REVIEW: THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

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THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

Third solo flick for the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) has his sister, Hela The God of Death (Cate Blanchett) returning from exile and claiming the throne of Asgard. She destroys Thor’s hammer and casts he and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into space, where they land on the anarchic planet of Sakaar. While Hela lays waste to Asgard’s armies, Thor is taken prisoner and forced into a gladiatorial arena where he finds his old ally Hulk is the reigning champion. Ever determined to save his world, Thor plots to escape with Hulk, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a Asgardian Valkyrie warrior (Tessa Thompson) in hiding, who has faced Hela before.

Marvel took a chance with an out of left-field choice by hiring New Zealand comedy director Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) for this third entry. Armed with a script and story by Christopher Yost, Eric Pearson and Chris Kyle, Waititi delivers an audacious action/adventure that evokes The Fifth Element with it’s mix of over-the top, sci-fi action and a delightfully eccentric sense of humor. It’s tone also echos the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks, but while their humor was sarcastic and biting, here it’s very offbeat and sometimes downright weird. It makes for one of the more daring and fun entries in Marvel’s long running film series and it works far more than it doesn’t…and not all the humor hits the mark. The design of the film and it’s action sequences is stunning and it doesn’t quite look like anything we’ve seen from these movies so far, though not too different to alienate itself from the other films of the MCU. The SPFX are as good as it gets and there is a wonderfully 80s-esque electronic score from Mark Mothersbaugh. At 130 minutes it might be a tad too long, but it is never boring and when it’s not thrilling us with some spectacular action, it’s providing some solid laughs and gives us one of the stronger Marvel villain’s to boo with Blanchett’s Hela.

The cast all do wonderfully here. Chris Hemsworth shows he has a gift for comedy with a more jovial Thor. He’s still haughty and noble and a bit self-centered, but the actor also handles the comic scenes very well without weakening the God of Thunder’s heroic veneer. Hiddleston is also fun as Loki, who seems more reluctantly along for the ride this time than his usual in control, scheming self. Tessa Thompson is fiery and sexy as the Valkyrie warrior who once faced Hela and it frightened her so much she went into self-imposed exile on Sakaar’s nowhere land. There is still a noble quality hidden under the booze and bravado and it will draw her to Thor’s side despite her reluctance. Mark Ruffalo is again a delight as Banner/Hulk. The good doctor seems to have taken a backseat to his green alter ego and it’s fun to watch him deal with the fact that he’s been Hulk-ed out for over two years. Cate Blanchett is smoothly sinister as the God of Death, Hela. She is a great actress and makes her fierce and powerful, but not without a very dry and twisted sense of humor. She’s fun to watch as she chews the scenery, but she never let’s the character get too over-the-top, avoiding camp. In support we have Karl Urban as Skurge, a traitorous Asgardian who becomes Hela’s henchman, Idris Elba returning as Heimdall and Jeff Goldblum as the eccentric and flamboyant Grandmaster, who runs Sakaar’s gladiator matches. A great cast who deftly handle the offbeat tone and material.

This flick may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy movies like The Fifth Element, or even the recent Guardians movies, this is definitely up your alley. It’s got some spectacular action, some visually sumptuous settings and FX and a healthy, but very offbeat and eccentric sense of humor. Director Waititi delivers one of the more audacious entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and he and lead Hemsworth keep Thor’s effective qualities sharp, while making him far funnier than we’ve ever seen him…and it works. There is a top notch cast of eclectic characters to back the God of Thunder up, including Waititi’s own hilarious vocalization of alien gladiator Korg and an appearance by another Marvel superhero, that won’t be spoiled here. A really fun and in many ways daring, entry in Marvel’s on-going movie series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 hammers.

 

 

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REVIEW: STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

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STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick picks up almost three years into the Enterprise’s five year exploration mission, which puts them cleverly “beyond” the first three years/seasons of the original show and thus into new story territory. This third installment of J.J. Abrams’ reboot series is now directed by Justin Lin and tells of a devastating attack on the Enterprise while on a rescue mission in uncharted space. An alien warlord named Krall (Idris Elba) wants not only an ancient device stored on the ship, but the crew itself to drain their life-forces. With their precious ship destroyed and now stranded and hunted on an alien world, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) must figure out a way to rescue the crew, stop Krall’s diabolical plan and get home to friendlier space.

