Thor: Ragnarok (2017) Review

In the current superhero movie climate of gritty, serious stories, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) stands out because it dares to be different. In just over two hours, New Zealand born director Taika Waititi takes the viewer on an entertaining journey that wonderfully blends humour with the ‘world at stake’ nature of the superhero genre. It rescues Thor’s stand alone film series, which has largely been unmemorable to this point.

The beginning sequence of Thor: Ragnarok sets the tone for the entire film. We learn that Thor has purposely got himself captured to learn why a monster wants to destroy his home of Asgard. Thor repeatedly stops the monster during his world-ending monologue because the chain he is suspended from keeps spinning him around so he is facing away from the monster. As Thor uses his body weight to swing himself to face the monster, he urges it to continue. Waititi plays with the idea that because Thor is a god he rarely feels threatened by anything, and its where most of the humour comes from. It feels fitting for the character and finally gives him a likeable and distinguishing persona.

Thor returns to Asgard to discuss what he has learned with his father only to learn that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has returned and is pretending to rule over Asgard as his father. When Thor and Loki go looking for their father they are confronted by Hela (Cate Balnchett) the Godess of Death who subsequently overpowers them both and knocks Thor out of the portal to Asgard. Thor lands on an unknown planet and is captured and sold to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) to compete in his gladiator-like contests.

The strong writing and performances from the cast are a highlight of the film. Chris Hemsworth is charismatic as Thor, always shining when he is on screen. Tom Hiddleston is great as the sometimes caring, always deceptive Loki. He and Hemsworth have a great brotherly chemistry when they are in scenes together. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is pure evil and she does a terrific job at capturing the menacing nature of the villain. I especially loved Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, a monarch who enjoys the superfluous side of life and continually angers Thor by calling him the Lord of Lightning rather than the God of Thunder.

The rest of the supporting cast is solid too. Tessa Thompson’s carefree slaver Valkyrie plays well off Goldblum’s Grandmaster and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk/Bruce Banner. Director Taika Waititi voicing Korg, a rock creature that was enslaved because he didn’t hand out enough pamphlets for his planned revolution, is a welcome surprise that captures the humour of the film beautifully.

Thor: Ragnarok’s action sequences are highly enjoyable, each feeling unique because they place their characters in varied situations each time. Highlights include the initial sequence which sees Thor using his hammer to defeat a seemingly endless onslaught of demonic minions, his fist fight with Hulk teased in the film’s trailer, a thrilling aircraft chase sequence, Hela’s powerful yet majestic battle against Asgard’s army, and the film’s final confrontation which isn’t just a massive CGI explosion fest. There is plenty of variety in the action sequences and the fight choreography utilises each character’s distinguished fighting styles to change things up and keep each encounter feeling fresh.

Thor ragnarok 2.PNG
Source: Marvel Entertainment/YouTube

I also loved the visual style of Thor: Ragnarok. Fantasy and sci-fi elements work well together, especially during the Thor and Hulk fight blending a gladiatorial setting with a sci-fi planet. The planet that Thor is trapped on is vibrant and littered with colour, contrasting to the somewhat dystopian nature of the rule the Grandmaster has over the populous. The visual effects look terrific, especially during the aforementioned aircraft chase sequence. It’s a pleasant cinematic experience.

If you are at all a fan of the Marvel Cinematic universe, you should see Thor: Ragnarok. Director Taika Waititi has put a much needed new spin on Thor, drawing out the somewhat hubristic persona that comes from Thor being an all-powerful god. Thor: Ragnarok balances the fine line between its serious and humorous tones to great effect, fuelled in part by the great acting performances from the whole cast. Thor: Ragnarok continues Marvel’s trend of allowing directors to take more light-hearted approaches to its cinematic universe (see Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy), and it pays off once again.

4 stars

Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan Understands the Cinematic Experience

Dunkirk’s 1 hour and 46 minutes run time is significantly shorter than director Christopher Nolan’s other films. The Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige (2006) and Interstellar (2014) are epics that all run for over two hours. Despite the shorter duration, the intense tone of Dunkirk makes it feel just as long. Dunkirk is not your typical war movie. There are no buff super soldiers who wipe out large amounts of enemy forces and save the day. It is still a tale about survival, but it is much more focused on the everyday soldier of World War II who just wanted to get home. Nolan wants to create as much empathy in the viewer as possible. In doing so he demonstrates that he understands the benefits of the cinematic experience.

