Anthony Hopkins

Thor: Ragnarok

I don’t profess to be a comic book purist or Marvel aficionado, instead I take each movie at face value. I compare within the genre, and examine each film within the context of superhero film history. I’m not familiar enough with the source material to assess authenticity from that perspective; I’ll leave that critique to others. However, as we march toward Marvel’s epic culmination Infinity War, I thought it was the perfect time to round out the Marvel family. Thor: Ragnarok, the third installment in the series, was a fun ride, and significantly better than its predecessor.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Ghostbusters) has been a rather likeable hero, but besides being obvious eye candy, he is also a rather formidable opponent for most foes. When we find him in Thor: Ragnarok, his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, Transformers: The Last Knight) has been exiled by Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island). The destruction of his home planet Asgard is imminent, as Ragnarok looms. Ragnarok is a kooky word describing the destruction of the 9 realms, including Asgard. Enter Hela (Cate Blanchett, Carol), Odin’s first born and elder sister to Thor and Loki. Blanchett smolders as the deliciously evil Goddess of Death, a nemesis the likes of which Thor hasn’t seen. In a stunning display of power, she crumbles Thor’s mighty hammer, gleefully letting it sift through her fingers like sand.

Loki and Thor don’t have much of a fraternal bond, with Thor justifiably wary of his sibling, given Loki’s history of betrayal. As they devise a plan to thwart Hela and save their home planet, they face assorted obstacles along the way, including a stay at the circus-like home of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day: Resurgence), where he bumps into an old friend. Thor also finds an unlikely ally in Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Creed), so nicknamed in honor of the Asgardian defenders from whom she descends. With the help of new friends such as Valkyrie and old ones like Heimdall (Idris Elba, The Mountain Between Us), Thor treks back to Asgard to face Hela in a showdown to save his home planet.

The word “Ragnarok” sounds silly to me, and the previous Thor movie left much to be desired. As a result, I wasn’t particularly enthused about this latest installment – but I stand corrected. Writer/director Taika Waititi infused the movie with the perfect blend of action and humor. I hate corny, forced laughs and I’ve found it to be a common cinematic trick, in what I suspect is an attempt to appeal to kids. Ragnarok refrained from that, relying instead on Hemsworth’s natural charm and comedic timing. Thor is like the hot, cool guy who is surprisingly down to earth and doesn’t take himself too seriously. In other words, he’s perfect. Hemsworth displayed good chemistry with Tessa Thompson, and the actress was an effective foil and compliment to his character. Anthony Hopkins elevates anything he’s in (even if you think it’s beneath the Oscar winner), and Cate Blanchett is incomparable. She is becoming one of my favorite actresses, and her work here evinces an adaptable versatility. This was just a fun, well-executed movie.

Grade: A


Red 2

The sequel is a cinematic curiosity.  A good sequel is a logical and relevant continuation of the original movie.  It may flesh out previously established characters or begin a new chapter in the series or franchise.  I think The Godfather II is the best sequel ever made, because it provided a rich backstory while juxtaposing one storyline with another.   I don’t expect the average sequel to come anywhere close to that lofty standard, especially in this age of Hollywood machinery.  Most sequels nowadays are made simply because the studio wants to capitalize off the success of the original movie with a lucrative follow up.  I’m sure that’s what the makers of Red 2 were thinking, but with a cast this impressive – you almost can’t go wrong.

Bruce Willis (Looper) returns as Frank, a retired CIA operative trying to live a quiet life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary Louise Parker, Weeds).  His peacefulness is short-lived when an old friend and former colleague Marvin (John Malkovich, Transformers: Dark of the Moon), approaches him urgently.  Marvin thinks people are after him and that he and Frank should get out of Dodge, with Sarah in tow.  Sarah is game for a little excitement, but Frank thinks Marvin is being paranoid and brushes him off.  When Marvin turns up dead shortly after, things take an interesting turn.  It turns out the two are suspected of being involved in an old covert mission called “Nightshade,” and some very dangerous people are upset about that supposed involvement.  Frank is taken into custody after Marvin’s funeral, where agents detain and interrogate him.  Inexplicably, another operative breaks into the facility to extract him, killing any agent that gets in his way.

It turns out that Marvin is alive after all, and he and Frank are now on the run.  Nightshade has a lot of people up in arms, and there is a hit out on the pair.  They must find out who’s trying to kill them and why, before it’s too late.  Helen Mirren (Hitchock) returns as Victoria, and she too has been approached to eliminate Frank and Marvin.  Fortunately, her loyalty is true and she forewarns her old friends that the heat is on.  Their escapades take them to Europe, where Frank is reunited with an old flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Side Effects), much to Sarah’s chagrin.  Also joining the fray is Han (Byung-hun Lee, GI Joe: Retaliation) another contracted assassin with an impressive skillset – but what side is he really on?

I’ve tried not to reveal too much about the plot, but any further exposition is inconsequential to this review.  The movie basically consists of a lot of spy vs. spy shenanigans, and it’s a fun ride.  Although the plot was very different, Red 2 reminded me of Mr. & Mrs. Smith with its hijinks and effective blend of action and comedy.  John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are veteran Oscar winning thespians, and it’s good to see them assembled in a light-hearted movie such as this.  Bruce Willis is an ageless wonder, as I’ve stated before.  Most of the cast is eligible for an AARP card, and it’s pretty entertaining to see the old guard still kicking ass.  This made for an enjoyable day at the movies.  Grade: B+