Thor: Ragnarok (2017): The Beginning of the End for Comic Book Adaptations?

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Directed by personal favorite Taika Waititi (who directed the brilliant 2016 film Hunt for the Wilderpeople) Thor:Ragnarok can be seen as the beginning of the end for Thor in a number of ways. By the film’s end, Thor resembles Odin and has truly become his father’s son.

The film is a direct lead in to the next “big” thing in the Marvel-verse and, somewhat disturbingly, seems to signal an unwanted change in the comic book adaptations that we have all grown to love.

Thor: Ragnarok is more action comedy than all out action with a touch of humor (a’la Joss Whedon’s first two offerings in the Marvel arena of Avengers and all those who sail her…). Chris Hemsworth proves that underneath all those muscles and good looks there beats the heart of a comedian. 

He is almost hysterically funny and while this speaks volumes of his talent as an actor, it serves to “humanize” the God of Thunder too much. Granted the character is somewhat unnerved when his hammer Mjölnir is smashed to bits by Hella and he has been shaken by the death of Odin.

However…

Thor screaming in terror just before meeting the Grand Master (a star turn by the delightfully eccentric Jeff Goldblum) and then begging for his long tresses to be uncut takes the “God”and makes him puny and human. (But funny.)

There are a number of comic moments in the film. They are well presented- the build up to meeting Goldblum’s character with the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” music playing in the background is simply delicious – but they detract from the verse as presented by Marvel and Disney thus far.

The films have always taken a moment to poke fun at the very premise of superheroes that suffer from an inflated sense of hubris and taking themselves far too seriously. “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” These moments come almost invariably from Tony Stark and although Thor does have a sense of comic timing “He’s adopted,” he is not overtly funny.

Thor: Ragnarok feels a little like Universal’s move in the late 1940’s to add comedy to their horror films. (Abbott and Costello Meet: Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman – “I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but… in a half-an-hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.”  “You and 20 million other guys!”) This move (to comedy) resulted in the death of the golden goose that make Universal a mint from horror and ultimately killed the genre.

The moment comedy becomes the main focus of a genre, even a “sub-genre” like comic book adaptations, the original intent is lost and the target audience drifts away. Studios have  learned, to their chagrin, that comedy in the superhero verse is a fragile thing.

Look at Suicide Squad where a clear conscious decision was made to “Marvel-ize” DC characters. The end result was a mess and lacked the darkness that sets the DC verse apart from Marvel. (There are exceptions of course, but overall, the heroes in DC-land are quite dark and tortured.)

Thor: Ragnarok is a great film though despite all the comedic moments. It looks great, there are cameos galore and Karl Urban is brilliant as the “baddie” that we know will redeem himself. (Kudos also go to the beautiful and oh so talented Tessa Thompson, she has, in one role, managed to fill the spot of new female action hero that Michelle Rodriguez first introduced “way back when.”)

Cate Blanchett kills it as the God of Death “Hela” and the only downside to this entire film is the death of almost all of Thor’s Asgardian cronies. Although Lady Sif is spared a grizzly death as she is oddly absent in this latest adventure in the Asgardian verse…

The interactions between Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor are brilliantly funny and the director’s playing of the gladiator “rock” creature is nearly sublime. All these moments add up to a film that is fun to watch and one that the audience clearly enjoyed. 

There was, however, too much comedy and it does feel as though this particular brand of franchise may be losing steam. Thor: Ragnarok is, despite the overused comedic element, a full 5 star film. There is enough action to satisfy and the FX are, as usual, spot on.

This is a film that deserves to be seen in the cinema and it is highly recommended that Marvel (and Thor) fans rush to catch it before the DVD and streaming stage. We enjoyed the film immensely although there was that sense of unease at the amount of comic circumstance that seems too much like Universal’s death blow to 1930’s and ’40’s horror. (“You and 20 million other guys!”)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017): Trying Too Hard (Review)

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-2-Main-CastDirected and written by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (which uses a whole slew of characters created by other folks from Marvel) is entertaining but it does seem to be trying a tad too hard to keep up with the first volume in the franchise.  The music from the mix tape is not as catchy as the first film’s and Baby Groot is used far too much when things get slow.