Justin Lin doesn’t quite bring the dramatic intensity Abrams did to his Trek films and his action scenes may not resonate as strongly, but with Simon Pegg and Doug Jung’s script in hand, he does give the series a lighter and more fun touch than the more dour Star Trek Into Darkness. The film also feels the most like a Star Trek episode which works for and against it, but mostly for. Giving the flick a less epic feel than the previous two, does reduce the spectacle aspect of the proceedings and the action is more close quarters fisticuffs than battling starships until the last act confrontation at a gigantic space station. Massive sets are replaced by alien landscapes and caves, but much like the 60s series and even the Next Generation series, these are settings our characters often found themselves in. This does give way to some really nice character interaction, as the FX take a back seat, with new character, alien refugee Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) fitting in nicely when paired with members of the prime crew. In true Star Trek tradition, the first two thirds of the film follow along as the crew does what they do best, use their wits to figure out how to survive and save the day. Then we get some of the spectacle we’ve come to expect from this reboot series, in the finale. In comparison, not quite the action packed popcorn flick the first Abrams Trek was, yet also doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as Into Darkness, which is refreshing. There are some really nice Trek moments, too, including a nice tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime and a shot quietly celebrating the original Trek crew for this year’s 50th anniversary, that will surely moisten the eye of even the hardest-hearted Trekkie. The film also earns extra points for dedicating the film to both Nimoy and Anton “Chekov” Yelchin, who was tragically killed just a few weeks ago. A real touch of class…which is what Star Trek was always all about. On a production level the film looks great, Lin has a good visual eye and the FX are spectacular, especially during the cranked-up and fun finale.

The cast once again bring these classic characters to life, but not without their own individual touches and the script from Simon “Scotty” Pegg and Doug Jung does it’s best to give each character healthy interaction and scenes for them to shine. It was nice to see Anton Yelchin get a generous amount of screen time with what is sadly his last performance as Pavel Chekov and Pine, Quinto, Urban, Saldana, Cho and Pegg all have their classic character interpretations locked in. As for the newcomers, Sofia Boutella is feisty and energetic as Jaylah, a survivor of Krall’s villainy whose “home” plays an integral part in our heroes’ plans to defeat the despotic bad guy. As Krall, we have a strong villain in Idris Elba, though we could have used some more time getting to know him a little better as his motivation aren’t really clear till the last act reveal…a reveal sadly seen coming almost from the beginning. If the script has a big flaw, it’s in failing to keep it’s big surprise from being obvious early in the second act.

Overall, this was a fun movie. Though in some ways the weakest of the three, due to Lin simply not being as strong a director as Abrams, especially on the last two films. He moves things fast enough but sometimes a bit more dramatic intensity was called for. Still, it is lighter and more fun than the last installment, though it being the most Star Trek of the three, might also alien-ate (had too) some of the non-Trek crowd that supported the last two flicks. For Trek fans it’s more like an episode than a movie and the most nostalgic because of that, especially when you add some really nice touches harkening back to it’s TV forefathers. Not a great flick, but a fun installment that earns extra points for it’s loving tributes to a legendary actor and his character, not to mention, a young talent taken from us far too soon…and if Star Trek is about anything, it’s about heart…and this film has plenty of that.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 starships.

star_trek rating

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THOR and THOR: THE DARK WORLD

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Yes, it’s true I have covered both these films before but, with Thor: The Dark World recently being released on home media, I decided to revisit it and the first film together. They actually make a really cool double feature with each film bringing it’s own style thanks to two different directors yet, they still blend very well together with their mix of fantasy and real world adventure. It is also interesting to see Thor as we first saw him, the arrogant hot-head, in contrast to the more noble and humble warrior he has progressed into over the course of the first film and The Avengers. That and his relationship with Jane Foster is resumed as well. A really entertaining night of popcorn entertainment with a little extra courtesy of two contrasting yet equally talented directors.
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THOR (2011)

