Thor Ragnarok Review: God of Thunder’s third adventure hammers home

Chris Helmsworth’s portrayal of Marvel’s God of Thunder has changed dramatically since his debut in 2011. Thor Odinson was slightly self-absorbed, not really caring about the problems of the other realms. Following his feud with his brother Loki and his subsequent romance with Jane Foster, Thor began his transformation from being an all-powerful god into an intelligent individual who sought to protect those that needed protection. Yes, his godlike powers and Mjolnir made him an ideal Avenger, but Thor’s development into being much more than that was interesting to witness.

When we last saw Thor, he told Tony Stark that he was going to seek answers regarding the Infinity Stones after seeing various visions in his sleep. While he doesn’t necessarily uncover information regarding their importance in what’s to come, the first end credit scene does a good job setting up the next Avengers movie.

Marvel’s cinematic universe has been the pinnacle of superhero movies for the past decade, but the films have always had a recurring problem: its villains. Luckily, Ragnarok does not fall into that category, as Hela the Goddess of Death is more than a worthy adversary for the Asgardian. Her wraith and deadly personality were enough to make even my skin crawl, while she wrecked havoc upon the realm. Her inclusion in the film also presented eye-opening backstory regarding Odin and the kingdom of Asgard. In the comics, Thanos’ true love was Hela so it remains to be seen whether her demise will pose any future consequences for Thor.

As we move toward the ultimate superhero mashup of Infinity War, more and more Marvel movies are presenting smaller superhero collaborations. We saw Spider-Man swinging through New York with Iron Man and the Falcon testing the limits of Ant-Man. In Ragnarok, we finally get what everyone was wishing for: a Thor and Hulk team-up. Last we saw of Bruce Banner, he was flying away in a Quinjet amid the destruction of Sokovia in Age of Ultron. Many have pegged Ragnarok as a pseudo-Planet Hulk film, because we learn that the green giant has found refuge on the war-torn world of Sakaar. The evolution, and subsequent de-evolution, of the Hulk remains one of my favorite ongoing Marvel story lines. Watching Thor try to find the man beneath the monster is a bit poetic, as Thor had to find himself beneath the god.

Aside from the brilliance of Mark Ruffalo, the rest of the supporting cast was phenomenal. Marvel should make the executive decision of somehow including Loki in every movie, because Tom Hiddleston continues to be one of my all-time favorite actors in the MCU. Cate Blanchett turns in a devastatingly perfect performance of the Goddess of Death, Tessa Thompson played a hard, slightly drunken, warrior in Valkyrie, and Jeff Goldblum is always an absolute treasure to see onscreen. But the person (or alien?) that absolutely stole the show whenever he (it?) was onscreen was none other than the director himself Taika Waititi as Korg. This sentient rock being was somehow the best comic relief in an already hilarious film. Every word spoken broke a smile and laugh from me. I was hoping the end of the film would say “Korg will return in Avengers Infinity War”, but alas only Thor. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for more of the Kronan warrior.

Thor Ragnarok sits as one of the best Marvel movies to date. The humor of it never overtook the severity of the situation, on the contrary, it was the perfect balance. Helmsworth had arguably his best performance as the God of Thunder, and continues to show that he can be as beloved as Stark or Steve Rogers. And while we may never see a solo Hulk film, finally taking the time to dive into Banner’s internal struggles with the monster was sorely needed. As we inch closer to the reckoning of Infinity War and possibly the demise of some of these characters, Ragnarok at least gave us one (last?) adventure that any Thor fan will be proud of.

Final Score: 8.75/10


IT Review: Stephen King’s Pennywise floats to success

The list of classic horror movies that I’ve seen in my life thus far is embarrassingly short. I’ve only recently watched Child’s Play, The Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, and most importantly, IT. In a world full of reboots, it was only a matter of time before Stephen King’s frightening dancing clown was redone with modern technology. Luckily, the new adaptation separates itself enough from the original to be viewed as a terrifying standalone thriller, but at the same time still gives homage to the 1990 miniseries.

One of the main differences, for good or for bad, is the appearance of Pennywise. Tim Curry’s iteration of the clown in the 1990 miniseries was more friendly-looking, using his charm to entice the children of Derry. Bill Skarsgård’s approach to the character was a bit darker than his early 90s counterpart. While Curry went with the seemingly “catch more children with honey” strategy, Skarsgård was just plain creepy throughout the entire movie. The 2017 version of IT was not meant to be a direct reboot of the miniseries, but it is understandable to mentally compare the two, especially during the infamous Georgie scene.

