Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World is strong on story and action and enhances the characters of some previously under-developed folks. It’s got fun dialogue as well.

It doesn’t have quite the spark and heart that the first one had, but it’s still solid entertainment.

You will like Thor: The Dark World if you had fun at:
Thor
Iron Man
Marvel’s The Avengers
The Amazing Spiderman

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released November 8, 2013

Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne, and Robert Rodat. Based on the comics by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.

Directed by Alan Taylor

Starring Jaimie Alexander, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Tadanobu Asano, Anthony Hopkins, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Stellen Skarsgard, Idris Elba, and Chris O’Dowd.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Thor (Hemsworth) first came to Earth, meeting Jane (Portman), Darcy (Dennings), and Eric Selvig (Skarsgard) and working with them to stop Loki and other baddies from taking over the world. Then he left, promising his beloved Jane that he would return.

But the Bifrost (the bridge between realms) was destroyed in the battle with Loki and Thor couldn’t return, although he did show up in New York City with the other Avengers a while back.

Now Thor has been trying to bring peace to the nine realms, along with his compatriots Siff (Alexander), Volstagg (Stevenson), Fandral (Levi), and Hogun (Asano). After finishing one major battle that opens the film, they think they’ve achieved their goal.

But the Convergence is coming– a time period in which the realms are very close and portals and the like open up between them. These portals cause laws of physics to go haywire on Earth, and Jane– ever the curious scientist– goes with her intern Darcy to investigate one. She stumbles through one of the portals, encountering a seething red/black substance called Aether. She is possessed by it, and this awakes some real baddies: the Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Eccleston).

These creatures want revenge on Asgard for the destruction of their planet, and they go right to it, wreaking great havoc and bringing lots of death to Asgard, at the same time that Jane is there with Thor after he went to find her. See, he’s been keeping tabs on her through Heimdall (Elba), but when she encounters the Aether, Heimdall can’t see her. So Thor goes and gets her.

Now Jane is going to die if the Aether doesn’t get out of her, but the only person who can get the Aether out is Malekith, and we don’t want Malekith to have it because it will make him unspeakably powerful and then he will proceed to destroy Midgard (Earth) and Asgard and probably more realms. Besides, Malekith is already ruthless and very powerful– he strikes at the very heart of Asgard with almost no effort.

So Thor has to get Loki’s help– and Loki has been in an Asgardian jail cell for a while now. These two can’t trust each other, but it sure is great to have them together.

So while Thor is trying to stop Malekith, Jane and her colleagues find a way that might make Malekith vulnerable and actually help save the realms. With all kinds of great visuals and solid set-pieces, we get an extended and very cool showdown.

Critique

Thor: The Dark World tells a solid, complex story that is driven by people following their hearts and getting into trouble or making deliberate trouble because of it. It’s a good, satisfying story. What would make it more satisfying is more risk for Thor, less overacting for Anthony Hopkins, more scenes between Loki and Thor, and a greater understanding of Malekith and the Dark Elves.

Highlights abound, however. There is some great humor, some of it very finely tuned and timed. Tom Hiddleston knows Loki through and through and steals every scene that he’s in. Portman can do better work than this, but she is frankly not given enough to do. Her moments with Dennings are delightful, though. Skarsgard is just great. His fragile hold on sanity makes him all the more interesting. Eccleston doesn’t get enough screen time, but he is menacing and great also.

The production values are high, of course, and the pace is wonderful- the movie feels shorter than it is, which is always a good sign.

A little more heart, a little more time spent for some characters, and Thor: The Dark World would have been the equal of the first installment. As it is, it’s worth your time and money.

Content warnings: Some minor salty language, plenty of wham-bang-destructo comic violence.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

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The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods pays homage to, and skewers, every slasher and horror movie you’ve ever seen. This film is intermittently hilarious, absurd, graphic, rousing, and ultimately very satisfying. The Cabin in the Woods is one of the best films of 2012.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released April 13, 2012

Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard

Directed by Drew Goddard

Starring Amy Acker, Kristin Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Jesse Williams, and Sigourney Weaver

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of The Cabin in the Woods is that there is more than meets the eye. A group of five friends heads to a cabin in some remote woods, being warned of grave danger by a creepy old guy. These are the characters, and if they sound familiar, they should:

1. Dana (Connolly): a cute, intelligent college brunette who feels a little separate from the group because she’s not as promiscuous– she’s semi-pure. Kind of.
2. Curt (Hemsworth): a smart, strapping college fellow who goes dumb and horny upon arriving at the cabin.
3. Jules (Hutchison): a fun-loving, smart, blond, beautiful college girl who goes dumb and slutty soon after arriving at the cabin.
4. Holden (Williams): a decent black fellow who seems to feel somewhat dragged along and who feels like intelligent conversation is more of a party than getting wasted.
5. Marty (Kranz): a major pothead, smart, wry, provider of meta-situational observations and humor

If you think Holden is the first that gets murdered, you’d be wrong, because this is Whedon.

