Tag Archives: Chris Hemsworth

“THOR: RAGNAROK” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

We will, we will Ragnarok you.

Just when you thought Marvel had used all the tricks up their sleeve, they release Thor: Ragnarok, a movie that has absolutely no business being this good or memorable. Here is a picture which, by every metric, should have failed. It’s a Thor movie first of all, and it features the one Avenger so dull that a cardboard mannequin with a blonde wig is more interesting than him. His co-star is the Hulk, and that meshing of fantasy and sci-fi genres makes about as much sense as putting Harry Potter in a Batman movie. It’s the third part of a trilogy, which usually ends up being the worst in the series (See Spider-Man 3, X-Men: Apocalypse). On top of that, this film is a retro-comedy aiming for the style akin to Guardians of the Galaxy. How on Asgard could Marvel have pulled this off? Spectacularly, that’s how.

A sequel to both Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok follows our golden-haired hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) propelled through the universe as he tries to prevent Ragnarok, the prophesized destruction of Asgard. He goes to Muspelheim to capture the fire demon Sultur (Clancy Brown), Midgard to find his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the Sanctum Sanctorum to meet Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Sakaar to fight the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Asgard to face Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett). I’m telling you, this guy gets around. If he traveled anymore in the movie, he’d have to throw away his hammer and resort to montages for faster travel.

Here is a movie that, for the life of me, I don’t understand how it works. This film packs five different genres into one narrative, and that usually spells doom for any movie that tries to do that. Not here. Thor: Ragnarok is a funny comedy, a thrilling action movie, an exciting adventure, a heartfelt drama, and a groundbreaking superhero epic that hits every single note that it needs to. A movie this busy should not feel this simple, yet it flows and moves effortlessly, like how one stretches and plays with silly putty.

Where do I even start? The film’s director Taika Waititi executes his film chaotically yet masterfully, filling his characters with vibrant personalities and throwing them through action scenes resemblant of a little kid playing with his action figures. My main complaint with superhero movies (and really most action blockbusters in general) is that studios focus so much on the action and visual effects that they forget that character and personality is the driving force behind the successes of most major film franchises. For example, would the visual feats in Superman and Star Wars have felt as incredible if Clark Kent or Luke Skywalker weren’t as likeable of heroes to begin with?

Thor: Ragnarok takes cues from both of those movies as it emboldens its characters with electric personalities, playing off of their charisma and creating witty, comedic dialogue between each other. Chris Hemsworth continues to play the fratty, oblivious oaf in Thor as he always has, but here he does it with a self-awareness that makes him funny enough to pass it off as likeable. Ruffalo steals the spotlight in a mostly Hulk-dominated performance, yet rounds him out with a subtle arc that possesses its own somberness and tragedy within it. And Blanchett surprisingly offers up a menacing and diabolical performance in a franchise that is usually lacking in the villain presence, even though her motivations for fighting Thor are kind of weak in the film.

Everything else from the film is unorthodox perfection. Seriously. I haven’t seen anything like it. The comedy hits exactly the right notes with the right lines. The drama, while at times a little too brisk, strikes with the emotional chord that it needs to. The action scenes are thrilling. The visual effects, mesmerizing. The music, synthesized and catchy. Even the Easter Eggs are infectious in their appeal, with one cameo involving Tom Hiddleston’s Loki making me laugh so hard that my surrounding audience members started to look worried for me.

If I had any weakness to offer, it would be that the film’s tone is jarring compared to previous entries, with the series doing a complete 180 in genre from a Norse fantasy epic to an action-comedy so in-cheek that the “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” troupe would wonder where their invite was. But to that I say screw consistency, this is a fantastic movie; one that flips one of Marvel’s most boring characters and somehow makes him the most interesting. Maybe I would be irritated by the change in aesthetic if they did this with Iron Man or Captain America, but that’s only because those characters already have an interesting arc and personality to them. Thor is more of a blank slate, and in realizing this, Waititi pulls out his paint cans and floods the screen with as much color and life as he can.

I haven’t had this much fun in a superhero movie since The Avengers in 2012. Yes, I’m comparing Thor: Ragnarok to The Avengers. Don’t knock it until you try it. While it doesn’t confront real-world issues and moral dilemmas like Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Civil War does, Thor: Ragnarok more than makes up for it with its stylish action, colorful visuals, brilliant self-awareness, and gut-busting humor so hilarious that it’s difficult not to pee your pants from laughing so much. This is a movie where Deadpool could appear in randomly halfway through the picture and it would still make complete sense.

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“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Et tu, Loki?

Thor: The Dark World is another Thor movie, and how much you’re going to like it depends just on how you react to hearing that. I quite liked the first Thor, although the town scenes meandered a bit too much for my liking. Beyond that, it was a fun, standard superhero fanfare that watched and clapped its hands whenever Thor whacked something with his hammer. Thor: The Dark World has all of the elements that made the first Thor successful, just more of it.

After Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) embarrassing defeat at the hands of the world’s mightiest heroes in The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings him back to Asgard to stand trial against his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). While this is going on, the ancient dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who has spent centuries trapped in suspended animation, is suddenly set free and assembles his army to reclaim the Aether, a powerful artifact that can eat away and disintegrate entire worlds. Now with the fate of the nine realms in the balance, Thor needs to team up with Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the Warriors Three, and even Loki to defeat Malekith and free the universe from his madness.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Malekith is a terrible villain. Don’t get me wrong, Eccleston is a fantastic actor, and he brings a sense of conviction and ruthlessness to his role unlike anything we’ve seen from him when he played the ninth doctor in BBC’s “Doctor Who” series. But the villain himself is completely flat and uninteresting. He has no personal stake in Thor or anybody else’s story. He’s just a giant, ugly-looking grey Yoda ripoff that has the typical “I WILL DESTROY THE UNIVERSE” shtick. He doesn’t have Obadiah Stane’s deceitful snide, the Red Skull’s malicious presence, or even Loki’s sickly narcissistic charm. No, he’s just your typical big baddie with zero personality or interest, and he inhabits the film like Marvel needed to fit the bill just so they could green light the production. In an age where supervillains have the potential to be the best or most memorable element in a superhero film, Malekith is just flimsy and forgettable. He offers nothing significant to set him apart from the rest of the Marvel crew.

Thankfully, Hiddleston offers more than enough personality and interest as Loki to make up for Malekith’s lackluster inclusion. One of the things about Hiddleston that constantly impresses me is how well he inhabits the cunning and madness of Loki whenever he’s in character. He has a jesting, flamboyant flair to him, yet a sinister undertone that’s always seething beneath like a snake’s venom through his teeth. Unlike Malekith, Loki has a grounded investment in the story, has personal ties and a history with the film’s hero, and plenty of deep layers that reveal themselves the more you pull back on them. There’s an incredibly interesting arc to his character, an almost Shakespearean tragedy that tells of a man infatuated with himself and his riches, but only inflicts himself the further he draws away from his family and friends. The dynamic that he shares with Hemsworth as his brother easily takes precedence as the most memorable moments from the movie. He could have a film entirely dedicated to himself and not lose one bit of interest or investment in it. He’s that good.

The rest of the film is your typical Asgardian action-adventure. Characters fly and fight each other in incredible visual spectacle, the costumes on both the Asgardians and the elves have an edge and detail to them that evokes the feel of ancient Roman garb and armor, and the set design of Asgard and its surrounding worlds continues to shine in spectacularly vivid detail, as if it’s an image ripped straight from our dreams as opposed to the frames on celluloid. The film’s director Alan Taylor demonstrates a keen eye on the design and visual appearance of Asgard and the nine realms, and so he should. He’s directed seven episodes from the highly-praised “Game of Thrones” television series, another show that had highly-stylistic violence and an acute sense of detail to its scenery and costumes. Thor: The Dark World is a fitting follow-up for him. Asgard continues to astound and amaze, the action is just as exciting and gripping, and Taylor continues to expand upon this infinite universe that Thor is constantly exploring.

So which film is better? Thor, or The Dark World? I can’t really say for certain. They both play to their strengths, yet also demonstrate ignorance to the flaws perpetrated by their plots. I guess for me, it depends on how much you want to see Thor’s character arc fleshed out versus watching Thor bash bad guy’s brains in with a magical metal hammer. I vote hammer. Thor: The Dark World is ambitious, gladiatorial-style fun that pits our super-powered fantasy heroes against each other and watches what chaos ensues. I halfway expect Thor to turn around and yell “Are you not entertained?!” to the audience after playing whack-an-elf with Malekith. I’d pay a ticket price just to see that on its own.

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“THOR” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

If he be worthy…

This is it. This is the make-it or break-it for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the deal-breaker. Up until now, Marvel has had strong material to work with for its cinematic universe, with the combined powers of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Edward Norton’s Hulk filling the comic-book shoes well so far. But now we’re going into uncharted territory with Norse mythology. How are you supposed to make Norse Gods and legends work well with science-fiction, technology, and secret spy organizations without making it feel silly or on-the-nose?

The answer is you don’t: you amalgamate it and integrate it into their shared science-fiction universe to make it feel fluid and believable. Whatever silly experience you’re expecting to get out of a movie called Thor, you’re safe to throw your doubts out of the window now. Thor is exciting, fun, and fast-paced, whizzing with energy and incredible action and effects. And most impressively, it is epic, much like the Norse legends themselves are. I was not expecting a movie about the Norse God of Thunder to throw me off my feet this much. But then again, I didn’t know what to expect with a movie called Thor to begin with. Perhaps that helped me further appreciate it in the long run.

