Thor: Ragnarok movie review

For inSing

THOR: RAGNAROK 

Director : Taika Waititi
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins
Genre : Comics/Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 130 mins
Opens : 26 October 2017
Rating : PG-13

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) were absent from Captain America: Civil War. In this Marvel Cinematic Universe adventure, we learn of the travails these characters faced on the other-side of the universe.

After the events of Thor: The Dark World, Thor’s adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken the guise of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), ruling Asgard as a vainglorious charlatan king. Loki’s lack of leadership has left Asgard vulnerable to attack from Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death who has come to claim what she believes is rightfully hers.

In the aftermath of a struggle against Hela, Thor and Loki find themselves stranded on the planet Sakaar. Thor, without his trusty hammer Mjolnir, is forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena for the amusement of Sakaar’s ruler, the eccentric Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor realises that his opponent is the Hulk, who has been on Sakaar fighting as the Grandmaster’s champion for the last two years. Thor must convince his fellow Avenger to help him on his quest to defeat Hela and save Asgard. Joining Thor, Loki and the Hulk is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), formerly a member of an elite Asgardian fighting force who has become a bounty hunter in the Grandmaster’s employ. Back on Asgard, Heimdall (Idris Elba), the guardian of the Bifrost bridge, has disappeared into the woods, trying to save as many Asgardians as he can from Hela’s wrath. In facing off against the goddess of death, our heroes must prevent Ragnarok, the end of days, from coming to pass.

Thor: Ragnarok is directed by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, continuing the MCU’s penchant for unconventional director choices. This movie looked from the trailers like it was going to be a whole lot of fun, and it is. However, perhaps the end of days shouldn’t be “a whole lot of fun” – or at least, be something more than that. The MCU has sometimes gotten flack for being a little too flippant and quippy in its tone, at the expense of meaningful drama. The two MCU films we’ve gotten earlier this year, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, packed in plenty of humour, but also had genuine heart when it counted the most. Thor: Ragnarok does not fare as well as those films in this regard.

Despite its tonal issues, there is no denying that Thor: Ragnarok is supremely entertaining. There is never a dull moment and the film delivers all the dazzling, meticulously-rendered visual effects spectacle we’ve come to expect from this franchise. This is by far the biggest film Waititi has made, and with the production support built into Marvel Studios, he acquits himself admirably. The central throw down between Thor and Hulk in the Grandmaster’s arena is well choreographed, and the colourful, eye-popping design of Sakaar is a nice homage to artist Jack Kirby.

Thor: Ragnarok might be too funny for its own good, but the central cast displays excellent comic timing. Hemsworth is easily the most likeable he’s ever been in the role, playing a character who is put through the wringer, but doesn’t lose his boyish enthusiasm and charm. He also spends the entire movie showing off his truly impressive biceps, and yes, there’s a requisite shirtless scene.

While Hiddleston is a delight as Loki, it’s easy to lose sight of exactly how much damage he’s done over the course of previous films, even when those events are name-checked. He’s a trickster, but he’s also dangerous, and that latter element seems to get lost in the shuffle.

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture turned out to be one of the best MCU villains thus far. Unfortunately, Hela emerges as a far more formulaic antagonist. This reviewer was really looking forward to seeing what an actress of Blanchett’s stature would do with the role, but there really isn’t much more to the character than strutting about and smirking seductively. Hela plainly states her motivations in an expository speech, and while there are ample displays of how formidable she is, the threat never truly takes hold – especially since so much of the film is spent away from Asgard.

Hulk’s depiction in this film represents an evolution in the right direction – he’s now slightly more articulate, when previously all he was capable of was roaring and grunting. While the dynamic that develops between Thor and the Hulk is interesting and amusing, there’s the niggling sense that elements of the Planet Hulk story arc from the comics have been shoehorned into this film. A standalone film based on Planet Hulk might have worked better, that is indeed what Ruffalo wanted, but rights issues prevented that from happening.

