Unlike some actors we know who used to earn eight-figure paychecks from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and now probably have to subsist on seven-figure residuals, Chris Hemsworth isn’t going anywhere. The star and Executive Producer is back for Thor: Love and Thunder, as is Taika Waititi, costar and director of Thor: Ragnarok, the Best Thor Movie Ever and possibly the funniest MCU film to date. Perplexingly, he’s followed up with my least favorite Waititi film to date.
I had no intention of seeing Men in Black International, but a funny thing happened while waiting for it to show up on basic cable three times a week.
Ever since the Blade Runner 2049 debacle, I’ve curtailed my visits to the theater closest to our house and spent most of my moviegoing dollars in the next town over. Last week I received an email from their frequent-watching club, despairing that I’ve only been there twice so far in 2019 and, as incentive to pretty please come back we miss you omg we’re dying over here, they loaded a free movie pass onto my card. That was unexpected, but nice of them…though the pass had a one-week expiration date and this week’s lineup was four movies I’ve already seen and written about, one R-rated comedy that was not quite tempting enough, and lots of dross in varying amounts of CG.
After fifteen minutes of severe overthinking, I cleared my head, blinked a few times, and lined up for the one with Thor and Valkyrie in it.
One of the most exhilarating parts of seeing highly anticipated event films ASAP is the firm pivot point you pass between “before” and “after”. Once you’ve seen it, spoilers can no longer damage your viewer experience. Months and years of news sites hazarding half-baked guesses to the film’s content see all their handiwork either rendered obsolete and worthless or proven right but ultimately irrelevant once the thing becomes a reality rather than a theoretical construct in quantum-superpositional flux. Once the film “is”, the number of possibilities of how it “might be” dwindles ever downward toward one (1).
That’s not to say everyone has seen it yet, though Entertainment Weekly and other ill-mannered organizations live or die on the operating principle that every popular thing is instantly consumed now-now-NOW by the smartest, coolest readerships who are the only humans in the universe that matter. For folks who know how to use the word “courtesy” in a sentence, it means being careful with blaring spoilers in the faces of everyone who might glance in our direction. (When it comes to movies, at least. As someone who live-tweets the occasional CW super-hero show, I’ll own up to some hypocrisy here.)
It’s in that spirit of keeping up the spoiler-free environment for what’s left of this weekend that our obligatory Avengers: Endgame write-up was composed to the best of my ability. Fair warning: if you were so hardcore about no-spoiler purity that you’ve even avoided all the trailers and TV spots, I’m not sure I can help you at quite that level of dedication.
For some reason I had a heck of a time trying to keep the name of Bad Times at the El Royale straight my head. On the way to the theater, I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t called Bad Times at the El Diablo. Then I stepped up to the cashier and asked for tickets to Bad Times at the El Dorado. Before setting up this entry, I had to double-check and remind myself it also wasn’t Bad Times at the El Rodeo, though that might make an intriguing sequel in which the survivors step fully into California for an upper-class shopping trip that goes horribly awry.
Until that worthy successor to this very entertaining film arrives, it’s El Royale all the way. El Royale, El Royale El Royale. I think I’ve got it now.
Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Thor: Ragnarok The Greatest Thor Movie in World History!
Granted, it’s for lack of competition, but still. Director Kenneth Branagh’s opening kickoff set the tone for the shiny city and cast of Asgard and gave the Marvel Cinematic Universe one of its core creations in the form of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, saddled with a big stupid brother that his dad made him bring along. The neglected middle child Thor: The Dark World was a forgettable playground romp that remains my least favorite MCU entry to date and left me with virtually no impression except tremendous pity for former Doctor Christopher Eccleston. I had to go reread my own take on it to recall that I liked all the Loki parts, and my wife had to remind me whatever happened to Rene Russo because I totally forgot. Sorry, I mean “forget”. I still can’t remember her final scenes. At all.
The trilogy now concludes with Ragnarok under the direction of Taika Waititi, one of the few survivors of Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern, who went on to a second life as an indie director (my son tells me What We Do in the Shadows is “amazing”). Someone apparently handed the keys to the series to Waititi, told him “go nuts”, walked out of the Marvel Studios mansion leaving him unchaperoned, and asked themselves, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And for the first time in world history, the answer was the complete opposite of an immediate disaster.
In the 2012 Snow White theatrical-reboot cage match, I declare Show White and the Huntsman the winner. Largely that’s because I plan to avoid Mirror, Mirror for the rest of my life, based on the unfunny trailers and my track record for refusing to watch every Julia Roberts film since Ocean’s Eleven. I confess the cage match was fixed. I’m fine with unbalancing the scales intentionally and will lose no sleep over it.