In both adaptations, young Georgie is as happy as a clam when his brother, Billy, helps build him a paper boat to sail in the rainstorm. The boat sails for quite some time until a sewer grate swallows it up. And that’s when the young boy encounters Pennywise. Being a six-year-old boy, Georgie may not fully realize how absolutely disturbing it is to find a clown hanging out in the sewers during a storm (if not in general). The scene continues with Pennywise tricking Georgie into reaching for the boat, the clown biting the boy’s arm clean off, and then pulling him down into the sewer. Here, it’s easy to compare the two scenes and come away wishing Skarsgård’s form as the clown appeared a tad bit more welcoming like Curry’s, but the tone of the 2017 movie is more suited for Skarsgård’s Pennywise.

Other than the appearance and personality of Pennywise, the biggest change between adaptations is the flow. The 1990 miniseries was centered on the kids already grown up in 1985, with flashbacks to their first battle with the clown in the late 1950s. The new IT, also known as Chapter One going forward, revolves around the kids entirely, but in this one, they were kids in 1989. We see from start to finish how each child comes into contact with Pennywise, how the children band together to form the Loser’s Club, and how they overcome their fears to defeat the clown. After the kids have seemingly vanquished the clown, they make a blood pact to return to Derry if Pennywise ever returns. Chapter Two will assumingly pick up 27 years following the kids’ first battle with Pennywise. Director Andy Muschetti has also confirmed that the sequel will return to the 1980s (presumably through the use of flashbacks), and may also touch on the clown’s origin. I hope Muschetti does go into a little more detail on the background of Pennywise and the lore behind the clown’s existence.

Skarsgård’s portrayal of the dancing clown was not the only bright acting spot of the movie. The child actors were all phenomenal in their own unique way. Finn Wolfhard, best known for his role in Netflix’s Stranger Things, was amazing as the smartass, joke-cracking Richie Tozier. At times, Tozier’s comic relief may have felt a bit excessive at times, but overall, having him there to deflect the dread of Pennywise was a nice touch to the film. The other standout performance to me was Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. Lillis depicted a slightly different Bev compared to the miniseries, with her counterpart having a bit of cool, badass vibe to her. The 2017 film stressed that her father sexually harassed the young girl. It’s amazing to see a young actress have the ability to perform under those types of circumstances.

Stephen King’s work has terrorized, frightened, and drawn immense success over the years; nothing’s changed with IT. The 2017 adaptation racked in an estimated $123 million, breaking numerous records along the way: biggest opening weekend in September, biggest opening weekend for a horror movie, and biggest opening weekend for a Stephen King adaptation. I fully expect the dollars to continue pouring in for the film, because IT was a horrifying experience. Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is a chilling performance; seeing him terrorize the kids by exposing them to their greatest fears is masterful and chilling. Also, seeing the clown’s disembodied victims literally floating in his sewer liar is enough to induce night terrors. With an overall great cast performance by the Loser’s Club and impressive CGI work, IT is poised to be one of the best movies this year.

Final Score: 9/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review: Swinging into the MCU

Marvel’s prodigal son has officially returned. Yes, Spider-Man did make his first “debut” in Captain America: Civil War (and also was recently revealed that he previously appeared in Iron Man 2), but this is the first solo Spider-Man movie since the Andrew Garfield project. However, we’re going to use the word “solo” very loosely here, as Spider-Man: Homecoming was as much an Iron Man movie as a Spider-Man movie.

The events of Spider-Man: Homecoming take place directly after Peter Parker’s involvement in Civil War. We are not told the origin story of the teenager getting bitten by the radioactive spider or see him cry for the umpteenth time over the death of Uncle Ben. The movie assumes that we know the basics of Spider-Man, and to a point, it does the movie both a disservice, but is also necessary for the narrative. The deal between Marvel and Sony to finally include the web-slinger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe this far into the game makes things a bit awkward. When you think of Marvel heroes, Spider-Man tends to be near the top of that list. So having to implement him while we are nearing the end of Phase 3, especially given that we are only three years removed from Garfield’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, there never really seemed like a good time or way to execute this. While no one is truly at fault for this, it’s just unfortunate to see arguably the most recognizable superhero get awkwardly squeezed into this larger universe.

One way that Marvel thought would help introduce Spider-Man into the MCU was to have a prominent Avenger guide him along the way: insert Tony Stark. While Parker and Stark share a very special connection in the comics, Homecoming is a pseudo-Iron Man film. From the beginning to the end, Stark’s presence weighed heavily on the film. While it’s understandable to have him in the film in order to help out Parker, it just seemed that we were being force fed some more Iron Man. This is a direct cause of introducing Spider-Man in Phase 3, and so this is just something that we have to deal with.

