Review of “Thor: Ragnarok”

Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) finally returns to Asgard after his quest to make sense of his dreams of Ragnarok, or the destruction of everything. When he arrives he sees Odin (Anthony Hopkins) but knows instantly it is actually Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki takes Thor to Earth where he left him but the retirement home has been torn down. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) guides Thor and Loki to Norway where Odin is standing on a cliff looking over the ocean. He tells the two he is weak and can no longer hold back Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. When she returns to Asgard she will become more powerful than even Thor. Hela appears and Thor tries to defeat her with his hammer but she catches and destroys it. Loki calls for the Bifrost Bridge but Hela also hops on and is able to knock both Thor and Loki out of the transport beam. Thor lands on a planet called Sakaar, is captured by Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) and is brought to meet the leader named the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The Grandmaster runs gladiator fights to keep the masses entertained and the only way Thor can leave the planet is to fight and defeat the champion: It’s Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). His quinjet crashed on Sakaar two years earlier and he’s been in the Hulk form the whole time. When they meet in the arena the fight ends in a tie. Thor tries to convince Hulk to join him, find a way off Sakaar and return to Asgard to take on Hela. During his time on the planet, Thor learns that Scrapper 142 is the last surviving Valkyrie; a group of female warriors that fought for Odin in his war against Hela. Back on Asgard, Hela has made Skurge (Karl Urban) her executioner but he’s having second thoughts about working with the new queen. Heimdall (Idris Elba) has stolen the sword that opens the Bifrost Bridge and is trying to hide as many Asgardians as possible to keep them safe. Things are looking dark for the God of Thunder and the citizens of Asgard.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a much more light-hearted and funny film than any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It never takes itself terribly seriously even though the events within the comic book story universe are very life and death. It makes for a film that is both funny and exciting in equal measure. It’s a rare feat for a movie to have laughs and action with one or the other not getting shortchanged in the process.

According to an interview director Taika Waititi did with MTV at Comic Con, about 80 percent of the dialog in the movie was improvised on set. This usually makes for a film that is choppy and disjointed with lots of quick edits so the best lines, along with the ones that move the story in the proper direction, wind up in the final cut. “Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t have that feel. The director and stars must have been very comfortable with the story and confident in their improvisation abilities to come up with a funny movie and coherent narrative.

With a cast this large it’s difficult for a secondary character to stand out; but Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster certainly makes an impression. Charming, quirky and evil, the Grandmaster is a hedonistic dictator looking to be entertained at all times. He enjoys the blood sport that brings crowds to his arena and loves being the larger-than-life holographic ringmaster projected in the center of the ring, towering over his subjects. Goldblum’s non sequiturs often go unresolved and those that do are preceded by a fair bit of yammering. Those familiar with Goldblum and have seen his recent interviews will notice a similarity between his speaking style and that of the Grandmaster. It appears to be the perfect actor in the perfect role.

Cate Blanchett seems to be having the most fun in her role of Hela. Blanchett is at times smoldering, sarcastic, pitiful and vengeful. All of it makes sense and all of it is played with just the right intensity. She never chews the scenery so much for it to become camp despite gnawing on a few sets from time to time. Blanchett is measured in her excess and it makes for a particularly delicious villain.

The most of the rest of the cast turns in energetic and entertaining performances. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is finally given a chance to do more than just be a hissing, snotty bad guy. Idris Elba’s Heimdall is allowed to be a proper hero. Tessa Thompson is an entertaining and worthy addition to the under-staffed stable of Marvel female heroes. If I have to take points off for any performance it is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. Ruffalo’s Banner acts like a meth addict that needs a hit. While we only see the human version of the Hulk for a relatively brief amount of time, Banner is twitchy and frankly annoying. He complains about being freaked out and whines to Thor about being on an alien planet. It’s the one performance that feels like it was a decision made on set at the time of shooting and it was the wrong choice.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material, action and intense sci-fi violence. The only thing suggestive I remember is a reference to an orgy on board one of the Grandmaster’s spaceships. There are numerous fights with scenes of soldiers and others stabbed and impaled by swords. There is very little blood. One character loses an eye. A giant wolf attacks and bites Hulk causing green blood to come out. Foul language is scattered and mild.