In this adaptation of both the Marvel comic and the Norse legend, Thor tells the story of the brash and arrogant God of Thunder, played here by Chris Hemsworth, who made his debut as James Kirk’s father in 2009’s Star Trek reboot. In this iteration, Thor is not a superhero like your regular Marvel folk, but instead the prince of Asgard, a fantastical world far removed from time and space. His father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is the king of Asgard, while the God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) supports Thor as his brother.

One day, the Frost Giants of Jotunheim sneak their way into Asgard and kill a few soldiers in an act of aggression against the kingdom. After they are swiftly wiped out by Asgard’s security forces, Thor ventures into Jotunheim to declare war with the Frost Giants against his father’s wishes. After narrowly escaping Jotunheim with their lives intact, Odin strips Thor of his powers, takes away his hammer Mjolnir, and banishes him from Asgard as his punishment. Now trapped on Earth (or “Midgard” as he refers to it) without any way of getting back home, Thor has to find a way to regain his powers and once again become the God of Thunder that he was born to be.

My biggest concern going into this movie was how they were going to fit Norse mythology into a universe filled with Iron Men and Gamma-radiated monsters and make it feel believable. Out of all of Stan Lee’s notable creations, Thor is hands down the most plagiarized and the most preposterous. Nothing about him is interesting. A Norse God has superpowers and family issues? Please. Iron Man, the Hulk, and Spider-Man all have the same things, yet are infinitely more interesting because of the very personal problems they experience. Tony Stark and his ego and alcoholism. Bruce Banner and his anger issues. Peter Parker and his sense of guilt and responsibility. Many superheroes are popularized not just because of the powers they have or the costumes they wear, but because they have complex drama and personalities coupled with their action-filled comic book panels. Thor has always felt the least interesting or compelling, and that’s partially because of the wildly fantastical setting that he inhabits.

And yet, Thor works surprisingly well, mostly because of the convictions held by its writers and director. Screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stenz, who also penned X-Men: First Class earlier this summer, demonstrates a clear understanding of Thor’s mythology and how it ties in to the nuance and appeal of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes it’s technically a fantasy film, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like another superhero action romp where characters zip, zoom, and fly into each other as the screen explodes into an exciting, color-filled visual effects spectacle. Part of that is because the film smartly blurs the lines between fantasy and science-fiction, blending both of the genre’s characteristics to make the film flow into one believable narrative. As one character observes in the film, “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet.” That quote comes from author Arthur C. Clarke.

Yet the film works on a dramatic level as well, with Hemsworth and Hiddleston’s chemistry feeling like actors interacting in a stage play, not as two superheroes flying into their own battles. There’s a very distinctive reason why: it’s because they’re being directed by actor Kenneth Branagh, who has made a career for himself as the “Shakespeare guy” in Hollywood (seriously, look at his filmography. He’s helmed adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet, and that doesn’t even include his stage credits). Approaching Thor like he would with any Shakespearean drama, Branagh lets the actors loose and allows them to have fun with their roles, with them being equally over-the-top, boisterous, dramatic, accentuated, and theatrical all at once. Oh, these characters definitely would not be believable as human beings. But as Norse Gods of ancient legend? They’re impeccable.

Hemsworth and Hiddleston serve their roles enthusiastically, and they work so well together that they could be just as entertaining by themselves without the help of added effects. The action and the visuals are dazzling and spectacular, making you feel like you really are in Asgard, Jotunheim, or Midgard watching Thor whack every enemy marching towards him. And the music by Patrick Doyle is beautiful and uplifting, evoking a sense of grandeur and adventure that feels appropriate for an epic like this.

If there is any weakness to the film it is its second act, which takes the momentum the first act builds up to and brings it to a screeching halt. In the second act, Thor loses his powers and is navigating Earth like a clueless goof that acts like he suddenly forgot how to behave and interact like a normal human. My problem with these scenes is that at the beginning and end of the film, we’re experiencing the action in Asgard, and it overwhelms you with incredible visual scope and spectacle. Then we’re transported to Earth with Thor and suddenly everything becomes so… dull. The visuals take an obvious step back and it looks and feels more like a SyFy channel television movie than it does as a Marvel production. Thor is thrusted through comedic slapstick moments, making him look pretty stupid in the wake of all of the lightning-fueled action he was performing earlier. These scenes feel disjointed, jarring, and removed from the rest of the picture, almost as if it’s another movie we’re watching entirely. I have no problem with taking away Thor’s powers for the sake of added drama or conflict. I do mind the stylistic changes that do not blend well with the rest of the picture.

Still, Thor is loads of fun, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Marvel is starting to develop a knack for making their underappreciated heroes shine in the spotlight. Remember years ago when we thought Robert Downey Jr. was going to be a bust in Iron Man? Now we have Chris Hemsworth stepping into the shoes of Thor, and he’ll be joining up with the rest of the Avengers next year with a metal man, a giant green ogre, and a red-white-and-blue boy scout. Thor is the God of Thunder. He’ll fit right in.