Regardless of Stark’s major inclusion in the film, Tom Holland did not disappoint in his first full rodeo as Spidey. Toby McGuire will forever have a special place in my heart, but Holland absolutely nails the high school teenager turned crime-fighter. The entire cast did a phenomenal job, especially Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Many critics have noted that most Marvel movies have weak villains, but Vulture is not one of them. Keaton was the best Marvel villain since Loki in the first Avengers movie, and it’s not close. Vulture’s ascension toward becoming a villain and his imminent downfall might be the first time a villain’s story was as important and interesting as the superhero. It’s also an interesting move that Sony and Marvel decided to have Vulture discover the identity of Spider-Man. It’s to be determined what he does with this information, though seeing how he reacted to Scorpion confronting him about it in the end scene, it seems that Vulture will keep it to himself.

One of the biggest reveals toward the end of the movie is finally telling us that Zendaya is indeed M.J. Many people guessed that the actress would be playing Parker’s love interest in Homecoming, but that role was taken by the senior Liz and daughter of Vulture. Following her father’s arrest and her subsequent move out of Queens, it seems that it’s time for M.J. (Michelle, still no-known last name) to take center stage. Zendaya’s M.J. is so far considerably different than the past love interests of Spider-Man with Kirsten Durst’s Mary Jane and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. While Durst and Stone were more of the typical damsels in distress, Zendaya showed extreme independence and a general sense of not caring about anything. It’s a refreshing take on the character and will be intriguing once she receives more screen time in the sequel.

Minus the large amount of Robert Downey, Jr., Spider-Man: Homecoming was the best Spidey movie since McGuire’s Spider-Man 2. Given the obstacles needed to hurdle in order to even get the web-slinger in the MCU and the awkwardness of inserting him this late in the game, Homecoming did what it needed to do. It presented a new, fresh take on the hero and his friends, and introduced new enemies that we haven’t seen before. Hopefully Sony and Marvel come to terms on a new deal that will extend Holland’s Spider-Man in the MCU, but in the meantime, let’s all just enjoy the ride.

Final Score: 8.75/10

Wonder Woman Review: A Ray of Hope for the DCEU

Warner Bros. and the DC Extended Universe have had three chances to establish their footing in the cinematic realm opposite of Marvel: Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Now, if we were playing baseball, Warner Bros. would’ve struck out after those three. Luckily, we’re not, and director Patty Jenkins has essentially saved the studio and hit it out of the park with Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince in the first live action theatrical film of the comic book character. Set during World War I, the film chronicles how Diana left her home of Themyscira to help mankind in the war to end all wars. Guided by Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, Diana must decide whether mankind, corrupted by the real world, are worth saving or if they are doomed.

Going into this film with both an open mind and no real knowledge of the DC character, and knowing full well what transpired in the previous DCEU films, it’s safe to say that Wonder Woman was amazing. Gadot’s performance as the Amazon princess solidifies herself among the top echelon of superhero actors, such as Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans and Margot Robbie. While Gadot had brief moments in the spotlight in her previous appearance in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, she takes full advantage of starring in her own feature film and nails it. Wonder Woman’s burning desire to help everyone around her in the film is contagious and never feels overplayed or forced. From the moment she leaves Themyscira, you witness Diana’s innocence slowly deteriorate as she makes her way through the real world. On one hand, it’s depressing to see Diana’s hope in man repeatedly questioned, but the end payoff makes it even more satisfying.

Gadot’s supporting cast did not disappoint either. While Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor was a major catalyst in steering Diana down the path of righteous, the amount of screen time Pine received sometimes made it difficult for me to fully appreciate a superhero movie headlined by a female. However, his inclusion in the film and relationship he developed with Diana was essential due to her having never been in the real world.

Up until this point, the DCEU has had a difficult time trying to nail down the tone of their movies. Marvel established the notion that their movies will be somewhat whimsical and sprinkled with some witty banter, but still deliver a serious enough plot. Warner Bros. has been ridiculed by critics and fans alike that the first two films were too dark, and then Suicide Squad just didn’t know what it wanted to be, either humorous or dark or a general riot. Wonder Woman avoids this problem and successfully finds the perfect middle ground that Marvel has built its empire upon. It was the right mix of comic relief by the supporting cast and Diana’s overall ignorance of the real world plus the seriousness of World War I and mankind’s pending destruction. Jenkins and the writing team did a tremendous job of conjuring up the right moments for an entirely silly moment, like Diana trying out outfits, to moments of sheer dread and despair. The transitions between these moments were flawless and never felt like they were put in the film just for the sake of having them; each scene was needed to tell a complete, comprehensive story. Wonder Woman is the gold standard for what all future DCEU films should try to emulate, and could be the much-needed jump start that Warner Bros. and DC fans were wanting for.

Wonder Woman crushed it at the box office, earning $103.1 million in its opening weekend, which was the fifth-highest opening weekend among superhero movies. The DC film beat the likes of Iron Man ($98.6 million) and Guardians of the Galaxy ($94.3 million) in their respective opening weekends. In addition, Wonder Woman became the biggest opening ever for a female director, surpassing Fifty Shades of Grey ($85.2 million).

Final Score: 9/10