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Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok is a Trippy, Neon Delight of Fantasy

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“The only thing that makes sense here is that nothing makes sense.”
So sayeth a rock monster to Thor on a planet of gladiator combat. And, yet, there is some sense to the technicolor wonder of Thor: Ragnarok in how it manages to soar with flying colors past its lesser predecessors. I always liked the character of Thor, thanks mostly in part to Chris Hemsworth’s charming personality and strength, but still felt as though his films were underutilized, offering mere glimpses of the full potential of the hero and his many worlds. Finally, there’s a film that not only explores the deeper depths of the nine realms but has fun with the material in a focused and surprising story that takes place almost entirely off Earth.

thor movie posterAll is not well in the fantasy world of Asgard. Thor returns home to discover that Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has gone missing, replaced by Thor’s masquerading trickster of a brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The siblings put their feud behind them, mostly, to find their father on Earth (or Midgard as it’s known around Asgard), warning them of a new threat on the horizon. The great evil threatening the kingdom this time is Hela (Cate Blanchett), a sinister sorceress with a family tie to Odin. Despite her ability to keep up with the quips, she’s your standard evil lady wizard, complete with a green motif and thorny helmet. Her hand-to-hand combat skills are not too shabby though, so she at least does a little more than outstretch her arms to zap her victims.

But there’s thankfully a better villain for the majority of the film. When Thor and Loki are knocked out of Asgard’s orbit, they find themselves on a high-tech junker planet that seems like the dumpster of the 1980s. All tech is rustic, all color is bold, all outfits garish, all faces painted and a 1980s style T-shirt is there for some reason. The planet is controlled by the Grand Master, played with incredible exuberance by Jeff Goldblum. Dressed like David Bowie’s weird uncle, the Grand Master’s favorite pastime, aside from being a DJ of 80s synth, is pitting galactic warriors against each other in arena battles for his entertainment.

The familiar ally of Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is found on this planet, apparently more comfortable to speak with and understand since his mysterious disappearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron. This may be the first film depiction of the Hulk that portrays the character with more wit and charm than the standard “Hulk smash” utterances and massive displays of intimidation. Hemsworth and Ruffalo have some fantastic chemistry and appear as the perfect pair for an environment that requires brute force and technological smarts. They will have to fight each other at one point, but also find the right spaceship to fly through the correct wormhole, which just so happens to be named the devil’s anus.

Another ally found on the planet is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the member of a lost military of Asgard that has turned her life over to bounty hunting. She has a personal vendetta against Hela, having lost her entire army to the sorceress’s powers, but she needs that extra confidence boost to put down the bottle and pick up a sword again. Outside of her backstory, Valkyrie is mostly your standard femme fatale warrior with an empowerment mantra and her obligatory scene to saunter into battle with blades drawn.

Unlike previous Thor films that felt all over the place, Ragnarok finds a pleasing balance between a story that never veers wildly off course, yet still takes a few chances here and there. Hela’s conquering of Asgard is nothing all that spectacular, but it holds firm thanks to the additions of the side-switching Skurge (Karl Urban) and the sanctuary guarding Heimdall (Idris Elba). There’s plenty of humor, including the most hilarious of callbacks to the first Avengers movie, but it comes more naturally and through the story, rather than stopping the plot to make an awkward jab or satirical reference.

Director Taika Waititi has given Thor a fantastic makeover. There’s a distinct and stylish 1980s vibe to the sci-fi weirdness, made possible by the colorful cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe and the synth score of Mark Mothersbaugh. There’s exuberant weirdness to the realms that always felt absent from the more drab predecessors. These additions help elevate the film past its superhero requirements of an obligatory third-act fight that becomes confusingly assembled, despite taking place on a narrow bridge. There’s enough fun, giddiness, and invention to overlook how Thor’s grand power of thunder is never given much explanation for its rules. And I’d rather not get into the pointless debate about how Thor can control the weather. I’m more content to enjoy the film’s candy-coated craziness of a hammer-wielding god bashing alien spaceships and teaming up with the Hulk to stop an evil sorceress.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.

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