Thor: Ragnarok, 2017

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett

IMDb

Thor: Ragnarok does not disappoint. It’s an immensely good time.

I’ve been super excited for this movie for seemingly ages and it’s payed off pretty well! It’s not Marvel’s best film but it is their funniest. It’s also certainly the best Thor movie (The first one was ok, the second was incredibly forgettable). The plot isn’t really anything to write home about, but the movie doesn’t really seem to care, and is just unapologetically fun.

Short review over. Getting into some more detail: the film immediately launches us into the franchise’s new outright comedic tone and Taika Waititi’s influence is unmistakable throughout from the word go, including the unexplained spike in number of characters with kiwi accents. The comedy is undeniably the film’s greatest asset; the audience was having a great time and it never dipped too deep into superfluous emotional moments (unlike its predecessor).

Chris Hemsworth doesn’t really do anything in this movie that he wasn’t already doing in the previous Thor/Avengers films, besides the accentuated comedic element (which he is admittedly good at), but he didn’t need to. Thor is a captivating lead and he didn’t need anything to spice up his character. Same goes for Loki, who gets a prominent role once again, though unfortunately doesn’t get a real arc. He’s still the Loki we love, but more could have been done. I really liked what they did with the hulk. Putting him in a comedic setting was perfectly ridiculous, and yet somehow this is probably the most true-to-the-comics depiction yet. There was some actual development going on and I really dug it, and the “that is in my brain now” line also killed me. Tessa Thompson’s character Valkyrie was a welcome addition, a much more interesting character than the inexplicably missing Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) or the mildly explicably missing Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). She doesn’t get too much development either, but hey: that’s not exactly necessary when you’re awesome. Speaking of awesome: Idris Elba. I need say no more.

I was left mildly let down by Hella, played by Cate Blanchett. I suppose I shouldn’t have ever really set my expectations too high for a marvel villain. She’s certainly better than the only-nerds-remember-their-names Laufey and Malekith from the last two films. I’ll probably remember her character, but I don’t think I can really give her any more credit than that. Cate is a great actress, and doesn’t make any mistakes or anything, but I wish they went to more of an extreme with her character, either funnier or more savage. To sum up the character: I didn’t dread spending time with her, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it either. Her ambition was also a little lame, despite a decent motivation.

The story was just ok. If I were to say I had an issue with this film, it’d be that the plot doesn’t have much to it beyond face value. To compare it to this year’s Guardians Vol. 2, Thor lacks that film’s super integrated theming and emotional core. On the other hand, it’s certainly funnier, but I don’t think those elements have to be mutually exclusive. There are some scenes in Ragnarok that had the potential to be pretty emotionally powerful, but just aren’t, and that’s a bit of a shame. It didn’t really feel like it was avoiding emotion as to not hinder the comedic tone, but rather it felt like it was trying to be impactful but unsuccessfully

The audio and visuals are very nice. Again, it’s nice to see Marvel using a lot of colour, though I think this one could have benefitted from upping the intensity just slightly; it felt weirdly washed out in some bits. The 80’s synth that featured through the soundtrack fit well with the tone and gave the film some unique personality. I felt the Led Zeppelin inclusion was a little tacked on, but it worked fine, nowhere near suicide squad levels. There was also a fair bit of really nice cinematography.

Verdict: Thor: Ragnarok was a really really good time. It’s worth your time and your money. Go see it!

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Blade Runner 2049, 2017

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford

IMDb

I’m not really the biggest fan of Blade Runner (yes I watched the director’s cut). I’ve watched the film twice and failed pretty hard to really connect with it either time. I get the impression that maybe if I saw it in a cinema for my first viewing I would have liked it more, but even then apparently the theatrical version is vastly inferior. So yeah, not exactly sure why, but it never really resonated with me.

Blade Runner 2049 is a different story. I fucking loved it.

I’m going to be tripping over my toes for spoilers here, but if you want to go in knowing actually nothing, the mini-review is just to go see it ASAP. It’s really good.

First off, Ryan Gosling was fantastic. He was very well suited to his character, but I still managed to disassociate the actor from the role, which is difficult with such a big name. I’m also glad that he was truly the central focus of the film, as the character was really interesting; I was constantly in a state of wanting to know more about him. The performance was pretty spot on as well. Top notch effort. Harrison Ford, by comparison, was far less interesting, but in a good way. I feared going in that he would be playing a similar role as Han Solo in The Force Awakens, a pretty ‘done’ mentor trope, and was glad to see him take a back seat. His inclusion only benefited the story, which is pretty much the opposite of what I expected.

