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

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): Healing, Redemption and Actions That Matter in a World Gone Insane

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       “Fury Road” is beloved by the critics for so many reasons. This film is the second film I’ve reviewed for 2015 and it blew “Age of Ultron” out of the water, and most of the action films I have watched. Rarely do you see a film that manages to mix philosophy, character development and action so seamlessly and mastering the art of showing and not telling. There are moments where history is told in a glance and where you see the character relationships change from the circumstances around them. Suffice to say, it is amazing that after 30 years away from his Franchise that George Miller managed to create the best film from that world yet.

     The film was directed by George Miller who was also one of the writers and producers of the film. The other writers were Brendan McCarthy and Nico Loutharis while the other producers were Doug Mitchell and P.J. Voeten.

SPOILERS AHEAD

     The story involves the capture of Max (Tom Hardy) and him turning into a blood donor for one of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) War Boys Nux (Nicholas Hoult). He is pulled into a larger purpose and freedom when Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escapes with the wives of Immortan Joe to bring them to freedom and the Green Place. From here and Nux must make a choice and rethink their beliefs as does Furiousa when she soon realizes that there might not be a safe place for them to return.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! The vehicles are shot like their are mobile homes and living creatures and they have life to them as people use them to protect and to attack and each vehicle has distinct personalities. From the spiky vehicles that belong to the Vultures, and the other factions that follow Immortan Joe. John Seale did a great job.

The Action – This is an action film and the action is seamless. We see this mostly through the eyes of Nux who soon realizes his God Immortan Joe who conditioned him since he was a child to worship him cares nothing for his well being and leaves him trapped on the War Rig. We see him fight off the vultures and he is the first to attack multiple times as well as rescued by Max (due to chaining max to himself for his blood and later by the wives). It is through his eyes we see the insane see more than death and destruction and each battle shows how he grows and changes into someone who is willing to risk all for the good. The action doesn’t stop until the end but gives moments of reflection too.

The Soundtrack – Junkie XL did a fantastic job on the soundtrack! It is classical meets heavy metal with the right moments for silence too, such as when Furiosa finds her childhood home gone and everyone she knew dead and the intensity of the action scenes as cars explode and War Boys leap between vehicles to get at the wives and destroy Furiosa, Nux and Max. The soundtrack like the action doesn’t let up until the end. Also the War Boy playing the electric guitar that spouted fire was worked seamlessly into the soundtrack as he was the one playing it and whatever affected the guitar and him affected the music.

The World – The world is rich in this and the most fleshed out compared to any prior film. There is Immortan Joe and the Citadel, the Canyon Bikers, the Vultures, Bullet Farmer’s faction, the Mothers and others. It is a rich world so much at stake where in a moment the rest of the world could be destroyed by the factions seeking to survive or to destroy one another. This post-apocalyptic world leaves no room for hope yet in it hope is created through the healing and redemption of Max, Furiosa, Nux and the Wives. Within this world we see the Mothers who worship life countered by Immortan Joe and his cult of death where his drugged out warriors are taught that if they die for him they will be celebrated in Valhalla and live again.

The Characters – The characters are all rich and distinct and wonderful to see on the screen. I can’t think of anyone who did a horrible job as each character fit their role well and what happened to them changed relationship dynamics between factions and people. Whether it was Max no longer being guarded or the wives giving them all hope as each sought healing in their own way, each of protagonists was distinct and our villains were memorable too from their design to their horrendous actions and power.

The Wives – Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) is the leader of the wives and the who risks her own life to save Furiosa and Max. This causes conflict among the others but we see she was the one to get Max first beyond himself as she was risking herself and her child to make a better future and stop Joe. This is later picked up by Toast (Zoe Kravitz) and Cheedo (Courtney Eaton) who take part in the battle and help Nux to heal and find peace beyond his cult conditioning. They also struggle against their own desperation and find mentors in Furiosa and the Mothers who with their help and them taking the fight to Joe become the leaders of the Citadel and free the slaves.