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“GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)” Review (✫✫)


Who’re you gonna call? Not these ladies.

The best thing about this new Ghostbusters is the music, with its catchy, funky beats taking you back to the nostalgia and joy of the original 1976 film. The rest of the movie was neither nostalgic or joyful, not even with the cameos. If the fun, wacky, off-beat energies of the ghosts accurately reflect the value of the original Ghostbusters, then let the ghost traps reflect the value of its reboot: soul-sucking.

Yes, this is a reboot. What’s more, its a reboot that recasts the entire team in the opposite sex. Instead of Bill Murray, we have Kristen Wiig. Instead of Harold Ramis, we have Melissa McCarthy. Instead of Dan Aykroyd, we have Kate McKinnon. Instead of Ernie Hudson, we have Leslie Jones. And instead of Sigourney Weaver, we have Chris Hemsworth as the office secretary, who is so clumsy and brainless that you almost completely forget he is both Thor and Captain Kirk.

Side-rant: why do these Ghostbusters even need a secretary? Their business is so slow that they could easily get one of themselves to take calls and requests. Hemsworth’s character can’t even operate a phone properly. There is absolutely no reason why he belongs in this movie, except maybe to contrast genders of the original cast. If that is the only reason, then that is a stupid reason to have a meaningless character in the script. There are, however, much bigger problems to address than just a character’s write-in.

The most crucial element of this movie is unfortunately its most weakest one: it’s not funny. The actors have no chemistry with each other. Their personalities are either flat, dull, or over-the-top, never once culminating to be either believable or appealing. The lines, situations, and setups they go through are about as funny as Saturday morning slapstick. Nothing comedic ever lands in this movie, and everything is about as funny as Wiig and McCarthy’s social awkwardness will allow.

But this isn’t a surprise to anyone, right? Ever since the trailer dropped a few months ago, fans have spewed hatred for a reboot that was as unnecessary as it was unfunny. It went on to become the most disliked trailer of all time on YouTube, and it isn’t hard to see why. With cliche lines as bad as “That’s gonna leave a mark” or “It’s up to us!”, you wonder if much effort was even needed to write this haphazard of a movie.

Granted, the movie isn’t as bad as the trailer makes it look, but it almost doesn’t matter. You never get another first impression, and unfortunately, this movie failed on its first, second, and third impressions.

Compare this to the original lineup, who mostly relied on clever, on-the-spot dialogue for their comedic delivery. Now THOSE guys had personality. Those guys clashed with each other, threw fits of disagreement, hilariously struggled against paranormal entities, and spat witty remarks at each other. They were electric with enthusiasm, and this carried over into their comedy and made it all the more funnier. These ladies, in comparison, are phoning it in, and for a Ghostbusters reboot, they did the one thing I never thought they would do: they bored me.

And before you comment about my negativity, know that I’m not making these criticisms because these new Ghostbusters are all women. I like the fact that they recast the Ghostbusters as females. I would like it even more if they were any good in their roles. Comedies live and die by the chemistry of their actors, and in this case, Bill Murray’s attitude, Harold Ramis’ nerdiness, and Aykroyd’s cowardice is replaced with Wiig’s whiny voice, McCarthy’s plainess, and McKinnon’s over-the-top, unbelievable amount of crazy. None of these ladies really ever take presence on screen and make us feel like these are characters we can laugh at and relate to, something the original Ghostbutsters did excellently.

I liked two actors from this movie, and they’re the ones that have earned this review’s two stars: Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth. Yes, I know both of their roles are obviously stereotyped. They at least have the courage to be enthusiastic about their roles, and they were the ones that gave me the few laughs this movie had to offer. Jones is sassy and has attitude in the right ways, unlike the cartoon character cut-out that McKinnon plays. Jones is actually reacting to these ghosts and the paranomal in a way that you would expect a New York MTA to react: to go bannanas and run screaming, yelling, and flail her arms wildly in every which way she can. She had the best lines and moments in the movie, and she was easily my favorite Ghostbuster.

Hemsworth, clumsy and idiotic as he is, was also cute and charming as this innocent little idiot, doing an effective job in the movie as both a supporting character and as a villain. No, I’m not elaborating on that sentence any further. In Ghostbusters, Hemsworth achieved a difficult task: he made me completely forget that he’s the hammer-wielding superhero Thor, and for two hours, made me earnestly believe that he was this whole-hearted fool who couldn’t even put glasses on properly. Again, are these the best characters we could have had in a movie like this? No, but its what we have to work with.

I can appreciate the enthusiasm. I can appreciate the desire to be progressive, and I can appreciate that the cast at least seemed to be enjoying themselves. But they’re not the ones watching the movie here. We are. And when Melissa McCarthy has the gall to say in one scene “We’re the Ghostbusters!”, I’m very tempted to grab a copy of the original movie, jump onto the movie screen, and say to them “No, you’re not.”

