Thor: The Dark World by Alan Taylor

Thor: The Dark World by Alan Taylor

Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save the universe.

The Avengers aside, the first Thor was my favorite single hero film out of Marvel Phase One. Before Thor, all the Marvel superheroes established were all real world and based in scientific reality. There was a lot of uncertainty to whether Thor would work cinematically. It carried the most risk and was Marvel’s quintessential make-or-break point of expanding its cinematic universe into the realm of magic and aliens. Thankfully director Kenneth Branagh delivered. He balanced the ridiculousness of the Norse Gods with light comedy, done fantastic world creation with Asgard and provided the most interesting villain out of the Marvel cinematic universe.

Thor: The Dark World properly continues the story after The Avengers (sorry, Iron Man 3) and Thor. It retains the things that I liked about the first installment without repeating them. The plot moves fast and it’s intense. Things never gets too grim and has a genuine sense of adventure and awe. Dry witty humor is used again effectively to balance out the ridiculousness of Norse gods walking amongst humans. The fights look tough and grueling, more so than in The Avengers. Partly because everybody’s physically melee fighting and the Dark Elves are actually physically challenging to Thor and the Asgardians.

The Nine Realms are explored more thoroughly and the audience gets to spend more time on Asgard, which is a much more interesting place to be than Earth. The designs and world creation are impressive, particularly in the disaster sequences. It shows how brilliant an idea it was in the first film to imply that magic is unexplainable science, thereby combining and justifying both.

Chris Hemsworth owns the role of Thor with his presence. Thor is a character whose depths are only shown when interacting with other characters, which served as a disadvantage in The Avengers. In his own movie, there’s an immense cast to give him that depth. I liked his arc in this story. Natalie Portman gets to be the fish out of water this time around and it’s an entertaining reversal.

Tom Hiddleston again oozes charm as Loki. It’s a great actor relishing a great part.  He plays the audience like an instrument as we intermittently love and hate him. The writers put a lot of work in designing the twists and turns in Loki’s infinite mind games, truly earning the character the title of “God of Mischief”. Loki fooled me again and again throughout and I kept wanting to trust him.

The Warriors Three gets wrecked a bit. It seemed like there was some scheduling problem in which Tabanobu Asano’s Hogun had to be reduced. Also, I prefer the Joshua Dallas as Fandral, who had to be replaced by Zachary Levi from Chuck. Levi by comparison seems to struggle channeling Errol Flynn. Both cases are unfortunate.

The new villain Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston is buried under a lot of Dark Elf make-up and speaking an alien language in his own scenes, which removes any chance of proper scenery chewing. His presence as a villain is ultimately functional on par with Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. Malekith exists for the main characters to grow and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is noteworthy. Marvel seems to be ensuring that their villains never are more interesting than their heroes. The heart of the story is still the central relationship between Thor and Loki. In fact, it’s probably the most interesting relationship in the current Marvel cinematic universe. Director Alan Taylor knows this and competently moves their story forward.

The numerous Stan Lee cameos is starting to get creepy because it means there are a growing amount of Stan Lee lookalike clones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And is it me or has Anthony Hopkins been playing the majority of his roles like a Norse god all this time? I am just kidding.

Depending where Captain America: Winter Soldier goes with Captain America’s story, I wonder how many more solo movies Marvel actually needs to plan out. It doesn’t look like they’re planning any solo Hulk films and Iron Man seems to be up in the air right now. Who knows how Guardians of the Galaxy is going to turn out. But they can really just start doing more Avengers movies at this point. That said, I do want to see what happens with Thor and Loki in a third installment. Actually, a third Thor is very necessary.

Related Links
Iron Man 3 by Shane Black
The Avengers by Joss Whedon

Pacific Rim by Guillermo del Toro – 100th post!

Pacific Rim by Guillermo Del Toro

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

The fights are the main attraction. You either go along with that premise or not, there’s no two ways about it. In reality, it’s probably more resourceful to bomb these giant monsters or shoot them with a very big cannon, instead of making giant robots to punch them to death. But where’s the fun in that? Suffice to say, the fights are a tense visceral experience and the scale of everything delivers an epic sense of awe. They do everything to up the ante and surprise the audience. Special moves are only used in climatic moments and there’s just something about a giant robot using a boat as a bat that’s just hilarious and jaw-dropping. These fights run very dangerously to the cinematic equivalent of watching somebody play a video game. That’s why I like the drifting mind meld concept, because it solves that problem by it properly adding both physical and emotional conflict to the pilots controlling the Jaegars as well. It focuses to how well these pilots are controlling the Jaegars as opposed to how the Jaegars are fighting the Kaijus.

The fights are shot somewhat tightly but for a very good reason. Shooting the fights close holds the tension and injects the sense of jeopardy and stake into every exchange in the fight choreography. I imagine if the fights were covered entirely in long wide shots, it would lose that sense of scale and the fights would look silly. That said, I had no problem following what’s going on because emotionally it felt right to be watching them that way. And personally, it was doubly fun that the film was set in Hong Kong.

There’s been a common complaint that the characters lacked development, I disagree.  Basically these people all have baggage and they have to band together as a team or fall apart. The film spends time building arcs for its ensemble cast, and it’s sufficient to justify the epic robot monster fights. That’s it, so I don’t understand that complaint. Adding neat little quirks or oddball idiosyncrasies to these characters would have been overkill.