Immortan Joe – Joe is a monster. He has a harem of breeder wives who he rapes and who he sets his army on because he sees them as his property. He has a great design with skull like teeth and tubes covering his lower face and we see that he has bought what he has sold his people. He believes he is a God and sings praises for his lost son when Angharad is killed when defending the War Rig. He cares nothing for the wives or his people and everything is for his glory and pride. Hugh Keays-Byrne does a fantastic job and his character is much more threatening than Toecutter who he played in the first “Mad Max” film. He’s developed a lot as an actor and he’s working with a far superior script.

The Mothers – The Mothers are awesome and are the group that Furiosa is a part of, sadly the world is gone and is now a toxic swamp but the Mothers still keep the seeds and give the wives peace that they have never had. They also fight to take the Citadel, with Valkyrie (Megan Gale) and Keeper of the Seeds (Melissa Jaffer) dying in the process. They are powerful and badass figures, riding motorcycles and covered in bullets. They adapted to the world around them and didn’t fall when the Green Land fell.

Max – Tom Hardy owns this role. He is clearly Max and like Gibson before him is the outcast pulled into situations out of his control where he comes in and acts as a protector and finally gives into hope before disappearing. In this we see him deal with his trauma and PTSD as the wives comfort him and Furiosa shares and understands his loss as we see her despair at everything she lost when Joe kidnapped and destroyed her family. They are similar and help each other heal by protecting the wives and in turn empowering them to fight. Much like past films though Max does not stick around as when the Citadel is free and Furiosa and the Wives are the leaders he leaves to continue his fight as the Road Warrior.

Nux – Nux is a War Boy who is devoted to Joe until he fails in capturing the War Rig and Max escapes. From here has to rethink everything which the wives help him to do. From here he becomes a hero and helps free the truck and in the end risks his life so that Joe’s forces will not retake the citadel. Nicholas Hoult does an amazing job. I really liked him as Beast in “Days of Future Past” and “First Class” but he is even better in this. His character drives the story as his redemption shows that even the broken can become more than their conditioning and even the most hated can be loved.

Furiosa – Furiosa is the primary protagonist and Charlize Theron owns this role. She’s the badass with the robotic arm who can take on multiple people at once but is still human and vulnerable. We see her break down when she learns the crow infested swamp was where the Green Land once was and her resolve when Max reminds them of the water at the Citadel and that they can still fight for the Green Land that does exist without traversing the unknown Wasteland. She is the one who keeps Max accountable too and trusts him even when he is holding a gun to her head and acting paranoid. She helps him find his humanity and he in turn saves her life with his blood as she had saved him multiple times. In the ends she ascends as leader of the Citadel and through her killing of Joe frees all the slaves of the Citadel arriving as it’s conqueror with the Wives now also as leaders.

The Struggle for Equality – This movie is all about the struggle for equality. Women and children are things and tools for Joe and he only sees how he can use others. It is the rebellion against that with the wives fighting for a better place and Furiosa seeking revenge for the Green Land Joe destroyed that help bring about freedom for every man, woman and child. There is sacrifice along the way too as Valkyrie, The Keeper of the Seeds, Angharad and the men who first traveled with Furiosa fall to the barbarians ruled by Joe or by selfishness who make up the Wasteland.

Healing and Redemption – Healing and redemption and their possibility is a major message and theme of this movie too. Nux is a thug but he is also just a boy who changes when his “daddy” leaves him behind and he realizes he was nothing to the man he saw as God. The wives help him to heal and accept him by only killing in self defense and he in turn fights for them because of their acceptance of him. He even is able to form relationships and fight for others and see Max as a human, not just a blood donor. Max and Furiosa find it through their shared pain and in it find hope, the hope that the wives always remind them of and the future they fight for…the unborn who don’t have to live in the hopeless world created by the monsters like Joe.

     I’ll be very surprised if I see a better film than this one this year. The soundtrack, cinematography, action, characters, world and story were all perfect and had a point beyond just explosions and cars. There was philosophy intertwined in the action and the actions that happen change characters and made them grow. This is what I think of when I think of the perfect film. The message is timeless the characters are amazing with Immortan Joe, Furiosa and Max being truly timeless. I can’t wait to see what George Miller does with the rest of the series he has planned. He didn’t come back to this series for 30 years, but when he did he made something that was truly memorable, powerful and unforgettable. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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