Road to Infinity War – Thor: Ragnarok, or, The Bummer King

Holy crap I’m almost done! I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

ragnarokthor

You will believe a Jeff can Goldblum.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie is amazing, but boy oh boy did it not require any of the Jacuzzi vision quest from Age of Ultron. Like, not even a little bit.

Anyway, spoilers ahead for Thor: Ragnarok.

Despite being a few hundred years old and a god and all that, Thor is one of the more dynamic characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a compelling arc that finally gets an equally compelling movie to match in Thor: Ragnarok.

When we met Thor in the original 2011 film he was ready to assume the throne of Asgard, eager to rule because damnit it was his birthright to rule, because it was simply what was supposed to happen. In his first cinematic outing, however, the God of Thunder falls prey to a Patented Marvel Humbling (PMH) and learns that even vaguely decent and worthy leadership requires more than lineage and demands more than a wink and a smile. He learns that the throne is more than a chair.

It is perhaps because of that daunting knowledge that when we return to Asgard in The Dark World Thor has no interest whatsoever in the throne he had once been so certain was his. In Dark World, as a far worthier prospect for kinghood than he was when we met him, Thor turns down the throne, maybe out of a newfound humility, maybe out of a newfound fear of ruling.

By the end of Ragnarok, however, Thor has come full circle, back to where we met him years ago, standing before the throne, surrounded by his people. But the golden palace is gone, as is the sparkling silver helm. There are no more feasts and cries of merriment, as all of that pomp and circumstance has been replaced by a sea of refugees and a leader who at last feels the true burden of what it is to rule.

As hilarious as Ragnarok is, it’s also a pretty cruel film. Though it concludes with Thor finally ascending the throne, it only does so after first utterly destroying Thor’s sense of home and then utterly destroying Thor’s actual home. Having finally attained a somber understanding of the responsibility of leadership, Thor is stripped of his understanding of the cultural entity he is tasked with shepherding.

Ragnarok’s uncertain ending echoes that of Captain America: Civil War, that unsure ground being one of many thematic through lines of Marvel’s third phase of films that run through the movie. The problematic and deceitful retelling of history by authority from in Doctor Strange, the protagonist faced with the harsh realities of their inherited privilege from Guardians Vol. 2, and the exploration of monarchy and colonialist antagonism that follow in Black Panther all play a part in Raganrok. One can’t help but wonder what sort of role these motifs might play in Infinity War.

Whatever fate may have in store for Thor, the character has finally truly gotten his due in Ragnarok and Chris Hemsworth has been able to take the God of Thunder on a philosophical and emotional journey few if any other MCU characters can match.

Anyway, I’m calling it: Hela lives!

#GoddessofDeath #Avengers4

Thor: Ragnarok = the God of Thunder’s first semester, freshman year of college? I think maybe:

November 17, 2017: Saved by the Bell: The Sakaar Years, or, Thor: Ragnarok

 

Advertisements

Road to Infinity War – Thor, or, You’re Not My Dad!

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

thor

You will believe an angle can be Dutch!

Director Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is one of the smaller films in the MCU despite the vast scope of time and space it introduced to the franchise. Before Thor, the MCU was basically just scientists pushing the limits of technology, but with Marvel’s fourth film we got millennia-old gods living in a gold pipe organ in space, traveling around the cosmos via rainbow laser beam.

And yet, if you had to stage a community theater production of a Marvel film, Thor would be the one to go for.

The action here is nothing to thumb your nose at, and it is particularly big in the first act, but where Thor really excels is in its depiction of interfamilial conflict. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is a star from “go” and any time any combination of him, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor or Anthony Hopkins’ Odin share the screen there’s an undeniable sense of craft and gravitas.

Unfortunately we don’t get much of that during Thor’s humbling sojourn to New Mexico, but we do get a dope mud fight. Which you could totally do on a stage.

Natalie Portman isn’t exactly fully utilized as Jane Foster here, but her character feels like more than just checking a box next to “love interest.” Foster is the Stark or Banner of this film. She is the scientist pushing the limits of what is possible and Thor embodies just how much further there is to push.

Over the course of the first three Marvel films Stark and Banner are dogged by ever-present, antagonistic, militaristic authorities. By the time Iron Man 2 wraps up it’s pretty clear that even the shadiest government agency isn’t going to undo the likes of Iron Man or Hulk, but this film displays just how woefully inept and unequipped those antagonists, and by extension our protagonists, really are in the cosmic scheme of things. It sets up a new threshold of conflict that requires more than a robot suit and a green monster to quash.