With films of this type the majority of the time everyone on screen is CGI. If you see a character thrown 100 feet through the air and crash into and through a brick wall you can be certain no actors or stunt people were harmed in the making of that scene. Much of “Thor: Ragnarok” has been created in the processors of computers. That makes the achievement of the film that much more impressive. Despite all the special effects, costumes, makeup and other worldly locales, “Thor: Ragnarok” still manages to be a superhero movie with a great deal of heart and humor that is dependent on the performances of very real and talented actors. Director Taika Waititi has pulled off a minor miracle and made a funny and entertaining film involving Thor. I wasn’t sure that could be done.

“Thor: Ragnarok” gets five stars.

This week there are a comedy sequel and a train of death coming to a movie screen near you. I’ll be seeing at least one of the following:

Daddy’s Home 2—

Murder on the Orient Express—

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Review of “Transformers: The Last Knight”

Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) is floating frozen in space looking for his and all the Transformers creator. He crashes on the remains of Cybertron to find a dead and broken apart planet heading toward Earth. Prime is brought before Quintessa (voiced by Gemma Chan) who claims to be maker of his race. She tells Prime about a staff that wields great power and will drain the Earth of its life force and revive Cybertron. She puts him under a spell to do her bidding and renames him Nemesis Prime, sending him on a mission to recover the staff. Meanwhile, all Transformers are considered enemies of the Earth and are hunted by a paramilitary unit called the Transformers Reaction Force (TRF) with orders to capture and if necessary kill any and all alien robots. Transformers keep arriving on Earth and helping them as best he can is Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). He lets them hide out at his junkyard in the middle of the desert. There he has Bumblebee, Hound (voiced by John Goodman), Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) and several more. He has had to separate himself from his daughter now in college since the TRF is looking to arrest him. While rummaging in a restricted zone where alien craft have recently crashed (and collecting a metal disk from a dying Transformer), Cade sees a group of young teenagers being chased by a TRF drone. He and Bumblebee save the kids and get them out of the restricted zone. One of them is 14-year old Izabella (Isabela Moner), an orphan whose parents were killed in a Decepticon attack. Izabella is a mechanical genius and has cobbled together from salvaged Transformer parts a mechanical companion she calls Sqweeks. Izabella sneaks her way into Cade’s truck and rides back to his junkyard hideout. There she shows Cade just how handy she is and earns his respect. Cade is contacted by a Transformer named Cogman (Jim Carter) who is the assistant to Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins). Burton wants to see Cade immediately on a matter of urgency to the entire planet. While he’s there he’ll meet Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), a beautiful and headstrong professor of English literature at Oxford University. She and Cade must work together to find the staff in its hiding place on Earth before Nemesis Prime or the Decepticons led by Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker), otherwise the Earth is doomed.

That synopsis doesn’t make much sense. It didn’t help that I left out about 75% of the story but I wanted to keep it as small as possible; however, even if I told you everything that happened in the first hour of “Transformers: The Last Knight,” it still wouldn’t make much sense as this film is the most incoherent, muddled and over-stuffed of all the movies in the franchise. It makes the rambling make-believe of a five-year old seems focused and logical by comparison.

Also similar to a youngster’s make-believe is the way the film jumps from scene to scene and location to location. It gives the viewer cognitive whiplash as the story jumps around like kangaroos in mating season. You might be in a military situation room one moment then cut to an unrelated scene in Cuba the next with no transition. One moment you’re on Earth, the next on Cybertron. Modern times to the Dark Ages and in the desert then under the sea. The movie goes anywhere and everywhere at the drop of a hat never allowing a scene to breathe and actually develop. There are six credited editors on the film’s Wikipedia and IMDB pages. Each must have been exhausted by the constant cutting of the nearly two and a half hour film.

The script is actually worse than the editing. Ranging from incoherent to sexist, the script manages to make every actor in the movie look petty, dumb and childish. Much of it sounds like it was made up on set or in the recording studio. Mark Wahlberg comes off worst of all as his lines sound like they were written for a Saturday Night Live sketch. Always sounding frustrated and exasperated, Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager comes off like a spoiled child unable to get his way. Things get much worse when Laura Haddock’s Vivian Wembley arrives. Sexist dialog abounds coming not only from Cade but also her mother and other female relatives as they implore her to find a husband and settle down.