While Thompson doesn’t physically resemble Valkyrie as the character is often drawn in the comics, she has the swagger to pull off the character as written and looks to be enjoying herself in the role. This is a warrior who’s one of the dudes, but who is suppressing pain from her past. She’s pretty much any given Michelle Rodriguez character.

Goldblum is basically playing himself, but as a hedonistic Elder of the Universe. It’s an entertaining performance, but Goldblum never disappears into the role, and doesn’t register as someone you wouldn’t want to cross.

There is one scene in the film in which a phalanx of Valkyries, astride their winged horses, charge into battle against Hela. It’s a beautiful, awe-inspiring tableau that recalls the paintings of Gustave Doré. Alas, this is but a tiny part of Thor: Ragnarok. This is not a bad film, far from it, but it just doesn’t feel like a Thor film. It feels like a Guardians of the Galaxy movie that Thor happens to be in. Where previous MCU movies have balanced the humour with drama and emotion, the jokes here undercut the desired end-of-the-world stakes. That’s not to say Thor: Ragnarok isn’t an exceedingly enjoyable time, but it could’ve been more than that.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Pete’s Dragon

For F*** Magazine

PETE’S DRAGON 

Director : David Lowery
Cast : Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Oona Laurence, John Kassir
Genre : Adventure
Run Time : 1 hr 43 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)

Pete's Dragon posterCall it “Re-Pete’s Dragon”: Disney has remade one of the lesser-known films in their canon, changing the setting from a seaside Maine town in the 1900s to the forests of the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s. Pete (Fegley), has spent six of his 11 years alive living in the forest after being stranded there following an accident. He has since befriended a green, furry dragon named Elliott (Kassir), who has the ability to turn invisible. Elderly wood-carver Meacham (Redford) claims to have encountered a dragon in the woods in his youth, but everyone writes it off as a tall tale. Meacham’s daughter Grace (Howard), a forest ranger, takes Pete in after Natalie (Laurence), the daughter of Grace’s boyfriend Jack (Bentley), spots Pete in the forest. In the meantime, Jack’s brother Gavin (Urban) becomes obsessed with capturing Elliott, thinking it will bring him fame. Pete must learn to live as a regular boy, but yearns to be reunited with his friend Elliott.

Pete's Dragon Elliott and Oakes Fegley 1

Pete’s Dragon is quite the wonder in that in contains nary a shred of cynicism. Director David Lowery strives to recapture the charm of old-school ‘A Boy and his X’ tales, and largely succeeds. Little of the original 1977 musical film remains: there’s a boy named Pete and a dragon named Elliott who can turn invisible, and the characters of Nora and her father Lampie are reworked into Grace and Meacham. Pete’s Dragon is what a remake should be: key components of the source are repurposed to fit a new vision and it isn’t a beat-for-beat re-tread of what came before. It’s warm-hearted but does take a while to get into gear, with a few moments bordering on cheesy. Pete’s Dragon stands on the shoulders of kids’ adventure films like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and The Iron Giant, its old-fashioned sensibilities contrasted with the advanced visual effects technology used to bring Elliott to life.

Pete's Dragon Oona Laurence, Elliott and Oakes Fegley

Elliott is a supremely loveable creation, with some design cues taken from The Never-Ending Story’s Falkor the Luck Dragon. Lowery justified giving Elliott a furry coat by saying he wanted Elliott to be “the kind of dragon you really want to give a hug to”, and this reviewer did indeed very much want to hug Elliott. The visual effects work, supervised by Tony Baldridge and Eric Saindon, makes Elliott feel like a living, breathing creature. The moments in which Elliott interacts with his environment, knocking over trees, splashing about in the river or sliding into the grass after a rough landing, are uniformly convincing. Elliott possesses multiple doglike attributes, with his vaguely Chewbacca-like vocalisations provided by voice actor John Kassir. Every whimper and growl makes Elliott seem more like an actual animal, and the in-universe explanation of the dragon being regarded as a folk legend cryptid gives this flight of fancy some grounding.