Thor is the start of a true ramp-up to Avengers, expanding the possibilities of the franchise. It treads carefully. Perhaps too carefully. But when it takes us to Asgard and shows us the petty squabbles of gods in their giant space castle the intimate and the sprawling collide in compelling fashion.

So That’s What That’s Like, or, Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters

Green is to Ghostbusters what lens flare is to J.J. Abrams.

When the then-upcoming Batman V Superman came up in the break room at work last year I was thrilled. Finally a chance to wax poetic about whether or not DC’s Cinematic Universe was going to trip over itself in its less-than-subtle sprint to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to ponder the merits of keeping director Zack Snyder behind the camera, and to speculate about just how liberally the film would borrow from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

Only the conversation was exclusively concerned with how Batman could ever hope to be Superman in a fight, why they would ever be fighting in the first place and what it all had to do with The Avengers.

What a superhero movie has to do to be successful in the eyes of someone who picks up comics every Wednesday is going to be different than what it has to do to succeed in the eyes of a more casual movie goer. When you’re an active fan of a franchise you go into the movie theater with a different mindset, with different questions and with different expectations. Pop culture addict that I am, I usually go into big blockbusters with the more fanatical mindset.

That was not the case with the latest Ghostbusters film.

I’m not a Ghostbusters guy. I didn’t see the original Ghostbusters until maybe two years ago and wouldn’t you know it, I you’re seeing Ghostbusters at 24 you’re seeing Ghostbusters too late. I liked the part where Bill Murray says “this man has no dick” but other than that it really didn’t do it for me. So when I sat down to watch the reboot last week it was an exciting experience in that I really didn’t expect anything from Ghostbusters, good, bad or otherwise. I wasn’t going to be watching Ghostbusters like I’d watched Batman V Superman or Civil War or Jurassic World or The Hobbit. I didn’t have discourses locked and loaded before sitting down in the theater. The only intellectual baggage I brought to the proceedings was the opinion that that stubby green ghost is kind of disgusting.

I had a blast watching Ghostbusters. It’s an excellent comedy that even boasts some solid action. I suspect there were no shortage of references and in-jokes relating to the original two films, but they were totally lost on me and somehow, someway, I still managed to have a great time at the movie.

It’s almost as if an entry in a tent pole franchise can still be fully enjoyed and appreciated without concocting a thesis on it as soon as it’s announced, with various amendments to compensate for every press release and trailer along the way.

So I don’t know whether the Ghostbusters reboot will please or outrage fans of the original. I don’t know if it’s the death of the franchise or an exciting rebirth. I don’t have volumes of analysis to bore my coworkers with when they ask me how my weekend was. I just know that I saw a movie last Thursday and it made me laugh. A lot.

Avengers: Age of Ultron, or, Marvel’s Big Comic Book Movie

Superhero movies are nothing new. Long before everyone and their mother decided they needed a “shared-universe” Superman and Howard the Duck were running around on the big screen to the delight and chagrin of moviegoers. But in a lot of ways Avengers: Age of Ultron feels like the first full-on comic book movie.

BIG ATTACK

BIG ATTACK

It’s all there. From the exciting feeling that any one of dozens of characters could pop up just around the corner to the dead weight of ever-imposing continuity, viewing the second Avengers movie is like reading one of DC or Marvel’s massive semi-annual, line-wide , status-quo altering crossover spectaculars. And it comes with all of the same highlights and hindrances of a big comic book event.

Characters from across the Marvel Universe are brought together to interact with one another, be it with clever quips or exciting fisticuffs. There’s all kinds of fun pairings to be had, all in the face of massive, eye-popping set pieces and world-threatening antagonism.

But that epic comic book event scope comes at a cost on film just as it does on the page. The places Age of Ultron goes are huge, explosive and over-the-top. By the monstrous climax of the movie even Hawkeye points out the ridiculousness of it all. It’s spectacular and ludicrous and getting their in two hours requires a few lapses in logic. The same type of lapses found in massive event comics that have to condense a fight for the entire known universe into six issues. Age of Ultron is a fun, exciting ride from A to Z, but it makes that journey in way fewer than 25 steps and it isn’t graceful enough to cover up the letters it missed along the way.

A lot of that is because, much like a major comic book event, Age of Ultron is up to its neck in mythology. I feel confident asserting that Age of Ultron has to contend with more mythology than any other film ever made. It’s the eleventh film in a series that simultaneously has to react to not only its own direct predecessor but also a half dozen other sub-franchises while simultaneously setting up not only its own direct sequel but half a dozen others.