I’m not that familiar with the Marvel comics version of Thor, so, I have to take the movie at face value and as such, Thor is a lot of fun. The film takes place both on Earth and in Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) home realm of Asgard and Kenneth Branagh does a nice job of switching back and forth between both worlds and keeping the tone even and the narrative flow fairly smooth (more on that later). The film fits in very nicely with the world created in the Iron Man films and yet has it’s own style and flavor as it tells the story of arrogant Prince Thor and his path from banished and disgraced warrior to hero of both Earth and Asgard. The cast works really well together and in filling their roles. Hemsworth brings a nobility to Thor, as well as, keeps him charming during his arrogant beginings and then makes believable his humble awakening during the course of the film. Natalie Portman is energetic as the pretty scientist and love interest, Jane Foster and she and Hemsworth have a nice screen chemistry together that actually gave their growing relatrionship a realistic touch despite the fantasy story elements. Tom Hiddleston makes a good villain as the devious Loki, Thor’s brother and Anthony Hopkins is a regal and strong Odin. Kat Dennings is cute as Portman’s sidekick, Darcy and her antics are just enough to provide humor without being annoying and Stellan Skarsgard is fine as a fellow scientist, Dr. Selvig who grew up with norse mythology and provides some exposition for those not in the know. And I would be remiss in not mentioning Rene Russo as Thor’s mom. There is plenty of action and the SPFX are top notch especially in the portrayal of the mystical Asgard which is beautifully designed and realized. Thor’s flying was the hardest thing to pull off and they smartly keep it to a minimum and it works withing the context of the scenes. My only gripes are minor. The middle of the film slows down for about 20 minutes… though it does give the opportunity for some nice character interaction… but, soon picks up as the film heads toward it action filled last act. The earth sequences don’t quite flow as smoothly as the Asgard sequences leaving me to believe there was some editing to get the fim under 2 hrs but, it is not jarring. And, finally, the set of the New Mexican town just doesn’t quite look like a real town, it’s layout does make it look like a set, well built, but still a set. But these problems are small and don’t ruin what is an overall very fun and entertaining movie that has some nice fairy tale touches as well as plenty of action. Stay through the credits as usual with these films.

A solid 3 and 1/2 hammers!

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

Thor was one of my favorites of the Marvel Phase 1 movies. I loved it’s fun mix of fantasy and real world adventure and thought Hemsworth made a noble and very likable hero. And now the Norse God turned superhero is back in his second solo adventure and a welcome return it is. Thor: The Dark World opens 5000 years earlier with an alignment of the planets being taken advantage of by the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to unleash a weapon called The Aether which will convert all the worlds into dark matter where only the Dark Elves may exist. Thor’s grandfather Bor (Tony Curran) defeats the invaders and they are assumed destroyed and The Aether is hidden away never to be found… or so Bor hoped. But, in the present, the worlds are aligning again and the long dormant Malekith and the remaining Dark Elves seek to destroy all once more and, as fate would have it, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon the hidden weapon and it is absorbed within her. Now hunted by Malekith, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings Jane to Asgard against Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) wishes and must somehow find a way to stop Malekith, banish The Aether and save the woman he loves and all the known worlds… and the only one who can help him is his devious stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeons by Thor’s own hand. This second solo adventure is this time directed by Game Of Thrones and Deadwood director Alan Taylor who creates a much grittier and down to Earth version of Asgard then the bright and magic kingdom-ish version we saw in the delightful first feature directed by Kenneth Branagh. It’s still recognizable as Asgard and it blends perfectly with the first Thor but, we get to see far deeper into the city and into it’s halls and pubs and get a more lived in and functional look at Thor’s homeland. The tone of the film is also darker at times and that was a nice change from the upbeat first film and Avengers but, so not to get too dark or grim, the film is punctuated with a lot of fun and humorous sequences especially those involving Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), the latter’s trip to Stonehenge being especially hilarious. I thought the humor and the darker story elements were blended just fine and there was plenty of action and strong drama throughout till the big free-for-all ending set in London where Thor and Malekith finally get to throw down. And the action and special effects do not disappoint, they are top notch as with all the previous Marvel films. The budget is onscreen in all aspects of the production from sets to costumes to FX. Taylor gets good work from all the cast. There are some nice character moments in between the drama and destruction and all the actors are now very comfortable in their roles and work very well together. Hemsworth is once again a noble hero who has grown since his first visit and the battle in New York. He and Portman still have a nice chemistry together and I liked their scenes especially when Thor has to explain where he’s been for two years. Dennings gets a bit more screen time and handles it well getting some of the bigger laughs and Hiddleston is once again scene stealing as Loki. It was also nice to see Rene Russo finally get a big scene and have a bit bigger part this time and Hopkins is still endearing as the weary but, majestic Odin. We also get some nice scenes with supporting characters Heimdall (Idris Elba), Sith (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (now Zachary Levi) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) but, those expecting expanded roles from this bunch will be disappointed. Newcomer to Thor’s world Christopher Ecceleston, is OK as villain Malekith but, he really doesn’t make a strong impression or stay with you after the film is over. To me his somewhat tepid villain is the film’s only real stand out weak point and a stronger villain or more screen time to really establish Malekith as a threat would have made this flick even better. Taylor’s interpretation of Don Payne and Robert Rodat’s script is highlighted by a moody score from Brian Tyler and some nice cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a very entertaining follow-up that gives us enough of the action, drama and suspense we are looking for and takes it in enough of a different direction to keep it fresh but, not straying too far as to alienate us. It’s not perfect, as stated the villain could have been stronger, there are a few slow spots here and there, especially in the first half and we can tell there was a bit of editing to manage the running time but, for all the entertainment we get, those minor flaws can be overlooked. A fun and worthy sequel to both Thor and The Avengers and certainly less schizophrenic then the mixed bag that was Iron Man 3As with all Marvel films stay through the entire credits for not one but, two additional sequences and keep an eye out for a couple of really fun cameos. Another solid bit of entertainment from Marvel and Disney.

