Tagged: Jeff Goldblum

Martha Thomases: With A Rebel Yell, She Cried Thor! Thor! Thor!

The hype was timed perfectly for this one. The new Marvel Studios movie, Thor: Ragnorak, was not going to be just another super-hero movie. It was directed by a respected indie director with comedy chops. The advertising wasn’t too heavy, nor did I feel like I had seen all the good stuff in the trailers.

Still, I was a bit worried. Thor: The Dark World, was, in my opinion, the worst of the Marvel Studio movies. When I watch it, instead of getting caught up in the story and the characters, I wonder what it felt like to be an actor on that set, wearing those ridiculous outfits. I wondered why a movie so dependent on Norse mythology was made so many years before Wonder Woman, which relied on Greek mythology (my personal favorite, no matter what the cool kids say).

I was again invited to a Marvel Friends & Family screening on Monday, and I can report that Ragnorak is big fun, especially if you can see it in a big theater, on a big screen, with all the seats filled with rabid geeks. There’s a lot of character-based humor. There are a couple of really great villains, including my long-time crush, Jeff Goldblum, whom I have loved since at least California Split. Cate Blanchett, as Hela, Goddess of Death, is not only evil incarnate, but she will make you believe that you, too, could fight in skin-tight leather and a spiked head-dress wider than your average car.

Tim Hiddleston is back as Loki, Idris Elba is again Heimdal, and Anthony Hopkins is Odin. It’s great having the band back together.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Mark Ruffalo co-stars in this film as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. For those of us who have seen the Avengers movies, this is fun. If you’re a fan of classic superhero stories, where two heroes meet, fight, and then team-up, this is fun. If you haven’t done either of those things, the relationship might be unintelligible, but then, you probably aren’t in the audience.

Benedict Cumberbatch is his brooding, handsome self as Doctor Strange, in a scene that is entirely unnecessary, although it is fun.

The best new character (to the Marvel movie oeuvre) is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. A hard-living, hard-drinking mercenary with a past that ties her directly to Odin and Hela, she is a fully realized character from her first appearance, when she tried to take Thor as her prisoner and falls down drunk. The character is tough and vulnerable and completely capable, and Thompson never reduces her to the kind of “strong female character” we get all too often in mass-market movies.

According to the link above, “Thompson even summoned the courage to pitch Waititi on making Valkyrie bisexual, based on her comic book relationship with anthropologist Annabelle Riggs. ‘There’s this great illustration of them in a kiss,’ swoons Thompson, and while Valkyrie has yet to meet Annabelle in her Hollywood timeline – and who knows if she’ll get to – she convinced Waititi to shoot a glimpse of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. He kept it in the film as long as he could; eventually the bit had to be cut because it distracted from the scene’s vital exposition.”

This is a problem for me. There are so many scenes in which some random action is taking place so the characters can explain themselves and their motivations that they might as well have hired Michael York. I would have preferred more time with Valkyrie and fewer scenes of Asgardians walking through caves and forests.

As required by law, the movie ends with a bombastic CGI fight scene. It’s loud and there are lots of explosions, but these scenes exhaust me. The best part of this one is Fenrir, the giant wolf. The worst part is waiting for the Asgardians to line up for the getaway vehicle.

About these Asgardians. They are very white. This isn’t really a big deal for me, since nearly every Norse person alive when the myths were created was probably white. However, the Thor films, to their credit, have made a point of including actors of all races among the gods. We see a few swarthy faces in the crowd scenes, and there are Asian actors prominently featured in a couple of fights, but mostly, we see hundreds of helpless blondes, waiting for Thor to rescue them. The scenes on other realms have more varied body types and colors, and as a result, even those extras seem to have more personality.

Still, I was excited to see a movie in which a white male hero has a respectful, comradely relationship with a woman warrior of color. There was no flirtation. There was no “will they or won’t they” vibe. Or, at least, no more than there was between Loki and Hulk.

The gods can do it. Now let’s see if we can get corporate executives to do it, too.

Box Office Democracy: Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day: Resurgence is inexcusably boring, the kind of movie script I would expect if you went to one of those experimental Google A.I. routines and asked them to make a summer blockbuster. None of the ideas feel clever or new but instead a naïve attempt to maximize potential profits.  It’s a disaster movie mixtape with a couple alien cliché deep cuts thrown in to appear hip. Resurgence tries so hard to traffic in the positive memories we have of the original Independence Day and while it’s occasionally evocative enough to stir that up, it so much more often completely fails to not only carry the weight of the first movie but to even be a coherent film.

The original Independence Day was particularly relatable because we were offered so many different slices of life. We saw the goofy scientist and his nebbishy father, we saw the air force pilot and his exotic dancer wife, and, yes, we saw the President of the United States and his family but we also saw the trailer parks and the end of the world parties. We got a world that felt lived in. Every principal character in Resurgence is either a holdover character from the first film, now renowned for their work saving the earth, one of their children who are uniformly top fighter pilots, or a spectacularly important global political figure. There’s no relating to any of these people because so few people actually travel in these circles. The problem seems to come from the world being way more science-fiction-y than the original film and there seems to be no desire to explore how things have changed in any respect besides anti-alien war machines. The world feels so much less lived in and so it’s much harder to care when they start wrecking things.