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“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

The Avengers face judgement day. 

We are now nearing the end of Marvel’s phase two of its cinematic universe. Before Age of Ultron, we’ve seen ten of these movies now. Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. Iron Man 3. Thor: The Dark World. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy. You would think that by now, we would be sick of watching these movies. I know I normally would. It only took three Transformers movies for me to get sick of that franchise.

Yet, the people over at Marvel continue to find new ways to surprise me and make me once again believe in its cinematic universe. Avengers: Age of Ultron is its most recent example. The film had a near impossible task: outdoing its 2012 predecessor, which was a brilliantly woven and executed superhero masterpiece in its own right. After succeeding on a grand project that big and combining five multiverses into one fluid narrative, how are you expected to measure up to that in the sequel? Luckily, writer-director Joss Whedon is no fool. He knew what expectations were going to be had for his highly-anticipated sequel. He could have sold out and let the anticipation from the first movie roll in the bank for this one, but Whedon instead did the one thing that most filmmakers are too afraid to do nowadays: he set out to make it better.

Take the movie’s villain as Whedon’s prime example for improvement. Ultron, voice and motion performance by James Spader, is a trash-talking super-intelligent humanoid A.I. created by Tony Stark, a.k.a. “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr.) to protect the Earth from supernatural threats. Shortly after his creation, however, Ultron goes rogue and concludes that in order for true peace to be obtained, humanity needs to be wiped out and reborn like the animals from the dinosaur age.

On the surface, this seems like the same story for every robot-rebellion premise: a machine was created to do good, it becomes self aware, and in turn does the opposite of good. And in a sense, this is the same story for every robot-rebellion premise.

The key, however, lies in execution, and Spader as Ultron is the best super villain performance I’ve seen in a Marvel movie to date. Ultron doesn’t behave or talk like other androids. He isn’t stiff, rigid, or robotic like other mechanical characters in film are. Like any of the other live-action actors on screen, Ultron is a fluid, life-like being with his own personality and morals. He’s chaotic and radical in his thinking and behavior, acting more like a psychotic child rather than a logic-driven artificial intelligence.

Considering his creator is the egotistical Tony Stark, I can’t say I’m surprised that his personality is the same. Every Avenger in this film is just as great with each other as they were in the first Avengers movie. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is just as machismo and uncompromising as he is in any of his movies. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is equally as earnest and straightforward, with a few secrets that surprised even me in the theater. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) continues his rivalrous dynamic with Stark from the first movie, their contrasting personalities rubbing off of each other so viciously that we can see how it builds up to Captain America: Civil War.

The two Avengers that have the greatest dynamic, however, are Bruce Banner, or the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Here, their relationship expands from the first movie into a conflicted romance between the two. Romanoff is a master assassin with a past she’s neither proud to have nor able to escape from. Banner is the feeble scientist with a monster inside of him that he’s not proud of either. The two don’t feel like they can have a relationship with each other because of their different personalities, but Whedon puts them together with tragically heartfelt honesty here. He finds a connecting theme between the two, themes of loss and regret that makes them turn to each other and rely on each other. I didn’t think it was going to work when I saw these characters at first, but Whedon makes it so compelling that now I can’t see it any other way. Romanoff asks Banner a question in one scene that I think is reflective of their relationship: “Do you still think you’re the only monster on the team?”

Everything else in the movie lives up to the expectations you had in the first movie. The action is unique, visually complex, and eye-popping. The story is layered, intelligent, and dynamic, with characters bouncing witty and thought-provoking dialogue off of each other perfectly. The villain is one of the best and most unique of the Marvel universe, and there’s a few new characters introduced in the film that are done just as well as the superhero team’s main heroes.

Here’s the worst thing I can say about the movie, and really the greatest danger to the Marvel cinematic universe: I’m getting used to it. This is the 11th movie I’ve seen in the Marvel universe now, and I almost know what to expect. I know that I’m going to be surprised and shocked at some of the twists and turns. I know I’m going to enjoy the heroes and villains alike. I know that there’s going to be a lot of action with a noteworthy plot behind it. And, more than anything else, I know the movie is going to expand upon itself and its multiple follow ups.

Marvel has 11 more movies to produce after this for their phase 3, and there’s no telling how many more movies they plan to do after that. With Whedon going on record saying this is his last Marvel movie, I question how well they will be able to continue expanding this universe and doing it well. How much longer can Marvel keep pushing the envelope? I hope I don’t find out soon.

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“THE AVENGERS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The ultimate example of comic-book superhero movies. 

I remember opening a comic book for the first time in my life when I was just a small kid. The small pamphlet fascinated me: by just a flip of a page, an entirely different world was created. A world where normal people gained super powers, wore red capes and tights, fought evil wherever it may exist, and made the world a safer place by the end of the day. In a small, poor neighborhood town where I was the only white kid in a predominantly Latino school building, it provided me a sense of relief and sanction from much bullying and torment I experienced from the other school children back in the day. It provided me freedom from the accursed world I lived in: it provided me a means of escape.

And now here I am, 15 years later, watching a live-action re-enactment of the world I discovered and loved all those many years ago. The Avengers is masterfully fantastic. It is an epic superhero tale, portraying the never-ending conflict of good and evil. It is an action movie with surprising finesse, switching from scenes of explosive energy and action to other scenes with insight, humor, and heartfelt emotion. It is a faithful re-production of multiple universes we have come to love in the past four years, and re-adapts them faithfully and full of energy in this film. But the core of this film’s success is this: that the film’s story and themes are emotional, honest, and truthful, and fleshes out its heroes to make them what they are: humans. All fighting for very human, realistic, and understandable reasons.

If you’ve seen the previous Marvel entries, you already know what this movie is about. The Avengers is a group of superheroes brought together to fight the battles that human beings never could.  Who are these heroes?  You would know most of them.

Tony Stark “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr): A billionaire playboy/philanthropist that has a genius-level-intellect that has allowed him to build and fight in a suit of armor.

Bruce Banner “Hulk” (Mark Ruffalo): A scientist exposed to gamma radiation, who turns into a giant, brutish beast with monstrous strength when he becomes angry.

Natasha Romanoff “Black Widow” (Scarlett Johansson): An agile and intelligent spy that is more skilled and capable than most other men.

Clint Barton “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner): A masterful marksman who can aim and shoot with his bow and various arrows in a matter of milliseconds.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth): The Norse God of thunder who can manipulate lightning with the power of his mighty hammer, Mjolnir.

Steve Rogers “Captain America” (Chris Evans): A super soldier frozen through time who can beat criminals to a pulp, as well as wielding a shield cast in a rare metal called “vibranium”.

You’ve seen these heroes before, most of them in their own respective movies.  All with their own stories, origins, conflicts, and themes that were explored along with their respective characters. My original worry with this film was, despite the huge expectations people were having, I was afraid this movie would let people down. It does, after all, have a lot on its plate: adapting over six superheroes into one action-packed movie is no easy task. We have Batman Forever and Spiderman 3 as evidence of that, where they had trouble of adapting even four super-powered beings to the big screen.

This film, though, has surprising finesse. Writer-director Joss Whedon adapts these characters with such child-like love and faithfulness, I feel their themes and stories from their previous films carry over to this film with them. It doesn’t feel like an adaptation, or an act of cruel financial commercialism. It lives up to the hype. The characters in this film live and breathe their uniqueness we have come to know and love from the previous Marvel movies. We feel Iron Man’s sarcasm and big ego, Thor’s sense of responsibility and brotherhood, Banner’s fear, frustration, and anger, and Steve’s sense of honor, patriotism, loss, and duty. Through the film’s dialogue and references to prior films, we sense Whedon’s pure intentions underneath the action, and we respect it. We realize he isn’t making just another action movie; he is making a superhero movie.  One with upmost faithfulness and loyalty to its own universes.

Impressive also, are the actors, but I don’t need to tell you that. We’ve seen them in prior films, so we already know they are good. I will comment then, on something we haven’t seen yet: their chemistry with each other. My word. This is what makes the Avengers, The Avengers. The actor’s chemistry with each other is spot-on, and in-tune. Whether it is a scene involving humorous, sarcastic dialogue, or another scene with painful realism and emotional truth to it, there is reality being shown in every single shot when an actor is with another Avenger on-screen. I can’t accurately describe it to you and do it justice. You need to see the film to understand their relationship with each other.

People are also wondering, of course, if the visual side of the film delivers. The answer is yes, but it isn’t just because it looks great; it is because of how they handled the great visuals they had for this picture. Too many times are we given films that have great visual CGI and explosions to overwhelm the audience with, but we have no suspense, excitement, or surprise to go along with it. It doesn’t make for an entertaining film. All that is left is a predictable action film that’s empty amidst the flat storytelling and redundant action sequences that just shows one explosion after another.

The Avengers isn’t like that. It doesn’t use its action as an excuse to fall flat and give up on entertaining its audience. Its excitement is relentless. Its suspense builds, and builds, and builds until we can take it no longer.  We scramble in our seat as we attentively watch what will happen next for our heroes.

This is the kind of excitement we need in superhero movies: the kind that is reminiscent of those kids watching Saturday morning cartoons, the ones that have you sitting on the edge of your seat with your bowl of “Captain Crunch” in order to see if your favorite hero does, in fact, save the day. It is this suspense and tension that builds The Avengers to incredible cinematic heights, and makes for some truly entertaining, memorable, and iconic moments in the picture.