There is another storyline that follows a bunch of technicians, led by Sitterson (Jenkins) and Hadley (Whitford), along with Lin (Acker). These techs, surrounded by all kinds of surveillance and other high-tech equipment, seem to be conducting some kind of experiment, or perhaps a ritual, but for them it is a regular day at the office. Brian White plays a security guard named Truman, who is new to the job and provides some accessibility for the audience to start to get a handle on what’s really happening.

This is a scifi/paranormal send-up and homage to slasher and horror films. The college kids get picked off in imaginative ways, all for a nefarious purpose that the techs slowly reveal.

I can say no more. Anything else must be experienced.

Critique

The Cabin in the Woods is one of the finest films made this year and is a near-perfect specimen of story telling on film, along with a brilliant, at times hilarious homage to horror films.

Think of every horror and slasher trope you’ve seen; Joss Whedon thought of all of those and more and included them deftly in this very finely-tuned and polished movie. But it’s not all homage and skewer; there’s a fully-fleshed story here, with entertaining and engaging characters populating it and bringing it into the real world. The characters feel like people you and I might know, and their dialogue is snappy and, as is normal for Whedon, extremely funny.

In addition to all of this goodness, you have some nice twists and an appearance from the grand maven of powerful scifi female roles: Sigourney Weaver.

All of that said, this is not a family film. There’s genuinely scary stuff here, along with a liberal dose of gore and some nudity. None of it is gratuitous; each bit is doing at least double duty: telling the story and satisfying some specific need within horror/slasher moviedom.

For fans of scifi and/or horror and/or slasher and/or Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods will make you very happy. For fans of simply good films, it will do the same for you.

Content warnings: lots of swearing and bloody violence, supernatural baddies, some nudity and sensuality. 

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

What makes you think you’re not in a haunted cabin right now? Well, you are, and there are bad nasties coming to eat your fingers if you don’t share this review.. quick!

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Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman is a combination of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, and Beowulf, only nowhere near as good as Robin Hood and better than Beowulf.

Here’s a trailer:

Here are the deets:

Released June 1, 2012

Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini

Directed by Rupert Sanders

Starring Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Sam Claflin, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone, and Toby Jones

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Snow (Stewart) is the daughter of a woman very inspired by pure white precipitation, who also happens to be a queen. When the queen dies, the distraught father, distraught mind you, is almost immediately faced with an army that he must defeat. But then when the army is easily defeated, it being a phantom army, the king finds a captive lady who turns out to be Ravenna (Theron) and Ravenna is not what she seems. The king falls immediately in love and marries Ravenna the next day. She proceeds to kill him and take over the kingdom, imprisoning the young and pure Snow while a blight falls across the land.

See, the problem already is that for this plot to work, the king has to be first a jerk for falling in love days after he buries his beloved wife, and second a complete numbskull for not suspecting something when he finds himself falling for the ‘captive.’ Granted, Charlize Theron is ridiculously good-looking, but come on. Hinging the entire plot initiation on stupidity bothers me.

Moving on, Ravenna has a magic bronze mirror thingy that is kind of awesome and that tells her that she would be the fairest for sure and her magic would last forever if she killed Snow. So Ravenna keeps Snow captive.

What? Villains who keep the good guy captive for plot convenience deserve a painful death and their writers deserve even worse.

Then there’s the mirror. What is the mirror’s agenda? What’s with this thing’s power, its opinions and the way it manifests? Coolest effect of the movie, but totally not understood, so this is a rather wide plot hole.

Snow has some kind of power over nature so she is lead to a way to escape. When she gets away, Ravenna has Finn (Spruell), her brother, hunt her down. Finn hires a Huntsman (Hemsworth) who is a drunk to find the girl. The Huntsman obviously has some kind of baggage which is making him drink.

The rest of the film follows Snow and the Huntsman as they cross the land to escape Ravenna’s forces and power and gather an army to join them in conquering Ravenna. The ending is too easy, the dwarves are cool but somewhat disconcerting, and the love story is an afterthought.