Along with being unrelatable, none of the characters have narrative arcs at all. With the exception of being sad about loved ones being killed or mad that alien invaders are back, none of the characters have any kind of emotional growth. None of them have to change the way they interact with the world to solve the problem of the alien invasion, they just sort of do the same things over and over again and eventually it works and the day is saved. There’s a certain catharsis to seeing a bunch of alien ships explode and everything but there’s no meaningful character work happening here so there’s nothing but hollow victories.

Independence Day: Resurgence is set in a world where all of humanity has come together in harmony after the monumental alien attacks of 20 years ago. This new one world government is composed mainly of American and Chinese people and I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence that these are the two largest markets for movies these days. No other nations are represented in any significant way at all unless you count the African warlord of a nameless country who seems to exist only to provide a vague sense of menace and have a kind of racist interaction with a minor character toward the end of the film. One of the three big disaster sequences also takes place in China, which is either an attempt to underscore the stakes for all of the main players (including the Chinese fighter pilot) or more transparent pandering to the Chinese market, and I’m betting heavily on the latter.

I could go on and on with things that were boring or lazy about Independence Day: Resurgence. The alien queen looks suspiciously like the one in Alien vs. Predator. Two different plotlines have separate bumbling nerdy guy characters, I assume because they couldn’t figure out a way to combine them, and they both get external validation of their masculinity to close out their stories. Jeff Goldblum is carted around from place to place to react to things in his inimitable way and they rely on his charm being so strong that we don’t notice that he doesn’t ever do anything in the film; he could be replaced by a handsome coat rack. The mysterious object that can save the world is stunningly poorly designed and could quite accurately be described as a mecha-Pac-Man. The third movie basically announced in the closing moments of this one is a hundred times more compelling conceptually but still isn’t a movie I want to go see after this wretched chapter. The original Independence Day was an iconic disaster film that shaped a decade of blockbusters, but Resurgence is an emotionless husk, an exoskeleton with no alien pilot, gracelessly going through the motions.

Box Office Democracy: Jurassic World

If I had been given a vote I would not have supported making another Jurassic Park movie. It’s a franchise that I’m not sure even qualified as a franchise until this weekend. The original film is a masterpiece, one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in a theater, a movie that defined cinema for an entire generation. The sequels, by contrast, feel like hastily assembled Frankenstein monsters cobbled together from good parts of the first film and whatever script fragments were in the Amblin Entertainment dumpster. All sort of movies in the 90s got two sequels that would never demand this kind of attention but Jurassic Park is special and Jurassic World is a movie that deserves to be a part of something special.

The thing that makes Jurassic World special, aside from the innate sense of wonder that comes from seeing exceptionally rendered dinosaur special effects, is the performance of Chris Pratt. Even though I strongly think that getting so much of handsome action star Chris Pratt is robbing us of the fine work we could be getting from gifted comic actor Chris Pratt it’s hard to deny how effective he is. The movie misses him dearly when he’s not on screen while it bounces between being a little boring and interesting but because someone is in imminent danger of being eaten. The character they gave Pratt, a velociraptor trainer who operates like a circus lion tamer, could easily have been a disaster on par with Indiana Jones in that refrigerator but he somehow makes it believable. Pratt is so good he draws attention away from the rest of the cast being sort of bland and forgettable. No one will ever be quite as good as Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm but it’s fantastic to see someone trying for it.

The original Jurassic Park films were very much defined by the dinosaurs that hunted the protagonists, from the velociraptors and the tyrannosaurus in the first film to the sequels shamelessly reusing all of the same things while adding useless bits of garbage dinosaurs. For Jurassic World the antagonist dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, is the kind of monster a clever eight year-old would come up with trying to one up a playmate while playing pretend. The movie even calls this out when the park’s operation’s manager (Bryce Dallas Howard) says patrons need dinosaurs that are bigger and have more teeth. She’s talking about us, the moviegoers who probably would not have been satisfied with just another chase scene with a tyrannosaurus, we need something with more teeth, with natural camouflage, that hunts for sport. It’s an interesting commentary on modern audiences for sure but it also leads to some rather mystifying moments when very late in to the movie the Indominus is still coming up with new powers tailor made to escape the predicament it’s in.

The film probably leans a little too heavily on nostalgia. The theme from the original John Williams score is used three times in the first twenty minutes and then often throughout including a piano version used to convey sadness. It’s all a little much. They also lean heavily on recycled imagery using similar shots of stampeding dinos or the unnecessary trip through the original visitors center, which has apparently not been touched in all this time. I understand the impulse to lean on this, to wink at the audience, but it isn’t necessary the new stuff in this movie is good enough to stand on its own and it isn’t helping to constantly raise the specter of such a powerful film.

Nothing will ever be like watching Jurassic Park in the movie theater when I was nine years old. That is an unfair standard to hold Jurassic World to even though I would very much like to. Jurassic World gave me everything I wanted, it was suspenseful, it was funny, it looked amazing, the action was thrilling, it was a completely enjoyable utterly riveting piece of filmmaking. I’m looking forward to seeing the next movie in the series, the sequel very obviously set up all throughout this one, and that is an optimism I haven’t felt about a Jurassic Park sequel in 18 years.

Ah, to feel young again.