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—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest movie news and more, follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Star Trek Beyond”

Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is in the third year of a five year mission on board the United Federation of Planets Starship Enterprise. The day to day life of traveling from planet to planet, engaging in diplomatic missions and seeing the same faces among the crew every day is beginning to feel monotonous. An opportunity for promotion to Vice-Admiral and taking over operations of the newest starbase named Yorktown has Kirk thinking of a change of direction in his career. First officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also considering a change, leaving Starfleet and settling permanently on New Vulcan to help reestablish and repopulate his culture. While docked at Starbase Yorktown a small vessel appears out of a nearby nebula. The sole occupant, an alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) says her ship was disabled and crashed on a planet inside the nebula. She managed to escape in an effort to find help. Kirk and his crew are sent on a rescue mission to retrieve any survivors. Electromagnetic emissions from the gas in the nebula make communicating with Yorktown impossible. As they approach the planet, a swarm of small ships numbering in the thousands approach the Enterprise. Moving in a coordinated way, the ships crash into Enterprise, tearing her apart. Some ships are manned and soldiers begin attacking the crew. The leader of this attack is named Krall (Idris Elba) and he is looking for something onboard the Federation ship. Despite all their efforts Enterprise is lost and Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship. Some of the escape pods make it to the surface while others are intercepted by the alien ships and carried off. Kirk figures out what Krall is looking for, a piece of alien technology, and he hides it before abandoning ship. On the surface he runs into Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the pair begin looking for surviving shipmates. Spock and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) wind up inside one of the manned alien ships and manage to take it over but still crash land on the planet with Spock being severely injured. Communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and helmsman Sulu (John Cho) are among a group of other crew being held captive by Krall and his men. Chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) was in an escape pod alone but is found by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) on the surface. She explains her family was killed by Krall’s right hand man Manis (Joe Taslim) but she managed to escape and lives in the remains of a crashed Federation starship named Franklin that went missing over one-hundred years earlier. Krall has a deep hatred for the Federation with plans to exact his revenge…but why?

“Star Trek Beyond” had some goodwill to restore after the less than enthusiastically received “Star Trek Into Darkness.” All the secrecy and misdirection surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch and who he was playing, along with other story issues, left a bad taste in the mouths of fans. This on top of the controversy caused by the first film blowing up the cherished and nearly 50 year old timeline had long-time Trek fans grumbling how the reboot had ignored everything good and important about the original series (or TOS as it is called) and turned it into just another special effect and stunts filled summer popcorn franchise. I can’t argue against any of their complaints and I even share some of them; however, strictly looking at “Star Trek Beyond” as a bit of populist entertainment it is the best of the rebooted series so far.

While there is action and special effect aplenty in the film what makes this movie work best is the relationships between the characters and how they interact under the stress of the situation. The standout of these is Spock and McCoy. These two frequently bicker like an old married couple and nothing changes during their time lost on the planet while trying to keep from being captured. The pair also manages to show a level of caring and respect for one another that turns their trying time into a kind of relationship counseling. While still managing to insult one another in some of the most amusing ways possible, Spock and Bones strengthen their bond as both crewmates and friends.

The script from actor Simon Pegg and writer Doug Jung does a great job of isolating the crew from one another and allowing our main players to explore their relationships on a more intimate level. It turns the film into an examination of the dynamics at work amongst the crew and allows for more heart and humor than one might expect given the situation in which they find themselves.

If the film has an issue it is in the motivations of the bad guy. Krall is all anger and revenge that isn’t very well explained. Even once his reasons and the plot twist (spoiled by an online trailer) are revealed it doesn’t make that much sense. It’s difficult to discuss without spoiling it but Krall has some history with the Federation and feels abandoned by the union of civilizations. His desire is to tear it apart but the reasons given for his hatred and all-consuming thirst for revenge don’t seem to add up to killing millions. Of course we’ve seen what little it takes for someone with a handgun, a rifle or even a truck to decide that as many people as possible must die. Still, Krall’s desire for blood isn’t supported by what’s in his story.

“Star Trek Beyond” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Phasers and other weapons are fired appearing to at least injure if not kill some background characters. One character has the ability to suck the life out of people, leaving them withered. There’s a rather brutal scene of hand to hand combat between two characters near the end of the film. The swarming spaceships that destroy Enterprise could disturb some younger children. Foul language is very limited and mild.

The death of Leonard Nimoy who played Spock in the TV series and an older version of Zachary Quinto’s Spock in the first two reboot films is handled with a great deal of class and sensitivity while also offering an olive branch to the fans of the original cast. It’s the kind of gesture that buys the new version of “Star Trek” a great deal of goodwill. It also helps that the filmmakers have put together a very entertaining and exciting film. While the good old days of “Star Trek” tackling difficult societal issues is probably long gone (except possibly in the new TV series coming in 2017), looking at all the movies in the series shows none of the theatrical releases was much more than an action/adventure movie set in space. Those that argue against the rebooted “Star Trek” films as just another special effects-heavy popcorn film aren’t wrong; but they’ve never been the heady and socially conscious expressions that the best of the TV episodes were. Fans should just enjoy that a crew with familiar names is traveling the cosmos onboard a ship we’ve dreamed of boarding one day.

“Star Trek Beyond” gets five stars.

This week, maternal comedy, covert action and social media tension are the subjects of new films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Moms—

Jason Bourne—

Nerve—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.