To appreciate the tone of the film, you’re going to need a brief history lesson on the evacuation at Dunkirk. In 1940, Allied forces, especially the British, French and Belgians, realised that there was nothing they could do about Nazi Germany taking over France. Consequently, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered an evacuation from Dunkirk, on the French coast. Christopher Nolan’s film is about the evacuation, featuring characters from all parts of evacuation – infantry soldiers, air force pilots and citizen boats sent to rescue soldiers because warships were too easy for the Germans to spot.

Nolan wanted to capture the evacuation at Dunkirk from the eyes of the everyday soldier who was just trying to survive the retreat. The tone of the film is one of desperation and survival. Nolan clearly wanted to create a sense of empathy between the viewer and the characters on screen. This is not a new concept for films, but as I said earlier, Nolan understands what makes the cinematic experience so great: it appeals to our visual and auditory senses.

The one word I used to describe the film when I left the cinema was “intense”. Dunkirk keeps you uncomfortable and on the edge of your seat for most of the experience. While the close-ups of the protagonists struggling to prevent themselves from drowning at sea and long establishing shots of the dire situation create powerful images, it’s the film’s musical score and terrific sound design that solidify Nolan’s position as a cinematic master.

Throughout Dunkirk, a high-tempo score (composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer) accompanies the on-screen images. The two most common compositions I remember are called The Mole and Supermarine. The Mole can be heard in most of the trailers, it’s the track with the constant ticking noise towards the end. As the film progress, it sounds like the score becomes louder and somewhat uncomfortable.

This is especially true of the track Supermarine. A Vox video I found while researching this piece explains the score perfectly: “an overwhelming orchestra that seems like it’s rising higher and higher, but never actually does”. Much like the film’s characters, the viewer waits for a break that never comes.

There’s no better way to create a sense of empathy with the viewer. The film’s largely silent protagonists continually transition from one bad situation to another, never given a break from their terrible circumstances or impending German air, land and sea attacks. There’s never a rest for the protagonists, so why should the viewer get a rest. It’s such a subtle addition that I didn’t notice it was happening until one scene towards the end of the film when the score is silenced. Pardon the cliché, but the silence is peaceful. It’s a very symbolic moment, providing a huge relief for the viewer.


Side bar: The Vox video that I just referenced explains that the technique Nolan and Zimmer use is called a Shepard Tone, several tones, separated by an octave, on top of each other. This makes the tracks sound like they are increasing in volume, even though they are not. Take a few minutes to watch the video, it explains the concept a lot better.


Dunkirk’s sound effects further enhance the experience. Dunkirk is a loud film. Even in a normal cinema – without the louder sound produced for cinemas like Xtremescreen or Vmax – every explosion from dropped bombs and submarine torpedoes, and every bullet shot from the fighter planes and infantry rifles is loud. Uncomfortably loud. It wasn’t uncommon to see other moviegoers jump in their seats from the unexpected explosions or bullet shots. Just like the soldiers, you’re never expecting an explosion or gunshot when it occurs.

It’s easy to imagine the terror the soldiers would have felt, not knowing if the next bomb or gun-shot would take their life. This is yet another example of Nolan creating more intimacy and empathy between the people on the screen and those looking at the screen.

Dunkirk screen 2
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures/ YouTube

Dunkirk is not the first film where Christopher Nolan has used sound design to great effect. I first fell in love with Nolan from his Dark Knight trilogy. The second film, The Dark Knight (2008), is my favourite film of all time (but that’s a story for another time). One of my favourite scenes from The Dark Knight is when Harvey Dent is being transported to prison because he wants everyone to think he is Batman.

The whole scene, from the moment he leaves in the police van, to the moment Jim Gordon reappears and arrests The Joker, plays out without a backing track; only diegetic sound can be heard. Panicked chatter between police guards, The Joker mumbling, the hum of the Batmobile, RPG explosions, sub-machine gun clips being unloaded on police vehicles. It’s a terrific scene, and is more effective because of the lack of a backing track.

The other memorable Nolan scene that comes to mind is in Interstellar when the shuttle launches into space. The sound of the thrusters kicking in and launching the shuttle was so loud that it vibrated the floor under my seat. Suddenly, I was in the shuttle with the crew, heading into space.

With streaming services like Netflix and the ease of illegally obtaining new release films, the cinema experience is under threat. However, directors like Christopher Nolan are giving film fans a reason to visit their local cinema. I believe the auditory experience that Dunkirk provided me in a movie theatre cannot be replicated properly from a home environment (unless you’ve got a world class home theatre system).

Dunkirk solidified what I’ve felt about Christopher Nolan for a while now: he understands the benefits of the cinematic experience. Films are best when the viewer’s experience is a visual and auditory one. Dunkirk is a masterclass in both.