Let’s also talk about how Vivian is shown on screen in the movie: Tight, form-fitting dresses and button-up shirts that look to be about a half size too small exposing her cleavage in a not terribly subtle way. Attractive women in the “Transformers” franchise have been, let’s face it, nothing but eye candy for the largely male audience these films attract. Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nicola Peltz and Laura Haddock are all objectified to some extent in these films. While it might have been a little less in the case of Nicola Peltz since she played Cade’s daughter it still was expressed by other male actors in scenes where they weren’t being shot at by military or robots. While each was given some talent or trait that had nothing to do with them being very attractive women, none of them escaped the camera’s leering eye or skimpy wardrobe that amplified their sexiness. There is even a story where Megan Fox was filmed washing Michael Bay’s Ferrari as part of the “audition” for the first film. Both have confirmed it happened and Bay has been quoted saying he isn’t sure where the tape is of the car washing. Fox has also said Bay asked her if she had a nice stomach. All of this has a level of “ick” that no male actor in a major role has ever likely faced except for possibly the “Magic Mike” movies. While I know this isn’t a new problem for actresses in films it is no more blatant than in the “Transformers” franchise.

None of the actors turns in great performances but the winner for having the most fun with his goofy role is Anthony Hopkins. His portrayal of the slightly mad Sir Edmund Burton is the most entertaining thing in the film. He brings a manic yet controlled energy to this performance that seems to say “F—k it! I know this is garbage but I’m going to enjoy myself while I’m drowning in this sea of refuse!” Hopkins is certainly a far better special effect than any of the CGI robots in the film. He isn’t in it nearly enough to save this burning trash heap but when he is on screen your eye and attention will be drawn to him to see what he does next.

While I have not been a big fan of how the Transformers have looked in battle, this film and its Industrial Light and Magic special effects team seems to have cracked whatever problem made the robots indistinguishable from one another when they were in combat. Perhaps it is the use of color that prevents the two robots from seeming to meld into one another when they were fighting. I’m not sure but whatever it is works to make the robot-on-robot action more clear.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is rated PG-13 for language, intense sci-fi action, some innuendo and violence. There are numerous battle scenes between humans and Transformers with lots of slow motion explosions that throw bodies up into the air. We see some man-to-man fighting as well. There is no gore but you do see people stabbed by swords and rolled over by burning catapult-thrown ammo. Robots are killed by humans and their own kind. There is a scene from the trailer where several Transformers are beheaded by Optimus Prime. There is some awkward effort at sexual innuendo but it is more for comedic effect. Foul language is fairly frequent but doesn’t get much worse than “s—t” or “bulls—t.”

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is likely not the last we’ll see from the robots in disguise. Bumblebee is scheduled to get his own solo movie in 2018 and Michael Bay has said up to 14 more stories have been written and could be produced into films. I’d just like to reiterate, FOURTEEN more “Transformers” movies! And I’m not sure that includes the proposed crossovers with G.I Joe and other Hasbro Toy properties. I wish I could look forward to “Transformers” films the way I do “Star Wars” movies but I just can’t. If history has taught us anything it’s that Michael Bay makes spectacle movies that are crap and it appears, at least domestically, this franchise is beginning to run out of steam. “Transformers: The Last Knight” has the lowest domestic opening weekend of all the franchise with a five day total of $69-million. That’s $50-million below the last film. While it is doing well overseas it appears America’s appetite for fighting alien robots and the humans that love and hate them is beginning to wane. Perhaps audiences are just tired of seeing basically the same movie done over and over again and each one being worse than the last. Whatever the reason, “Transformers: The Last Knight” is certainly the worst of the lot and that’s saying something considering how bad the second film, “Revenge of the Fallen,” is. But let’s face it: None of these films have been great. There is a certain amount of nostalgia that compels some audience members to see one or two of them but that wears off over film after film. If Michael Bay, Hasbro and Paramount Pictures want to keep filling theatres for the next 50 years with another 20 “Transformers” movies, they MUST get better.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” gets one star out of five.

Three new movies look to fill your eyes and minds with their amazing brilliance! I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Baby Driver—

Despicable Me 3—

The House—

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