The story is simply captivating. It’s slow and complex, but it sticks out in my mind as special, as it created a genuine mystery. Every time I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, I was wrong, but that never comes from cheap tactics such as characters lying or some bullshit like that. It was consistently because the film anticipated what kinds of assumptions I would be making. It’s very smart. Its slowness, by the way, may disappoint some, but I felt it only added to the film’s rich atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere, holy crap the visuals and audio. The film looks and sounds gorgeous. The filmmakers have created/updated a truly interesting and fleshed out world, and the sound design enhances the experience by somehow adding to your understanding of what living in it is like. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the way the film is scored works incredibly well to further immerse you in the film without compromising its melodic nature. Where most films would typically have a track end at the same time as its corresponding scene, here it may even crescendo into the transition and continue into the next sequence, greatly aiding the flow of the story. This is a long movie and I never got bored, I never even had proper opportunity to check my watch, and I think the audio and visuals had something to do with that. I’d also like to add that the audio mixing was done with a bit of flare that I rarely see (hear). Every film that comes out of hollywood will be made with a surround sound setup in mind, but I very rarely notice, barring gimmicks. Here is was just done really well, added another layer of cool.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any major flaws. If I were to grasp at straws, I would say some character motivations were kind of confusing at times, but I’m pretty well convinced that they were explained and I just missed it. Similar to how I must have missed something in the first movie, because I really want to watch it again with this new viewpoint. The CGI was fantastic overall, but had two blunders for me. First was a bug, which was more or less excusable, and the other was a fully rendered character. While better than Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher in Rogue One, the technology still isn’t quite there yet. Please stop.

Blade Runner 2049 is a fantastic film, and I highly recommend going to see it in cinemas while it’s still out. Be warned, it is long and slow, but I didn’t see those as bad things at all. One of the best of the year.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, 2017

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Pedro Pascal

IMDb

Took me a while to get around to this one, but I finally got to see Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I actually have a bunch I want to discuss, which isn’t all necessary to the criticism of this individual film, so I’ll do my mini review first.

Kingsman 2 is not really a “good movie” per se; it lacks the identity and “classic” qualities of the first one. That said, if you’re the type of person who can enjoy pure ridiculous insanity, there is a lot to enjoy. I had a really great time. It tried really hard to be ridiculous and fun, and it certainly succeeded. I recommend it pretty highly, just don’t go in expecting a quality story.

So what I really want to talk about are the elements that make it “bad”. Certainly its hyper-cliche’d story doesn’t help, but that seems to be completely intentional. The film seems to have no real interest in being “good”, and a lot of interest in getting a laugh out of dialling up the insanity to eleven, which seems to be a pretty common strategy for the film’s production studio: Marv.

Marv is responsible for a pretty inconsistent quality of film. On one hand, they made Stardust which I really loved, and Eddie the Eagle, which I’ve heard is pretty great. On the other, the were involved in the garbage fire that was Fantastic Four (2015). None of these films really fit in with what I would consider Marv’s signature style, which flourishes in the studios most lucrative series: Kick-Ass and Kingsman. I loved both Kick-Ass and Kingsman; they simultaneously contributed in and parodied the Superhero and Spy genres respectively, and they did it really well, delivering satisfying, funny, and extremely memorable films. Both films thrive on over-the-top, high intensity action scenes with creative and interesting cinematography and production, and they’re both a lot of fun, though Kingsman is technically a better film.

Kick-Ass 2, however, kind of sucked. It suffered from a version of ‘sequelitis’ that far too many Hollywood films do, making constant callbacks, often entire scenes, to its predecessor. If one element of the first film was particularly popular/ well recieved, Chloe Grace-Moretz’s profanely violent Hit-Girl in this case, it will be back in force, becoming the most major element of the sequel, where Hit-Girl effectively becomes the main character. This trend rarely ends well, as it usually misses the point of what made it good in the first film, and forces it to be something it’s not. Hit-Girl had a very simple story Arc, and a very simple character in Kick-Ass. Making her the main character of Kick-Ass 2, forced complexity on her, which unfortunately, as the film was a bit phoned in, resulted in her being pretty boring. Most of the film was like that. It tried its best to keep interest by being ridiculously over-the-top, but the cost of any interesting story developments was too steep. They tried to do “the same thing as last time, but bigger” and it backfired bigtime.

Kingsman 2 does the same thing, but is far more self aware. The film pretty explicitly states its thoughts on the crap-ness of its story, openly admitting that it doesn’t care, and just wants to provide pure bullshit insanity. There is more than one scene in this movie involving people being shoved into a meat grinder, both times without even a drop of blood appearing on screen. So if we’re not meant to take it seriously, can we criticise it for bullshit story? I probably wouldn’t, if it were a little more original, and didn’t make so many damn callbacks to the first scene. The “manners maketh man” bar scene is recreated, every major action scene evokes the “church” scene. The Swedish princess gag-character from the last movie is a supporting character now. Not to mention that her only memorable line from the first one is called back to two times. This movie has very very little identity of its own, and I doubt I’ll watch it again, I’ll invariably turn to its predecessor over it. It is, however, way better than Kick-Ass 2, and I think it’s its self awareness that led to this.

It did have some highlights though. Its opening fight scene in the cab was fantastic, and left me with a big smile on my face; the same applies to the film’s climax. The villain was fun, but not very memorable – bar the meat grinder. I had a lot of fun with the US government, despite the paper-thin plotholes in the president’s plan. I also liked the music, I thought the original soundtrack had a very ‘Avengers’ feel, which I thought fit pretty well.

Action movies have the capacity to be “good” and fun at the same time. ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ doesn’t even try to do this, and it somewhat suffers from this. There is a lot to enjoy, but turning your brain off is a must. I personally recommend it, but it’s not a must for seeing in cinemas.