3 and 1/2 hammers!

thor TDW rating

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REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM (2013)

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PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Simply put, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is an absolute blast! A fun thrill-ride of a summer movie that had the audience I was in cheering like I haven’t heard in a flick in a long time. Rim tells the story of a rift that opens in the Pacific ocean floor from which crawl forth giant monsters known as Kaiju. These beasts keep coming and are hell bent on destruction and carnage, so the nations of Earth unite to built a fleet of giant combat robots called Jaegers, to defend against the growing invasion. Each machine needs two pilots to mentally link with the robot and the film focuses on one such pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who falls from grace after a battle costs the life of his co-pilot/brother. But the Kaiju are gaining ground and the Jaegers are being destroyed one by one. Now Raleigh is called back to service for one last, desperate mission to destroy the rift and end the threat. With him is a rookie female pilot (Rinko Kikuchi) whose past may be as painful as his own.

Under Del Toro’s guidance Pacific Rim is a spectacular and visually sumptuous popcorn movie that has the spirit of one of those old fashioned Japanese monster movies mixed in with the hi-tech spectacle of a modern day event movie. As a fan of Japanese monster movies since I was a kid, I was enjoying every bit of it. Pacific Rim is non-stop fun, even if you’re not a fan of those movies. The battles are something to behold, but don’t move too fast that we can’t understand and enjoy what is going on. The Hong Kong battle is worth the price of the admission alone, with it’s epic battle action and thrills. Del Toro populates the film with some very colorful characters like Charlie Day’s hyperactive scientist and a scene-stealing Ron Perlman as a black market Kaiju body parts dealer. The military characters seem charmingly corny as if taken from an old time WWII movie, with Idris Elba playing, hard-nosed commander Stacker Pentecost, who hasn’t let command soften his ability to throw down, and an eclectic assortment of multi-national Jaeger pilots, including the egotistical hot shot (Robert Kazinsky). The cast all take their roles seriously, but not too serious that we can’t tell that they are having a good time…and so do we.  The design of the film is breathtaking as is with all Del Toro’s movies and the Jaegers and Kaiju each have their own unique style and personality. The FX work to realize them is amazing. The monsters come across as dangerous and lethal, making our mega-robots always the underdog which, has you cheering for them as you should be. And cheer the audience in Paramus, N.J. did and often.

The versatile Del Toro has once again crafted a beautiful to look at film that has a delightfully old fashioned style, yet with all the modern hi-tech SPFX we’ve come to expect from a summer blockbuster. No matter how exciting the action is, though, no matter how amazing the visuals, no matter how spectacular the FX, Pacific Rim most of all has huge amounts of heart and fun, to make it a truly entertaining summer movie blast! I also can’t respect and love Del Toro enough for dedicating the film to both Ray Harryhausen and Ishirō Honda. That is true class and a wonderful show of appreciation to two of the great all-time masters! Highly recommended and stay through the credits!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Kaiju!

Pacific Rim rating

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