Pete's Dragon Oakes Fegley

The live-action actors expectedly play second fiddle to Elliott, but they all take this quite seriously. Fegley’s Pete is the second feral boy in a live-action Disney movie this year, after Neel Sethi’s Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Fegley brings a wildness and physicality to Pete, whose years in the forest have made him adept at climbing pretty much anything. His interactions with Elliott are the very stuff that warm fuzzy feelings are made of.

Pete's Dragon Oona Laurence, Bryce Dallas Howard and Wes Bentley

Between this and Jurassic World, it seems giant CGI creatures just won’t leave Howard alone. She doesn’t get much to do, but her performance does feel straight out of an 80s Amblin movie. Redford’s gravitas, warmth and that perpetual twinkle in his eye give the film plenty of heart. Meacham is an old-timer who never lost that sense of imagination. Laurence was one of the child actresses who originated the role of Matilda in the eponymous musical on Broadway, and glimmers of the precociousness integral to Matilda are present here. She gets to boss Redford around a little, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the living legend getting barked at by a kid. Bentley is passable if not terribly interesting as a blue-collar dad, while Urban sinks his teeth into the antagonist role even though it’s a little thinly written. He sneers the line “the dragon is mine!” with admirable conviction.

Pete's Dragon Robert Redford

While it bears more than a few similarities to that recent Boy and His X favourite How to Train Your Dragon, Pete’s Dragon is charming is different ways too, thanks to its wholesome Americana vibe. Live-action kids’ adventure movies are a bit of a dying breed, but Disney’s recent live-action successes might mean a resurgence for the subgenre. As an avid indoorsman, this reviewer enjoys experiencing the wonders of nature from the comfort of a cinema hall. New Zealand doubles for the Pacific Northwest, and the actual scenery is as pleasing as the computer-generated visuals. Daniel Hart provides a rousing score, and ‘hip-hop violinist’ Lindsey Stirling makes her feature film debut performing Something Wild with Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. It all makes for a simple, wistfully-told story that harks back to simpler times and yet doesn’t drown in schmaltz.

Pete's Dragon Elliott and Oakes Fegley 2

Summary: Despite starting out slow, Pete’s Dragon becomes an absorbing adventure boasting marvellous visual effects work. Toothless has got heady competition in the ‘cutest dragon’ stakes.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Star Trek Beyond

For F*** Magazine

STAR TREK BEYOND 

Director : Justin Lin
Cast : Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 123 mins
Opens : 21 July 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Star Trek Beyond poster          The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are marooned in the third instalment of the rebooted Star Trek movie series. It is three years into the Enterprise’s five-year deep space exploration mission, and Captain James T. Kirk (Pine) is beginning to feel fatigued. Kirk, Commander Spock (Quinto), Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Saldana), medical officer Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Urban), chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Pegg), helmsman Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (Cho), navigator Ensign Pavel Chekov (Yelchin) and the rest of the ship’s crew arrive at the Federation’s new Yorktown space station for a well-deserved break. However, they are abruptly called into action again on a rescue mission, and are suddenly besieged by an unknown enemy. The ruthless alien Krall (Elba) is after an artefact held aboard the Enterprise, and stranded on the planet Altimid with no means of escape, the crew must fend for themselves. Luckily, they have the help of a warrior named Jaylah, who has a long-standing vendetta against Krall.

Star Trek Beyond Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella and Chris Pine

The rebooted Star Trek films, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness in particular, have proven divisive amongst audiences. Stalwart fans of the originals 60s TV show decry the reboots as being too action-oriented and straying from the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi creation, while general audiences and the majority of critics have lauded the films for revitalising the franchise. Owing to his duties helming the seventh instalment of that other sci-fi juggernaut, J. J. Abrams passes the directorial baton on to Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame. Screenwriting duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who have not exactly been popular amongst fans, are replaced by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Star Trek Beyond is very much a straightforward adventure, close enough to the spirit of the original series, while also showcasing the wham-bam action spectacle Lin has become known for.