(In the instance of Groot, the character feels like a Marvel version of Lassie, or the kangaroo with a heart from Down Under, Skippy. “I am Groot” is now understood as a language all its own. Sort of like Skippy making kissing noises or Lassie barking. “What’s that Skippy/Lassie? Old Mrs. Wilson has fallen down the well?” Or…in the parlance of this setting, a myriad of meanings is derived from the twig’s single utterances.)

The film does entertain. It was always, however, going to have a hard time living up to the first GotG. In 2014 when the movie about lesser known Marvel  characters opened, one left the cinema in a state of joyous euphoria. In 2017, the film is slower, although somewhat grandiose in plot – Kurt Russell does play a seed implanting planet, after all – but it loses something betwixt the first film’s fun open.

Chris Pratt’s character is less precocious and Zoe Zaldana’s Gamora is less everything. Dave Bautista’s Drax is funnier but less literal and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket comes across much calmer than before. Michael Rooker stays pretty much the same as the blue skinned Yondu and Kurt Russell, as the omnipotent daddy figure has apparently had a lift and a tuck after working on Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight.

The plot, in volume two of Guardians of the Galaxy allows a family reunion between Peter Quill and his daddy; Ego. Rocket annoys the heck out of the Creel (a group of genetically engineered gold skinned people) by stealing some their batteries. This places a death sentence on all the guardians and they must flee/fight their former clients while  dealing with Ego.

While the film does appear to be trying too hard to please, it does still entertain. There were a number of laughs, a few teary moments and a clever bit of plot interweaving going on. Karen Gillan reprises her role as Nebula to fine effect and Elizabeth Debicki is splendid as Ayesha, the leader of the Creel.

Stan Lee appears on a rock talking to some Watchers, Sylvester Stallone has a cameo as does Michelle Yeo and Ving Rhames.  At the start of the film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 utilizes some “Tron-like” CG to rejuvenate Russell into a younger version of himself. This would have been more impressive had Russell not had his wrinkles ironed out to play the immortal Ego.

Essentially, Volume Two of the franchise is a bit of a rehash of the first film.  There is an overwhelming enemy hoard to deal with and a big bad that almost kills everyone. In terms of trying too hard, there are a slew of cameos in this second film.

The first movie had John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz, along with Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro to fill out the cameos. (Nathan Fillion voiced a character in the prison scenes and this go around Miley Cyrus was the celebrity VO artist.)

Perhaps the only real “sin” committed here was that in terms of originality and freshness, Volume Two was always going to have an uphill struggle after the magical open of “Volume One.” Peter Quill is less funny this time around and Drax laughs far too much.

Still…the film is great fun and while it drags just enough to notice things like how big and beautiful Zaldana’s hands are, compared to Pratt’s, and observing how intricate Gillan’s Nebula make up is, Gunn’s effort is still worthy of the big screen Marvel-verse.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a cracking ride, despite its overall tone of trying too hard the film earns a full 4.5 stars. It is still playing in a cinema near you and even with a few loud people in the audience, it is well worth the price of a ticket and the two hours and 16 minute length is acceptable.

(Note: Stick around for the end credits to completely play out. There are a number of teasers at the end.)

Agents of SHIELD: The Man Behind the Shield – LMD Invasion (Review)

MALLORY JANSEN, ZACH MCGOWAN, JASON O'MARA

The big payoff of Agents of SHIELD this week in “The Man Behind the Curtain” was four of the team being replaced with LMD replicas by Radcliffe, via Aida after a trio of agents go in and pull Mace out of The Superior’s clutches. There was a somewhat satisfactory fight sequence between the Russian baddie and Quake which ends, somewhat predictably, with the delusional chap losing.

The inhuman SHIELD agent does take it for granted that The Superior was killed with her final action which leaves the barely living Watch Dog leader to Aida’s devices. (On a sidenote, the actions of Aida, “Even filth has a purpose” in terms of very human delight at enacting revenge on the idiot leader was just brilliant.)

The Superior managed to prove that he had no real idea or understanding of his place in this verse. His statement to Quake before having his arse handed to him an a plate (that he had been training for this event) showed how little he really understood about the whole issue of inhumans.

Backstory wise, the Phil and May relationship was looked at in more detail with emphasis on their “almost romance.” That they were attracted to one another has always been a constant but it turns out that May’s “civilian number 14” (Andrew Garner) was the one who stopped them from consummating their attraction.