The Avengers is the ultimate example of a comic book superhero movie. Whedon has a great subject to play with, sure. But his film is a great one not because he solely depends on the idea to be successful. This film is a success because he treats it the way it is supposed to be treated: as an exciting action-blockbuster that retains humanity to its characters, spirit to its humor, and excitement in its own story. I know somewhere in this world, some little ten-year old kid will watch this movie, and will one day be inspired to make his own superhero movie. It’s kind of depressing, though. It doesn’t really get much better than this.

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“RUSH” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Don’t think.  Don’t pause.  Just drive.  

I couldn’t have thought of a better title for the movie Rush, because that’s exactly what it is: an unstoppable and uncontrollable rush of energy, excitement, and gravitas, a movie that starts on a high note and simply refuses to let up all the way through.  I hear a lot of complaints that there are biographical movies that are more concerned with cashing in on people’s legacies rather than making an authentic account of a person’s true story, such as Jobs or The Iron Lady.  Here is a break from all of that, a refreshing and ideal account of two racers who live every moment of their life trying to figure out how to beat the other guy, while understanding that their symbiotic relationship is what made them both great racers in the first place.

Focusing on the 1976 Formula One Grand Prix season, Rush follows the story of two different racers, both with polar opposite personalities and complexions.  James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a hard-headed racer who races with passion instead of brains, and a playboy who drinks a lot, smokes a lot, and sleeps with beautiful women, a lot.  Nicki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is a intelligent, smart, and crafty german who is just as focused and analytical as he is rude and ignorant. The film chronicles the contempt they feel for each other and the mutual respect that makes them strive to be better than the other man.

Before you go and see this picture, I encourage you to go online and google the names “James Hunt” and “Nicki Lauda” and look at their images.  Got it?  Okay, now that you’ve done that, go and watch the movie.

If you actually took the time to open up another tab and look at the images, you will be just as shocked as I was.  Comparing the sight of Lauda and Hunt with that of Bruhl and Hemsworth isn’t comparing them at all: they look exactly like the same characters, from the red jackets around their back to the color and hairstyles that we see on their heads.

I love it when movies do this: when movies are so accurate to the real-life figures that they copy their appearance so accurately, it is nearly impossible to differentiate from them.  We’ve seen this from The Fighter in 2009, and recently from Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.

Here is yet another example of a movie that is compelled by truth and driven by accuracy, pun intended.  Rush is exhilarating.  Exciting.  Edgy.  Anticipative.  Emotional.  True.  Everything about this movie is a heart-pounding, sweat-pouring adventure, and what’s truly impressive is not that the movie makes us feel this way: its the fact that it really happened, and that really director Ron Howard is just documenting it rather than retelling it.

One of the highlights in the film are easily its lead actors.  Not only do Hemsworth and Bruhl look exactly like the people they are portraying: they act like them too, with their rivalry and their edginess apparent in every fraction of a scene.  Sometimes their clashes are funny, like the dialogue bits between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, while at other times its strikingly serious like the James Braddock/Max Baer rivalry in Cinderella Man.  Whatever the situations, these actors do well at remaining in tense situations and they never, ever break their character.  Hemsworth is energetic, lively, and egotistical as Hunt, a man whose only loves are beautiful women and racing.  Bruhl is equally as egotistical, but he’s got a sly smartness about him you can’t help but appreciate.  There’s one great scene where Hunt calls Lauda a rat and he responds by saying “You think I’m hurt that you call me a rat, Hunt?  Rats are ugly, but they are smart.  Intelligent.  I am proud of that.”

The film doesn’t slow down at their performances, however, and filmmaker Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) are quick to follow up on the pace of these two fine actors.  The guys who made Fast And Furious could take a hint or two from this movie. Morgan and Howard not only succeed in making the movie exciting and suspenseful through key moments in races, press conferences and private, vulnerable moments when these racers are all by their lonesomes: they’ve managed to make it gripping and relevant, a grounded drama thats equal parts and insightful into these two men’s lives that we feel like we’re witnessing their story upfront in the pit, not viewing it from far away on the sidelines.

Oh, I could go on all day praising this film and how all the elements culminate into a near masterpiece.  The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is tense, unsettling, and noble, defining these men’s relationship just as well as the movie does.  The editing is tight, crisp, and clean at the hands of collaborators Daniel Hanley and Mike Hill.  For Pete’s sake, even the cinematography by Anthony Mantle was so good at capturing emotions and details so intimate, Howard would probably have missed some of them if Mantle wasn’t there to point them out.

Bottom line: Rush is entirely, unforgettably awesome.  It’s a strong and powerful tale about two passionate racers who knew what they were after and were willing to sacrifice whatever they could to go after it.  We see why they want to beat each other.  We understand who they are and why they are racing.  We know what makes them tick and we want to see them make it through every pulsating moment of the film in order to accomplish their dreams.  Trust me, you’re going to want to sit in on this race.  Oh, and bring your seatbelt.  You’re going to need it.