Star Trek Beyond Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella and Karl Urban

Star Trek Beyond does feel a little scaled down from Into Darkness, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s still an epic sweep here: we’re treated to a jaw-dropping establishing shot of the gleaming, futuristic bauble that is the Yorktown space station, accompanied by a stirring, uplifting score from composer Michael Giacchino. The scene in which Kirk pulls off some rad motorcycle stunts did induce its share of eye-rolling when it was glimpsed in the trailer, but it doesn’t feel out of place in the movie itself. The climactic zero-g melee is reasonably inventive too. The destruction of the Enterprise is suitably intense and dramatic, but is marred by an overuse of shaky-cam, which affects most of the close quarters fights in the movie.

Star Trek Beyond Krall vs. Enterprise crew member

The biggest shortcoming here is the central villain Krall. One can’t help but feel that the layers of prosthetic makeup somewhat diminish Elba’s innately towering presence, and as a brutish baddie chasing a MacGuffin that our heroes have in their possession, he’s a somewhat generic action movie villain. Say what you will about the big twist in Into Darkness, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances was that film’s centre and was nothing short of electrifying. Yes, there is an element of mystery to Krall, but when his back-story is revealed, it can’t help but come off as underwhelming.

Star Trek Beyond Enterprise crew on the bridge

Fortunately, Star Trek Beyond makes excellent use of its returning characters. The cast for Star Trek ’09 remains one of the finest remake/reboot casts ever assembled, with each actor grasping the essence of those iconic figures without doing a mere impression. The camaraderie and banter amongst the crew continues to feel earnest. Urban’s cantankerous Bones has always been this reviewer’s favourite character in the rebooted films, and here, he gets to steal the show on multiple occasions, with Urban delivering several side-splitting lines. Pine is allotted multiple moments to be the dashing action hero, while Quinto masterfully parses the humour inherent in Spock’s obtuseness and the character’s dedication to the crew.

Star Trek Beyond Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine and John Cho

There has been considerable furore surrounding the decision to establish Sulu as gay in this continuity, with original Sulu actor George Takei himself being one of the biggest opposing voices. In the film, we see Sulu greeted by his husband and their young daughter as he arrives at Yorktown spaceport. It’s a sweet scene and is really no big deal. The passing of Leonard Nimoy, who originally played Spock and appeared in the first two reboot movies as Spock Prime, is handled with admirable sensitivity within the film. The ending credits include dedications to both Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, who recently died in a freak accident. We missed Spock Prime, and will definitely miss Chekov when the fourth film arrives.

Star Trek Beyond Sofia Boutella and Simon Pegg

Jaylah was apparently inspired by Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Winter’s Bone (say the name ‘Jaylah’ out loud). The character’s design is striking and Boutella, best known as Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service, possesses the requisite physicality to play the badass warrior. Unfortunately, the character can’t help but come off as a standard-issue tough, resourceful woman at times – a studio-mandated ‘strong female character’. That said, Jaylah feels like a natural addition to the Star Trek universe and allows Boutella to further exhibit the star quality which served her so well in Kingsman.

Left to right: Zoe Saldana plays Uhura and John Cho plays Sulu in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Star Trek Beyond is generally entertaining and thrives on the excellent chemistry this particular cast has fostered, but it does tend towards the generic. There aren’t too many surprises in store, but Lin’s valuing of the emotional beats in addition to the action does benefit the tone. It’s also reasonably self-contained, and newcomers unfamiliar with volumes of Trek lore won’t feel left out.

Star Trek Beyond Anton Yelchin and Chris Pine escaping explosion

Summary: Star Trek Beyond strives to reach a compromise between the feel of the original series and the rebooted films, generally succeeding in this regard. A lack of surprises and an uninteresting villain are made up for with entertaining character dynamics and well-executed action.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong