Review – It’s Thor And More! (“Thor: Ragnarok”)

If you’re keeping track (and I know you are), this is #17 in the ever expanding MCU, and #3 in the Thor saga. If you remember back in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Hulk (aka Bruce Banner) was last seen flying away into space. What happened to him? Well, this film answers that question, along with more from 2013’s Thor: The Dark World.
*

Things have not been going well for our superhero and Norse god, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). His two year quest for the Infinity Stones has failed and he’s been captured by Surtur, a huge demon who, BTW, has been prophesied (aka ‘Ragnarok’) that he’ll bring about the end of Thor’s home world of Asgard. Yikes! After defeating Surtur, Thor comes home to find out his trickster brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been posing as Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the king. But where’s poppa? Loki put him on Earth and, thanks to an all-too-brief, but memorable cameo by Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), they find their dying daddy.

Things get even worse for the brothers, as Odin’s death releases their long-imprisoned and hidden sister, Hela, the goddess of death (Cate Blanchett). And boy, is she ever pissed! Unstoppable and more powerful than Thor and Loki combined, she resolves to take Asgard for herself and kill anyone who gets in her way. As she speeds her way to Asgard, Loki and Thor are hurled into deep space. Thor finds himself on the garbage planet Sakaar, and is captured by the beautiful Valkyrie warrior turned scout, Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson), who turns Thor over to the planets kooky ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum having loads of fun here).

No hammer, cut hair, and forced to fight in a galactically supercharged arena like Spartacus, Thor is shocked and overjoyed to see his unbeaten opponent is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in all his bad-ass greenness! Oh, and did I mention that Loki is there as well? Well, he is and he’s up to no good, naturally. Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Hela is ruling with a terrible swift sword (she just produces them out of thin air), and wants to conquer ALL the other realms, but can’t find the sword she needs to make that happen. Where is it? Heimdall (Idris Elba) has stolen it and plans on saving the good people of Asgard, but will all his efforts be in vain?

Back on Sakaar, Thor is trying to convince Scrapper, Hulk, and his devious brother to leave there and fight Hela. After some convincing (and some tricky piloting), they get back to Asgard to face Hela and her army of the undead. Cue the Led Zeppelin music. Leaving the drama and heartache of Thor: The Dark World, this movie goes for the comedy throat in a big way. Written by Eric Pearson (the Agent Carter TV series), Craig Kyle (a bunch of animated Marvel stuff), and Christopher Yost (Thor: The Dark World), this thoroughly enjoyable popcorn movie starts with a whiz-bang, action fight sequence and doesn’t stop delivering from there.

The humor ranges from delicious inside jokes and gags (The Dr. Strange bit is hilarious) to LOL rapid paced dialogue, to some over-the-top silliness that should have been cut. But it’s not all wacky this and goofy that, the straight-forward, two-section plot has merit and holds your interest. While there is a perfect deus ex machina at the end I saw a coming a mile away, it was handled with a nice spin. Plus, the Big Guy gets to speak alot more than “Hulk smash!” in this movie.

Blanchett oozes an evil playfulness in her character that is most welcoming and Thompson, who reminds me of Michelle Rodriguez, is all hardcore drinking and kick-ass and still manages to be seductive. Goldblum looks like he improvised all his dialogue and didn’t even act, while Elba & Cumberbatch (in the brief roles they had) were excellent. But the real hero of this movie goes to New Zealand director Taika Waititi. A comedian, actor, and writer, Waititi had only directed forgotten movies like Eagle vs Shark and Boy.

This was a HUGE gamble giving him the MCU reins and possibly making this another The Green Lantern abomination. But lo and behold, Waititi didn’t shy away and showed a real pizzazz and incredible flair for the genre. There are scenes of visual elegance akin to Zack Snyder’s 300 that were absolutely breathtaking. Being a comedian, he knows how to shoot for the gag and comedic touch, so this movie not only resonates with a fanboy vibe, but you’re laughing as well. Well done! Oh yeah, and Stan Lee makes his usual appearance. . .did you expect less?                                           

 
   
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
*

If you ask me what my favorite Western movie is, I’ll answer with this movie. Director Sam Raimi delivered (in my opinion) a masterpiece of filmmaking the likes I have rarely seen since. A tight, brilliant script by Simon Moore and a cast from Heaven above. I truly feel that this film should be required viewing for any film student on how to craft a movie.

It’s a classic Western tale, a simple tale, a revenge tale with a winner-take-all gunslinger contest thrown in as its core. Very hot Sharon Stone rides into the bleak old town of Redemption, circa 1881. She’s only known only as “The Lady” (much like Eastwood’s “The Man With No Name” in all his spaghetti Westerns) as she rides into town; her intentions unknown. As she has a drink at the local bar, the plot unfolds with the town’s pure evil Mayor, John Herod (Gene Hackman) entering the bar with his passel of henchman and beaten-up man named Cort (Russell Crowe).

It’s put-up or shut-up time as each colorful character there enters their name in the all-too-important gunfight competition. Swedish champion Gutzon, Indian Spotted Horse, Sgt. Clay Cantrell, and loud-mouth Ace Hanlon (Lance Hendrickson). Cort’s name is added reluctantly, as he used to be gunfighter and a member of Herod’s gang, but now claims to be reformed and a preacher. Another contestant is “the Kid” (Leonardo DeCaprio), who may (or may not) be Herod’s son.

As each of the shoot-out’s occur and each contestant is either wounded or killed, we learn more about the Lady and her objective. Herod’s responsible for the death of her father (Gary Sinise) as a child, and she’s back for revenge, but getting to him is proving more difficult than planned. Cort notices her angst and tries to give her advice, but she’s clearly trying to hold her life together by a thread. After a botched attempt to kill Herod, the Lady flees the town, but the kindly old town doctor gives her Obi-Wan counseling and she goes back with a renewed gusto.

Making an alliance with Cort and formulating a crazy plan, she challenges Herod to a shoot-out, but is forced to shoot Cort instead. With both refusing to shoot each other (as the two have become friends), the inevitable happens… she is shot dead! Or is she? Revenge, as the Klingon’s say, is a dish best served cold, and that day it’s freezing outside. Herod gets his comeuppance, Cort gets his ‘Redemption’ (get it?), and the Lady rides off into the sunset to open a chain of sports bars.

One helluva movie. One helluva cast. This is Raimi at his peak; his direction at his zenith. No camera angle is wasted and no shot is thrown away. Just look at each of the gunfights: each one has their own signature; no two are alike in camera angles and each are shot differently. That’s the sign of a great director. The acting is superb and there are no hiccups in casting. This was Crowe’s American debut and he nails it, as does a young DeCaprio who plays his part almost too well. Stone is SO freakin’ good here it’s scary. Natural, ruthless, sensitive, awkward, hellbent, and brutally sarcastic. I could write ten more paragraphs about this movie, but… I’d rather watch it again!

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