Just a couple of dreamy teens.

Just a couple of dreamy teens.

It’s a lot to grapple with and Age of Ultron doesn’t always do it flawlessly. A lot of the bigger moments wind up feeling a little out of left field and I find myself left with questions I don’t suspect there are particularly compelling answers to.

But Age of Ultron isn’t just like a big, brash comic book event. It’s like a really good, big, brash comic book event. The new characters introduced here are exciting. James Spader’s Ultron is fascinating and entertaining and menacing. The movie is consistently hilarious, the cast always charming and the dialogue sharp. The little, intimate moments in Age of Ultron are fantastic.

I recently posted a piece on Daredevil in which I put forth my opinion that the show is very much Marvel’s take on a DC movie, much as Winter Soldier was a Marvel political thriller and The Incredible Hulk was a Marvel fugitive movie. I suspect the most obvious argument to put forward for Age of Ultron is that it’s Marvel’s artificial intelligence movie, but more than anything before it Avengers: Age of Ultron is very much Marvel’s quintessential comic book movie.

A Perfectly Adequately Proportioned Venn Diagram, or, Blackhat: That Movie With Thor

Michael Mann was an executive producer on the 1980’s television series Miami Vice, which he also directed the 2006 film adaptation of. I’ve seen neither. His most recent directorial effort is the film Blackhat. If anything, at this point, I feel like I’m overexplaining this.

Blackhat venn diagram

More Like “The DORK World,” or, Just Kidding I Really Liked Thor 2

I wasn’t a giant fan of Iron Man 3. At first. For whatever reason (haters hate here) it didn’t resonate with me when I watched it in theaters. But when I gave it a second viewing I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This was not the case with Thor: The Dark World.

LOOK AT ALL THE STUFF

LOOK AT ALL THE STUFF

I loved Thor: The Dark World immediately.

If someone were to describe a movie to me as a violently mashed together concoction of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars prequel trilogy I would think that the movie in question sounded dumb and that the someone describing it to me was a descriptive genius – you know, like you’re thinking right now.

The Dark World is an expansion of the action aesthetic found in the first act of the 2011 Thor film, full of realms and helms and all sorts of other fantastical nonsense. The Dark World doesn’t worry about being grounded any more than it worries about realism or grit. Of the eight movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far it is the one deepest ingrained in comic book sensibilities, to the point that as they were unfolding I could imagine some scenes laid out on a page in panels and bubbles.

Part of that comic book sensibility stems from the impressive visuals throughout the movie. Much as one of my favorite parts of Captain America was the Norman Rockwell meets Jules Verne visuals, Dark World’s science-fantasy worlds, characters, weapons and gadgets are absolutely a highlight.

PEW PEW

PEW PEW

The Dark Elves look like ghoulish neo-Storm Troopers as they cram into their razor sharp star fighters and the tavern Thor and his bros and his platonic lady friend hang out at could just as easily be in the Shire, and yet it all jives. The original Thor movie made the mistake of taking an otherworldly demigod of a protagonist that stemmed from the pages of a book called Journey into Mystery and tying him to the exotic Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico. Hilarious as the juxtaposition may be, it was kind of a huge mistake, one that the Dark World doesn’t repeat.

But, as much as I wish I had something more academic than “it looks awesome” to say about Dark World, I kind of don’t. The story isn’t bad, the sequel certainly fares better than Iron Man 2, and Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are the perfect Thor and Loki, but The Dark World probably won’t surprise you or leave you awake at night. Though, at this point, if you’re going to Marvel’s eighth installment in the Avengers’ mythos expecting high literature, you need to tilt your neck up and look a little higher.

BROS.

BROS.

For better or worse Marvel’s movies have never been, and probably never will be, sweeping dramatic opuses. There will never be a Marvel equivalent of The Dark Knight. And that’s fine by me. Marvel’s movies are adventure stories about good guys and bad guys throwing action at each other. And I think Marvel gets that.

Like it or not, Marvel’s movies have a very distinct tone. It’s a tone that lets them put out movies with styles as disparate as the pseudo-buddy-cop-Christmas-comedy Iron Man 3 and the otherworldly science-fantasy Dark World while still maintaining a sense of connection and continuity.

DC’s Nolan-verse is a contemplative dinner in a lavish café. It’s gorgeous and thought-provoking but it can get a little stuffy and you only go there once every two to four years. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is more akin to the closest place you can find to buy a burger after midnight.

And Dark World is one hell of a burger.

 

 

 

Get it?