Critique

The reasons this movie is good are because Kristen Stewart actually does some acting, Hemsworth, despite his charisma and studly appearance, does a fantastic acting job, and the story explores each character more than you might expect. Plus, the music is good and there’s plenty of battle and the movie is pleasant to look upon.

The reasons Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t great are that Charlize Theron somehow doesn’t connect with her rather shallow character, the plot hinges on stupidity and villains underestimating protagonists, and  there’s just not that much to the story. It’s trying hard, but we all know how this thing’s going to unfold. Once one of the eight dwarves shows an unreasoning and pure love and devotion to Snow, you know what’s going to happen.

Truthfully, the movie tries hard, but it does the expected. Of course the initial meeting with the dwarves is going to be funny but also confrontational. Of course the person you think is Snow’s true love isn’t really. Of course she’s going to win. And win rather easily, all things considered.

Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t ask much of audiences, but offers some visual goodies and a few fine performances from Hemsworth, Spruell, and McShane. It’s worth a matinee price.

Content warnings: some suggestive scenes with Charlize Theron disrobing, plenty of battle violence

Writing: 3.5          Acting: 4          Overall: 3.5

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Marvel’s The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers is the best movie of 2012 and possibly the best superhero movie of all time. It is, in fact, better than Spiderman 1 and 2 and the first two Dark Knight films. Here’s a preview:

Here are the deets:

Released May 4, 2012

Written by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Directed by Joss Whedon

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard, and Paul Bettany

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The Avengers picks up where Thor, Iron Man 2, and Captain America left off, weaving their individual tales into one incredibly cohesive tale.

Loki (Hiddleston), since being foiled in his bid to rule Asgard, wants to rule Earth and has an army of baddies to wage explosive war on humanity. In order to get the baddies to Earth, Loki needs the tesseract, the blue cube that played such a huge part in Thor and Captain America. Currently, however, SHIELD, run by Nick Fury (Jackson) has the tesseract and is trying to figure out how to use it as a source of perpetual energy. He has the Black Widow (Johansson) along with Hawkeye (Renner) working as agents to help protect the tesseract, and his second in command is Agent Hill (Smulders). Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Coulson.

Loki steals the tesseract, so Fury gathers a team of super beings, namely Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor (Hemsworth), Iron Man (Downey Jr), Captain America (Evans), and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo). Banner is ostensibly brought on board in order to use his knowledge of gamma rays to help find the tesseract, but we all know the Hulk’s going to show up.

And boy is it great when the Hulk does finally show up. Hulk smash.

The team sort of assembles, what with individual dynamics and Loki’s machinations. The story unfolds on a truck, on a hovering and invisible battleship, in space, and mostly in characters. Everything culminates in a massive and truly awesome battle in New York City. Poor New York.

Critique

There are a lot of reasons why The Avengers is so extraordinarily successful. The first reason is probably that Whedon and Zak Penn clearly have done their homework and are sufficiently steeped in the lore of the correct marvel comics. Each character is very much an individual, with only Hawkeye turning out a little flat, and the characters pretty much travel their own road. The fact that each character comes to the team with individual and clear motivations cannot be stressed enough– this is why the film is so successfully engaging and solid.

The snappy, excellent dialogue stems from the authentic and vivid characters. Humor is a natural result of personalities and situations, rather than a forced ingredient. Of course Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark gets some of the best lines, but Hulk actually becomes the source of the biggest laugh. Don’t laugh too loud; you’ll miss the second punch line. Pun intended.

Yes, Black Widow wears rather silly clothes, and her sexiness is clearly on display, but she’s also a very good character– nearly the most developed and interesting of the bunch. The way she interacts with Loki is genius.

That’s the other thing. Nobody in this movie is stupid. Nobody makes dumb mistakes in order to move the plot forward conveniently. Everybody is smart, tough, and complex. The actors imbue each character with clear, individual, interesting motivations. It’s a wonder that Whedon not only knew how to write such a phenomenal script and direct a film with remarkable pacing, but he also knew how to let these actors turn in some very fine performances– in some cases you get the feeling that the actors wrote some of the lines, they are so natural.

Stop reading my review now and go see this movie. It is the best movie of 2012 and very close to the best superhero movie of all time.

Content warnings: Plenty of superhero violence (without blood), lots of explosions, very little language, no overt sensuality

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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