I can’t say I liked Show White and the Huntsman as a whole, but I wouldn’t give it an F-minus, as have other Internet participants who reject it on the principle of starring Kristen Stewart. I’m not a Twilight fan, but my apathy for the series isn’t borne of defensive rage about how Real Vampires should be portrayed, nor do I condemn any of the actors for their mere participation. A quick IMDB check confirms the last two Stewart films I saw were Jumper (my dislike of which can be pinned on another cast member, not her) and Zathura (in which her big-sister character was supposed to be irritating). That’s not nearly enough grounds for me to jump on the anti-Bella bandwagon.
That said: to be honest, Show White and the Huntsman doesn’t provide her with much in the way of superstar material to prove herself. Her dialogue in the first half of the film is minimal. When she speaks in the second half, it’s largely either shouting while on the run or grunting while taking damage. She does have two (2) opportunities for quiet, smiling moments, as well as one troop-rallying speech which seemed to go over well. That’s a start, but she’s largely overprotected or out-bellowed by all the other characters. That’s not too prominent a place for a main character to act very main. Perhaps it wouldn’t help to mention a few scenes where Snow is so beloved by Mother Nature and so essential to the very fabric of her kingdom that she’s actually followed and celebrated by assorted happy woodland creatures. One can only imagine the Internet’s own Kristen Stewart Revenge Squad going into convulsions at the very sight.
Her general character arc also doesn’t help. Her entrance in the film is after years of dungeon imprisonment, which should have left her a drained, emaciated mess. She escapes from Point A Prison with some pluck and a single-minded goal to reach Castle Point B, because then and only upon the arrival of their exiled figurehead will the people of the kingdom unite, grow a collective spine, and stage a coup against their all-powerful oppressor. Fortunately for Ms. White, days of fleeing, watching others die because of her, fleeing some more, and being saved by the grace of others all somehow provide her with enough exercise and fresh air to overcome her years of imprisonment, reach a semblance of physical competence, and assume the role of Eowyn for the film’s climactic, chaotic assault on Poor Man’s Minas Tirith.
As the Evil Queen who is her opponent, longtime captor, and Evil Stepmother, Charlize Theron nearly makes her own head explode as she goes over the top, pauses for a tea break while her servants construct a new top thousands of feet above the previous top, then sails over that top with feet to spare. She’s allowed a few moments of vulnerability as it’s suggested that she was cursed by her mother with beauty to use as a dangerous weapon against a misogynist world (so it’s Man’s fault she has to be beautiful! And, um, not her wicked mother’s…), but moments later she returns to her previous state of apoplectic fury. I’m willing to bet her on-set line-shouting was so vehement, it made the film crew cry. Those scenes alone are worth seeing if your constitution isn’t too delicate.
As Snow’s trusty sidekick, Chris Hemsworth is allowed to inflict more damage and use pointier weapons than in his previous films. Like Snow, he also has one good speech-ifying scene, in which he laments the needless passing of so many lives that have touched his. The rest of his scenes alternate between barking at Snow and pounding on her assailants. We don’t even know he’s approaching his own private Inigo Montoya moment until seconds before it’s upon us. It’s over in a heartbeat, with nary a whit of closure, an ounce of emotional satisfaction, or even a great kiss-off line.
In case those three stars aren’t enough to hold out attention, there are dwarves. Singing the complete opposite of “Hi-Ho” are a troupe of known quantities as varied as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, and Nick Frost. Dwarven CG technology has come a long way since the days of Gimli and company, but here it’s more of an eyebrow-raiser than a triumph of art. I just couldn’t get past them. I found myself staring at them in every scene as if they were hideously deformed. The jocular Frost very nearly fit, but I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the image of scary, glowering Ian McShane trapped and required to act melancholy while his re-proportioned head is attached to the body of Billy Barty.
I was so distracted, I hardly paid attention to the unnecessary love triangle that remained buried, bordering on subtextual, throughout the film’s second half, with neither closure nor even much resulting conflict. I also ignored several scenes of men in armor swinging their weapons through demons made of glass shards. Ground wars between anonymous participants don’t thrill me like they used to, even if magical CG is involved. Yes, it’s pretty. How encouraging it must be to aim for the low bar of “pretty”, all the better to celebrate when it’s quickly met.
It goes without saying that the sum of SWatH’s parts don’t hold a candle to the vastly different Once Upon a Time, though I do think Kristen Stewart could take li’l Mary Margaret in a fair fight, either in Storybrooke or in her original homeland. And yet, despite the flaws it evinces as it attempts to dazzle with medieval warfare and to rely upon the power of its stars without arming them sufficiently, I’m convinced it’s still better than Mirror, Mirror, sight unseen.
(I’d love to step out further and compare all of them unfavorably to Bill Willingham’s Fables, but I’m at least five volumes behind the present, having dramatically paused months ago at volume thirteen, The Great Fables Crossover. Eventually I’ll attempt to move forward on that.)