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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R.I.P.D.

R.I.P.D. is basically Men in Black crossed with True Grit, crossed with Power Rangers. Sadly, despite some fun dialogue and some clever ideas and great visuals, it’s not all that good. Mainly that’s because the writers forgot to put in interesting characters.

To have any hope of liking R.I.P.D., you ought to have enjoyed:
any Men in Black movie
Blade 3
The Other Guys
The Three Stooges

What with the great effects and the good actors, it’s a shame that R.I.P.D. isn’t any more enjoyable than a bland sandwich without mayo.

Here’s a trailer:

Doesn’t that look fun?

The deets:

Released July 19, 2013

Written by Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, and David Dobkin. Based on the comic by Peter M. Lenkov

Directed by Robert Schwentke

Starring Mary Louise Parker, Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Stephanie Szostak, Kevin Bacon, Robert Knepper, Marissa Miller, and James Hong

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Nick (Reynolds) is a cop who perishes in a firefight at the beginning of R.I.P.D. He is immediately taken to some purgatory-like place whose mission is to keep the bad lingering spirits of the dead from taking over the world of the living. They do this with some interesting technology and with some interesting constraints and rules.

First off, they’re dead. Apparently this means that being beat up and getting hit by a bus hurt, but just don’t kill you. Second, they use weapons, but without any interesting explanation as to what these weapons are and why they do what they do. Third, the bad spirits can physically transform into big, ugly creatures that can do actual damage to the real world. Fourth-

I’ll stop there. It gets more and more absurd as you go along thinking. This isn’t a thinking movie.

Nick is assigned a new partner named Roy (Bridges). They answer to Proctor (Parker). She is dry of humor and is actually pretty humorless.

Roy is basically Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn, but with more humor. Sadly, the humor just seems too carefully written– it doesn’t seem natural. Instead, it is simply delivered because it’s on the page.

Then you have Hayes (Bacon), who is a truly bad guy. Nick and Roy have to stop Hayes before Hayes unleashes a terrible evil which will destroy the world. At the same time, Nick has to deal with his beloved slowly making her way into danger as she is taken advantage of in her grief.

Critique

Critiquing R.I.P.D. is pretty simple. It’s far too much like Men in Black without refreshing the tropes and cleverness and humor. The characters have nothing interesting at all about them, which is a shame, because Reynolds, Parker, and Bridges are all good actors. The dialogue is intermittently funny, but is usually groan-worthy because we know exactly what’s going to be said when it comes to zingers.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s certainly hard to understand why such an obvious retread of Men in Black was found to be necessary.

For a movie about dead but not really dead cops who mete out vigilante justice, R.I.P.D. is strangely lifeless.

Content warnings: Comic/fantastic violence throughout, some mild swearing.

Writing: 2          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 2.5

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The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger is a frustrating movie. At times good, solid western flick, at others mind-numbingly silly, and at other times far too over the top, it has plenty to offer to everyone but it’s not fully coherent and Johnny Depp needs to take a role that doesn’t require hours of makeup. His Tonto is boring and vapid.

You might enjoy The Lone Ranger if you liked:
Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3
Rango
Spaceballs
Rhustler’s Rhapsody

… but no promises.

If you prefer movies that don’t have nonsensical scenes of animals being silly and over-the-top, totally fabricated and pointless explosion scenes, you might want to give The Lone Ranger a pass.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 3, 2013

Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Helene Bonham-Carter, Ruth Wilson, Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, Tom Wilkinson, James Badge Dale, and Stephen Root.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of The Lone Ranger is simple. A clean-cut DA (Hammer) is returning to his frontier hometown where his brother is sheriff and his former flame is his brother’s wife. A railroad tycoon (Wilkinson) will stop at nothing to bring his railroad progress along. A Union army captain (Pepper) shows up for some reason or another. Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) stars as a nutter of an Apache  who wears a bird for a hat is able to show up exactly where he needs to be throughout the film. A psycho(Fichtner) who may or may not be working for the railroad guy wants to kill everyone and might have a vendetta. After the psycho escapes from custody, the DA’s brother (Dale) takes the DA along with a posse and goes into a slot canyon where he himself points out that is perfect for an ambush.

The entire posse is killed, except a horse that is sometimes a spirit guide and sometimes a buffoonish cartoon character indicates to the Apache that the DA is alive. So the Apache revives the DA and they go after the bad guys and they find a saloon owner (Bonham-Carter) who is conveniently angry at the bad guys.

Wait. That’s not simple; that’s mostly just convoluted absurdity used to disguise Depp’s trademarked goofiness and a sad excuse for an homage to a great old Western TV show about heroism and courage and justice.

In any case, the chase is on! Will the railroad magnate manage to take control of everything, including the DA’s nephew? Will the random Union army captain be important to the plot? Will the DA and the Apache ever even break a bone while they are thrown from fast-moving train cars and fall from immense heights and get into numerous fights over the course of a day or two?