Wonder Woman Review: Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.

Side note: I know it’s been a while between posts, I have to try to find more spare time to write these. Ideally I’d love to be posting once a week, but I’ve got other commitments that require my time. Thanks for sticking with me and coming back whenever there is new content! Now, onto the review!


Ever since I fell in love with Batman, the Justice League and the interesting cast of DC Comics characters, there have been three things I have been waiting for: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in the same film, a Justice League film, and a stand alone Wonder Woman film. My first wish was fulfilled last year with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and my second wish will be fulfilled in November when Justice League releases. As of last Thursday (June 1, 2017), my third wish was fulfilled with the release of Wonder Woman. And what a glorious film it is, capturing the very essence of who Wonder Woman is and what she fights for.

Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, tells the origin story of Diana (a.k.a. Wonder Woman), Princess of the Amazons, as she travels to the world of man to defeat the God of War Ares and save mankind by ending World War I.

Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised on Themyscira, an island hidden away by Zeus to protect the Amazons from Ares and the world of man. While the other Amazons know of the cruel nature of mankind, Diana was born on Themyscira and knows very little about the men who exist in the outside world.

Wonder Woman 4
Image: Warner Bros.

The first act of the film follows Diana from childhood to adulthood, showcasing the vigorous training she undertakes with the highest ranking officer of the Amazons, Antiope (Robin Wright), and demonstrates that she has talents that surpass all of the other Amazons. The film does a great job at subtly introducing Wonder Woman’s signature accessories, her bracers, sword, shield and lasso, without disrupting the pacing.

When British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on Themyscira and brings a platoon from the German army to Themyscira, Diana is made aware of the war outside Themyscira and is determined to save mankind from the evil she believes to be Ares.

Gal Gadot is the perfect Wonder Woman. She convincing portrays the heroine’s child-like naivety about the world of mankind and her perceptions of black and white morality. Diana has grown up believing that people are either good or evil, but as she experiences more of mankind, she struggles with the idea that humans are not always all good or all evil. Gadot’s performance expressing the ebbs and flows of Wonder Woman’s willingness to fight for mankind is captivating. She also shines during the combat sequences as the fierce warrior and compassionate hero Wonder Woman is.

Likewise, Chris Pine provides a charismatic supporting role as Steve Trevor. The pair have great chemistry throughout the film, despite a couple of somewhat awkwardly written scenes that felt like they were trying too hard to develop sexual tension between the two characters.

The remainder of the film is set in 1918 London and the Western Front as Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor and a ragtag crew attempt to stop German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his evil scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) from releasing a gas that could win the war.

The second act was my favourite of the film, as we see Diana in action as Wonder Woman for the first time leading a push through no man’s land to reclaim a Belgian town. The symbolic moment of Wonder Woman leaping over the trenches into no man’s land is powerful. Trevor tells Diana that no man can cross no man’s land without being killed, but Diana is not a man.

What follows is a series of terrific set pieces demonstrating Wonder Woman’s determination and combat prowess. She’s a more agile fighter than Batman, moving around gracefully in a series of hand-to-hand fights inside buildings, and she demonstrates her power and resourcefulness by taking on seemingly impossible situations without hesitation. The fight choreography is entertaining as each new fight offers something different from the last, while utilising all of Wonder Woman’s weapons.

These sequences are complimented by the powerful score from composer Rupert Gregson-Williams and the inclusion of Wonder Woman’s heart-pounding guitar riff theme which signalled the character’s appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

wonder woman 3
Image: Warner Bros.

The 1918 Great War setting was perfect for the film. It exacerbates Wonder Woman’s willingness to challenge gender perceptions and the male ruling elite in a time when women had few rights. And it also allows Wonder Woman to be represented as the beacon of hope that she is in the DC universe. London and the Western Front’s grey and brown colour scheme contrasts greatly to the paradise of Themyscira’s lush green fields and crystal clear water. Likewise, the blue and red of Wonder Woman’s attire makes her shine whenever she is on the screen, and demonstrates her ability to empower those around her.

Wonder Woman is a terrific origin story for the binding member of DC’s trinity. The story is entertaining, well written and convincingly acted, with the right balance of comedic relief and seriousness. The action sequences are thoughtfully choreographed and visually stunning, and demonstrate the many facets of Wonder Woman’s abilities. It has taken 75 years for Wonder Woman to star in her own live-action feature film, but the payoff is a wonderful (no pun intended) portrayal of Wonder Woman and the traits that make her a powerful, shining light of hope in the DC universe. And hope and love are something the world could use more of now.