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“SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” Review (✫✫✫)

And thank you, Thor, for keeping up appearances.

Take a deep breath and say it with me: Snow White And The Huntsman.  Doesn’t sound very promising, does it?  Like most fantasy films, Snow White And The Huntsman seemed set up for failure.  It’s centered around a very popular character portrayed by Bella Swan, the film is based around a fairy tale known universally in every person’s mind, and it seemed tempted to fall for a formula and let down its audience.  Believe me, that was the movie I was expecting when I went into the theater.  The movie, however, is much better than the title suggests.

Based on the famous original fairy tale by brothers Grimm, Snow White And The Huntsmanfollows the story of Snow White (Kirsten Stewart), a kind and beautiful princess of the land Tabor who would one day inherit the kingdom and the throne from her father King Magnus (Noah Huntley).  Before she was born, the narrator tells us that her mother pricked her fingers on a rose outside of her castle, with three drops of blood staining the snow.  Her mother told herself that she wanted a daughter as white as the snow, lips as red as the blood, and a spirit as strong and defiant as the rose she prickled.

This opening sequence was both fascinating and revealing, a deeper introspect into Snow White’s history that I don’t believe has been visited before.  Her mother eventually died giving birth to Snow White, and so King Magnus marries a strikingly beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron), whom he rescued from a dark army made out of glass soldiers that tried to invade his kingdom.  Magnus is so stricken by Ravenna’s beauty, in fact, that she becomes his queen in less than two days.

You already know where this is going, don’t you?  Ravenna is, in fact, the dark and conniving witch leader of the dark army.  After killing Magnus in his bed, she takes Snow White, forces her into the upstairs dungeon, and seizes power over the kingdom as the newly appointed Queen of Tabor.

Years past, and the kingdom of Tabor falls into desolation and poverty.  Snow White has now become of age to become the new queen of Tabor, and has been blessed with the gift of kindness that will ultimately dethrone Ravenna from the throne.  Snow White eventually escapes from the dungeon, flees from Ravenna, and escapes into the dark forest, a place where people slowly lose their sanity and, in time, their life.

Raevenna cannot go to this place to kill Snow White, so she hires somebody who can: a huntsman by the name of Eric (Chris Hemsworth), a man who lost his wife to death’s hand long ago.  Nothing could convince this angry, tired old drunk to take this job willingly, but he takes the job nonetheless in the hopes of that the evil witch can revive his dead wife with her dark powers.  And so the adventures of Snow White and the Huntsman begin.

The biggest thing Snow White And The Huntsman has going for it is two things: its visuals and its handling of the premise, in that exact order.  Rubert Sanders, who is making his director debut through this picture, is very smart and very careful with his visuals, using very precise and expertly-detailed CGI in things like the Magic Mirror or in the dark army made out of glass.  But it isn’t just the visuals that makes the picture what it is: Sanders is smart enough to make the visuals mean something, and just like the camera he’s using to record the picture, the visuals are a tool he uses to tell a story and to instill some deeper meaning in the audience.

Take, for example, how Sanders uses the color of white in the picture.  The color itself only appears three times in the picture: once where Snow White rides and abandons a white horse on the beach, another time where she encounters and caresses a magnificent and beautiful white stag, and the last one being where she dies and is resurrected while being in a white funeral dress.  Go back and look at the pictures again and try to look at it through a more symbolic scope.  I promise you, if you see the picture as I do, you will see a princess abandoning her kingdom, returning to her kingdom, and finally, becoming the queen and leader that the kingdom deserves.

To find such complexion in a picture as this was both shocking and surprising, and the cast delivers just as much as the visuals do. Charlize Theron was menacing, evil, and conniving as the dark witch, and gives a stellar performance that would have had the animated version relieving in her pants.  Stewart, shockingly, is very grounded in her take as Snow White, and embodies everything her mother says she has: strength, beauty, courage, kindness, and heart, and this especially shows in the last half hour of the picture.  Hemsworth was equally as emotional and convincing as the huntsman named Eric, although there are a few brief moments where he breaks character and acts more like Thor from The Avengers.

There was another Snow White movie released earlier this year called Mirror Mirror, and it starred the lovely Lily Collins and Julia Roberts in roles opposite Stewart and Theron.  That movie was too silly and immature for its own good.  Here, we have the opposite problem: this film is dreary, dark, sullen, and bleak, a movie that for the first half of its runtime, fills us with dread, angst,  and sorrow.  Starkly different tone from the whimsical, uplifting veins of the original Disney classic don’t you think?  Whatever happened to Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey?

Still, its a good movie.  When there is color in the picture, it reaches out to you in striking detail, the cast is extremely strong, and the visuals and the camera angles combine to make a very provocative picture and a very sharp visual experience.  All you need left is Mjolnir and the rest of the Avengers, and you’ll be all set.

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