Find out all these answers– if you can sit through this far-too-long, generally irritating flick. What makes it worse is that Hammer is a wonderful Lone Ranger and the single arc for that character is great.

Critique

Pretty sure we’ve covered the critique portion fairly well.

Here are the problems with The Lone Ranger:

1. It’s far too long (but how could it not be immensely long with such a convoluted plot?).
2. It’s slapstick and buffoonish and that takes away from the Lone Ranger lore.
3. It’s too full of explosions and over-the-top sequences which would have been better if the conflicts had been more personal.
4. Gore Verbinski directed it and Johnny Depp is in it.
5. Its budget was way too big.
6. Its plot is too complex for what ought to be a Western superhero movie.

Here is what The Lone Ranger gets right:

1. It’s beautifully shot.
2. Armie Hammer.
3. Tom Wilkinson.
4. The Lone Ranger’s character arc.

See The Lone Ranger at your peril.

Very unrecommended.

Content warnings: Plenty of noisy violence, some language, lots of intense scenes.

Writing: 2          Acting: 3.5           Overall: 2.5

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Red 2

Red 2 is a couple hours of pretty enjoyable entertainment. But you have to be careful to not stop and think too much about these characters, as they don’t really make any sense at all.

You will probably like Red 2 if you enjoyed:
Red
Dumb and Dumber
Lethal Weapon 2 and 3
Pacific Rim

If you don’t like movies that use good actors in wasted roles and that wink at the audience, Red 2 is probably not for you.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 19, 2013

Written by John Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Warren Ellis, and Cully Hammer. Based on the comics.

Directed by Dean Parisot

Starring Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, and Brian Cox

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Frank Moses (Willis) has been out of the spy game for a while now, trying to settle down and make a life with Sarah (Parker). Out shopping, they run into Marvin (Malkovich), who informs Frank that somebody has uncovered Marvin and Frank’s participation in something called Operation Nightshade and now people are gunning for them in order to find a nuke hidden in Moscow.

To stay alive, Marvin and Frank will have to team up with some of their former cronies and find the nuke before anyone else. In the meantime, the best assassin in the world, Han (Lee), is after them and Victoria (Mirren) has also been asked to take them out. Sarah insists she wants to join Frank and Marvin on their journey, as she is clearly bored by the life she and Frank have been living, but along comes Katja (Zeta-Jones), a former flame of Moses, who might be able to help Frank and Marvin get out of the fix they’re in.

So Frank, Marvin, and the rest have to find the scientist who invented the nuke and who might know were it is. The problem is that this scientist has been locked up for more than 32 years. This is Bailey (Hopkins), and he is clearly somewhat off his rocker.

Along this seasoned group goes, firing countless bullets at all takers and basically doing their best to steamroll through all the baddies. Loyalties will be tested, as will love.

Critique

For all the hyperactivity of the fight scenes and enthusiastic effort of the players, Red 2 feels somewhat flat and generally like a bunch of people playing in the same sandbox without much direction or leadership. It feels as if the entertaining scenes were conceived in a vacuum and story was written to try to string these scenes together.

You can almost imagine the writers and director having a conversation. “Okay, so Sarah’s kind of a ditz, so we need a scene where her ditziness messes things up. Oh yeah, and also she needs to be clueless about guns.”

“Good one! Hey, let’s also have Victoria kick everyone’s ass and then deliver a zinger of a one-liner. ”

“Nice! Of course, we also need to see Moses and Marvin have plenty of banter and Moses needs to be in some awkward situations between his current love and his former flame. Willis can just mug here.”

“Good plan!”

So the story is decidedly formulaic, but where The Heat used its characters to freshen up the formula and bring sharp, intelligent dialogue into the scenes, Red 2′s dialogue is too often totally predictable and far too self-aware– winking at the audience as we are all in on the joke that these are old people delivering lines that a younger tough would usually deliver.

All of that said, here we also have consummate actors doing great work and having a lot of fun. Helen Mirren is a joy to watch, with her diminutive frame and sophisticated bearing, as she beats the tar out of people and seems to enjoy it. Malkovich steals every scene he’s in with manic energy and great timing. Zeta-Jones is a little underused; as it seems that her character is a plot device only. Hopkins has a great time and is fun to watch, although his character makes zero sense if you stop and think about him. And Bruce Willis, sadly, phones a lot of his scenes in, although there are a couple of scenes where we get to see his comedic timing.

The biggest tragedy is the casting of Mary-Louise Parker as the too-often clueless and flighty Sarah. Sarah gets far too little to do, and when she does do something right, it makes absolutely no sense– we don’t understand how she knew to do what she did. Parker is better than this role.

All in all, Red 2 is somewhat better than its predecessor, but is still a little flat, a little too silly.

Content warnings: Plenty of explosive violence and a goodly amount of salty language.

Writing: 3          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3

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