5-stars


What did you think of Wonder Woman? Tell me in Twitter @Nathan_M96. You can follow Think First Entertainment on Twitter for updates @ThinkFirst_ent. Read about TFE’s review rating policy here.

Logan Review: Not Your Average Superhero Film

Logan trailer image 2

They say you are only as good as your last performance. If that is the case, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine/X-Men film franchise will be remembered for its terrific finale, taking audiences on an emotional journey that succeeds because of how cathartically depressing it is.

Logan, named after the titular hero, isn’t your typical superhero film. There are no colourful costumes, no gigantic threats to the world and no overly-dramatic explosive set pieces. Logan is a gritty story about family, the lengths we’d go to protect them, and dealing with illness. It also happens to feature characters who have mutated genes.

Director James Mangold sets the tone in the opening scene when a clearly aged and tired Logan (Jackman) has trouble healing after maiming several criminals. Something is poisoning him, limiting his rejuvenating abilities. It’s quite clear his days of being an X-Men are over. He’s now a limo driver going under the name James Howlett.

That is until an encounter with a girl called Laura (Dafne Keen) who, as we’ve seen in the trailers, is a new mutant with similar skills to Wolverine. Logan, encouraged and accompanied by a dementia ridden Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), must take Laura to a supposed safe haven in order to evade her pursuer Donald Pierce (Narco’s Boyd Holbrook).

This journey exists largely to give the characters a destination to reach. The real brilliance of Logan is the characters. Hugh Jackman is superb in this film, captivating in his performance of an older, sick Logan. He limps or stumbles in most scenes, struggling to keep going and hold his world together. He’s short tempered because he has to look after Xavier, and frustrated by his reduced physical capabilities. It must have been physically exhausting in a different way to his other performances as the Wolverine.

Speaking of Charles Xavier, Patrick Stewart provides a solid performance as the once powerful professor, acting as a father figure to Jackman’s Logan. Their portrayals help to capture the tone of the film, with Jackman and Stewart maintaining a strong chemistry as their characters battle with illness and loss.

Despite having a limited speaking role, newcomer Dafne Keen shines when she’s in the scene. Her often blank facial expression demonstrates to the audience that she’s been through an ordeal even at such a young age. Yet, still being a child, her curiosity and lack of understanding of the world allows scenes that create some temporary respite for the audience.

Given Logan‘s emphasis on characters, it’s disappointing that the film’s villains aren’t given much depth other than being purely evil. It’s interesting seeing Holbrook in a villain role, and he provides a solid performance despite the limited character development.

Logan is, however, a film about its protagonists and giving more time to the villains would have presented some pacing issues.

logan trailer image 3.png

Logan is not a happy-go-lucky film about superheroes saving the world. As I said earlier, it deals with characters who have been alive for too long, having experienced too many tragedies to have a positive outlook on the world. The characters are the most important aspect of this film, and Mangold’s constant use of close-ups emphasises their suffering and the urgency of the situation as the trio struggle to evade their pursuers. There’s a constant feeling of grief and bleakness, but it’s never overwhelming.

One of the main reasons why Logan is such a great film is because every scene has a purpose. Every scene feels like it adds to the film and an understanding of the characters, rather than being there to fill up a couple of minutes. Just over two hours in length, Logan‘s slower pacing makes it feel longer than it is, but it never drags on longer than it has to.

The wonderfully choreographed action scenes are where we see the differences between the older Logan and younger Laura’s abilities. It takes a lot of effort for Logan to move during fights, and his strikes are more powerful and brutal. Whereas Laura is faster and more agile. She can move herself around faster, leaping on enemies to bring them down.

These action sequences are wonderfully shot, with the brutality of Logan and Laura’s claws depicted in all of their gritty detail. There’s plenty of dismemberment, claws going through brains and arms being sliced through, but it’s all captured in a manner that feels realistic rather than with an over-the-top stylisation common in superhero films. The violence is there in all it’s detail, there is no close up shaky camera here.

Logan trailer image 1

In a world where superhero films are trying to be darker and more gritty, Logan has the edge. There’s barely a happy moment in Logan, with the characters, cinematography and directing all creating a sombre, desperate atmosphere that somehow proves to be cathartic. It feels like the perfect end to Jackman and Stewart’s story as Wolverine and Professor X. Not only has James Mangold directed one of the best superhero films since The Dark Knight, he’s also directed a terrific, captivating and emotional story that many viewers will relate to.

 

5-stars

Thoughtful, entertaining, unique