The dialogue is one of the film’s weaker portions. However, depending on how well each actor was able to milk the lines, I was still able to have fun with it. I couldn’t stop cackling at Charlie Day’s fast-paced high-pitched deliveries, who rises above being “Dr. Exposition” and balances the film with comic relief. Day’s exchange with the rival math-based scientist played by Burn Gorman is essentially a cartoon-level quarrel equivalent to Daffy Duck arguing with Bugs Bunny. The math Gorman’s scientist applies is is grade-school at best. Ron Perlman facetiously entertains in flying colors as the Kaiju body parts black marketer Hannibal Chau, the most asshole character name ever created. Idris Elba also adds significant weight as the team leader. So for me, the side characters take the cake from the Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi storyline, which was played very straight for story purposes.

Guillermo del Toro is aware of current big-budget blockbuster tropes and differentiates himself from those trends in Pacific Rim. There are no homage or geek references to distract or alienate the audience. Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako character is not sexualized or filmed through a salivating male gaze; she is a real human character with a story and treated as such. The film doesn’t play like a military recruitment advertisement nor has any blatant nationalistic or jingoistic intentions. Perhaps one of my favorite things about Pacific Rim is it tonally divorces itself from post-9/11 sentimentality. The world has its own distinct fictional reality, where destruction is not linked by evoking imagery, memories or emotions from September 11th. Civilians evacuate from buildings, hide in shelters and the streets are clear for the Jaegers to bash the Kaijus. Most importantly, del Toro never dwells heavily on despair or hopelessness and the audience can enjoy the city-wide destruction guilt-free. All those things counted together, Pacific Rim is truly a breath of fresh air amidst current blockbuster aesthetics and a film made with the most earnest intentions.

Without an A-list star, a love story or a recognizable established franchise (i.e. Godzilla or Transformers) , it’s not hard to see why Pacific Rim didn’t score at the box office. As Snakes On A Plane proved at its theatrical release, the geek fan base doesn’t represent much of the core population. The geeks merely are just the most vocal. Perhaps other parts of the demographic are alienated just by the material itself, despite that del Toro is aiming to entertain everybody. If there’s one underdog movie people should give a chance to this summer, let it be Pacific Rim. It’s a passionate earnest film made by a director that loves the material and wants to deliver good clean fun with a positive message for everybody. His attention to every little detail exudes his excitement for the material; that passion rubbed off on me and elevated my enjoyment.  It’s the most fun I’ve had watching a movie this summer. Guillermo del Toro, give me a hug!

Prometheus by Ridley Scott

Prometheus by Ridley Scott

In the late 21st century, the crew of the spaceship Prometheus follow a star map discovered among the artifacts of several ancient Earth cultures. Seeking the origins of humanity, the crew arrives on a distant world and discovers a threat that could cause the extinction of the human race.

First off, I am proud to say I was not a victim of all the hype and it was definitely a much better film-going experience having not having seen the film with too much worked out in my mind. Now on with the review…

Awe is a very important component for science fiction films. Thematically science fiction deals with both the potential and limit of mankind, reflecting who we are as human beings if there were no bounds to our ability to accomplish good or heinous things. For example, seeing a spaceship soaring through space or a planet get blown up should both evoke awe. From frame one I was instantly awed by the world created in Prometheus. Using real physical sets and locations over computer generated ones really makes a big difference. I was marveled by the space of the world and was ready to explore it along with its characters. Thanks, H.R. Giger!

It’s been a while since we had a true science fiction film asking big questions. Does God exist? Who am I? Who made me? Why did he make me? How would he see me? Every character represents in the story a different argument against all these questions. Although we are given a conclusion for all these questions on a narrative level, the film never really provides an answer to its big thematic questions and I loved that.

This is one of Rapace’s better-suited parts that I have seen her play as she has a lot more emotions to play compared to a role like Lisbeth Salander. Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is not “Ellen Ripley Deux”, she is clearly playing her own original character. If there are any similarities, it’s that they’re both well-rounded female characters that both show moments of vulnerability and strength.

Michael Fassbender is captivating as the android character David and interprets playing a robot creatively through physical choices. A delicate weightless walk, a constant neutral tone to his voice and facial expressions that don’t quite match what’s being said. The audience is left constantly guessing, “What is he up to? Is he being deceitful? Was that a joke or did he really mean that?” He plays up the ambiguous non-human nature of a machine and adds to a lot of the mystery of what’s going on in this world.

As a side note, is the Blade Runner sequel from Ridley Scott necessary at this point? The “can a robot be human?” theme established in this film can be totally explored possibly in sequels with the David character.

There’s been a very common complaint about how the characters act very unscientific for a group of scientists. I have thought about this argument even though it didn’t occur to me upon my first viewing because I was absorbed into the film. I will say this as a counter argument: Prometheus, as the title suggests, is a cautionary tale. The characters are meant to do all the wrong things and pay for it. It’s a rule of the genre, it’s the equivalent of someone checking an odd noise in the attic in a horror movie. Now you might say that that’s not an excuse for bad characterization, I agree. But if people are noticing stuff like this, I think the movie probably failed to engage you on some level. It was not the case for me and I didn’t have a problem with it.

What will ultimately divide audiences about Prometheus is the fact that it is a movie embedded with dual goals in its DNA. There’s the Alien prequel and the Prometheus movie. Personally I was much more fascinated with the Prometheus portion. Some may think that Prometheus does not answer enough questions about Alien. I agree and disagree. It does provide you answers about the events in Alien but it gives it to you in the form of creating more questions. Personally, I would have preferred fewer answers. I’m more interested in the questions.

Bring on Prometheus 2!