R. Labs where he finds acceptance and family.

Oliver Queen/Arrow – He is the Batman to Flash’s Superman and the brood to the Flash’s joking and hope. That is really where their friendship really works. He joins the final fight and neutralizes the Alternate-Flash.

Felicity Smoak – She has  a great chemistry with Barry and the members of S.T.A.R. Labs and would have worked perfectly in this show. She helps characters grow and never stops being a friend.

Primary Antagonists – The main antagonists are a lot of fun. This is one thing the show did amazingly. Whether it is Grodd, Eiling or Thawne…these folks are intriguing.

General Eiling – Clancy Brown is in everything! In this we see him as the hunter of Meta-Humans as he hopes to weaponize them to stop the evil ones. To him people are a means to an end and he has a respect for the Flash even as Flash is probably on his hit list too.

Gorilla Grodd – Grodd was experimented on by Eiling and Thawne and continues to evolve. He is psychic and makes Joe nearly kill himself. He is also extremely strong and survives getting hit by a train. I can’t wait to see where his evolution takes him. I hope we get to see the Grodd of the animated Justice League as he was a Gorilla who felt like a threat and was on par with Lex Luthor in schemes at times.

Eobard Thawne/Reverse Flash – Thawne created the Flash since in his future he and the flash were enemies. He goes back in time to kill Barry as a child but fails due to the Flash saving his younger self so instead kills Barry’s mother as well as Dr. Wells to speed up the event and creation of Meta-Humans. He’s ambitious and complicated as even though he is a sociopath he clearly had feelings for his mentees and Barry. Tom Cavanaugh does a great job.

Protagonists – The primary protagonists are wonderful, even though the romances don’t really work.

Iris West – Iris goes from someone who is all about the social to an active journalist who first breaks the existence of the Flash to the world. Her arc is standing up for her agency as she shoots down Eddie or Barry whenever they try to speak for what she wants or what she should and shouldn’t know. This is what makes her compelling, not the love triangle.

Joe West – Jesse L. Martin (last saw him as Tom Collins in “Rent”) is awesome as the detective who adapts pretty quickly to the changing world of Central City. He works with Barry closely and has to deal with how his overprotectiveness alienates him from his daughter. He was one of my favorite characters and he is good at holding his own against the Meta-Humans.

Barry Allen/The Flash – Barry is kindness with a refusal to kill as we see him do all he can to see the best in people, even when he gets burned. He is naive and hopeful and it makes him a lot of fun and he deals with letting go of his mother and moving on with his life, taking all he learned from her to heart. He’s a bit of an obsessive nerd and it works for the character. I liked him when he wasn’t in romance mode.

The Parent Relationships – Wells and Barry, Barry and his Dad, Joe and Barry and Joe and Iris. These relationships really define the show as we see them grow in love and the relationships change overtime. Joe is overprotective but comes to trust his daughters choices in the end just as he does for Barry and Wells’s betrayal is contrasted with the fact that he wanted to give Barry what he had taken away and gives him the chance to save his mother.

The Flash and Reverse-Flash Relationship – These two are foils and contrasts made all the more complicated by the fact that the Reverse-Flash created Flash and became his mentor and friend. This makes his final demise sad in a way even as the writers write him as just ambitious and evil by the end.

The Cons: Eddie Thawne – There was the idea of a character here but in the end he was the trope “Noble Sacrifice” as he cornily says all he wanted was to be Iris’s hero. Lies, he wanted to be in a relationship with her, though due to plot it could never go anywhere.

Ronnie – Ronnie is the boyfriend who is just kind of there. He never feels like a character and just needs rescuing. He does save Flash a few times at least but he wasn’t needed for Snow to feel guilt over what happened. So in the end he was redundant. He does marry Doctor Snow at the end though.

Atom – What is it with boyfriends not being written all that well on this show? He’s the rich nerd billionare who bought out Oliver Queen’s company and is in a relationship with Felicity Smoak. He’s also just kind of there and exists only to have a mini-plot with Cisco. He is the reference part of the show.

Love Triangle – This didn’t work. I could see the ideas they were going for but in the end they just made everyone involved look like manipulative dicks. Whether it was Eddie and Iris passive aggressively fighting but still being together or the Flash lying to Iris and justfying himself by saying she likes him. Just didn’t work. The romances just didn’t work.

CW Look – Everything is too polished. It works sometimes but it makes it so destruction never looks real. It’s all too polished and CG.

Reference – Arrow and The Flash fight and it is cool until you think too hard about it. I get a meta-human making people angry and turning the Flash on Arrow but it felt more like a contrived reason to have them fight and to bring Arrow into things when The Flash worked fine with Felicity being the only reference to Starling City.

The Cliffhanger Ending – Future Flash stops Present Flash from saving his mom (no explanation is done but he does get to say good-bye. Eddie kills himself which erases Reverse-Flash who is his future descendant from existence and a big giant singularity forms above the city for the Flash to stop. The End.

    This was a good show and one I would definitely recommend. The Flash is one of the most underutilized characters in the DC Universe and is usually the glue of the Justice League. It is wonderful to see his comedic nature and charm put to good use here and allowing him space to breathe. This show could have easily been grimdark given the Reverse-Flash killed his mom, but he always manages to keep some level of innocence to him and light, even when he’s facing the dark. For this reason alone I’d recommend the show. It’s broken out of the dark tone the DC Cinematic Universe (Nolan “Dark Knight” Trilogy, “Man of Steel,” “Arrow,” etc.) seems to be trapped in.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good.