It explained much but the portrayal of Phil Coulson as a somewhat nebbish agent that May poked good natured fun at was, to a degree, misplaced. In the overall scheme of things, one feels that this may have been an attempt to make Coulson less capable whereas in the verse itself the head of SHIELD has always felt completely on top of everything.

(With the exception of his death by Loki’s hand earlier.  Even then, however, Coulson was pretty much unflappable. When he fires the weapon at Loki his throw-away remark of “so that’s what it does,” showed the real essence of Phil. Just as his last words to Nick  Fury revealed his true thought process.)

Regardless of the “manufactured” feel of the flashback, which managed to tie in The Superior with Coulson and May, it served to show just why Phil was so ready to accept the LMD version of Agent May.

Mace has, seemingly, been rescued just in the nick of time but, especially after Aida’s whispered comments to the barely alive Superior, he could have died and still had his consciousness imprinted onto the LMD that Fitzsimmons spot in the corridor at the show’s end.

The episode ends with LMD Phil reviving LMD May and saying that they have waited forever. Clearly things will be taking a downward turn before the season finale. So far it looks like the only two members of SHIELD on Phil’s team who are not Radcliffe replicants are the two scientists.

It will be interesting to see if The Superior becomes a more interesting character once he has been turned into a LMD. Up to this point he was all empty posturing, with Aida at least who could have kicked the Russian’s arse seven ways to Sunday with little effort, and pointless threats.

The big question at the end of this episode of Agents of SHIELD is whether  Mace actually survived his session with The Superior’s goons and just what purpose Radcliffe has in mind for the fallen Watch Dog leader.

On yet another sidenote, the whole Framework exercise at the start and later with Mack, was brilliant. While we see none of what transpires during Mack’s session the Oculus Rift line was priceless. The earlier sparring match between Phil and Daisy was also great to watch. One can only presume that many things will be sorted out in this Matrix type world in the series.

Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays on ABC. Tune in and see where the season heads next in this alternative LMD world.

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Agents of SHIELD: Hot Potato Soup – Raising Koenig (Review)

MING-NA WEN

At long last Agents of SHIELD in “Hot Potato Soup” bring back the Koenig’s and allows the agents to work out that May has been replaced with a Life Model Decoy, aka LMD. It took Simmons to remember that Radcliffe did a complete brain scan of May when she was affected by the Darkhold “ghosts” earlier in the season.

Last week, Phil revealed that he gave the book to Billy as he is good at making things disappear. This week sees three of the Koenig’s who were all “raised” with LT Koenig (played by the brilliant Artemis Pebdani) who rules them all.

(It is all too tempting to paraphrase Tolkien here: One Koenig to rule them all, One Koenig to find them, One Koenig to bring them all, and in SHIELD  bind them. Sorry…)

The Koenig storyline was interesting and the introduction of LT gave the show a strong, and powerful, female slant. Simmons, who works out the May issue, May the LMD, Aida, Quake and finally LT are all uber capable.

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LT Koenig ruling and binding them all…

On a sidenote: Pebdani must be super busy right now. Playing Linda on FOX’s Son of Zorn and nipping in quickly to play the “leader of the Koenig’s” on ABC. She manages to pull off both roles effortlessly and has become  a personal favorite.

This episode of Agents of SHIELD was impressive in terms of the LMD intricacy of plot and how each one empathizes with their original host. May, commiserating with Coulson while simultaneously trying to shoot him, and Radcliffe’s baiting of Fitz where the LMD tries to pull a Holden on him were highlights of the season.

The Koenig’s manage to help out to a degree but then blow it by giving the Darkhold to the wrong person. By the end of the episode the book has been lost, May is still MIA and The Superior believes, mistakenly, that Phil Coulson is behind all the issues in the Marvel-verse.

“Hot Potato Soup” had its fair share of laughs. The whole “who took my puppy” gag which prefaced Radcliffe’s realization that the Koenig they had in custody was the wrong one was truly funny.

Patton Oswalt killed it in this episode. Playing three versions of his character effortlessly and making each one funny, tough and “special.” The Quake crush was hysterical and it was fun to see Oswalt raising a little Koenig.

CHLOE BENNET
Agent Quake

(Sidenote: Loved the opening scene in the arcade and the self balancing hoverboards. The sequence then turning into a brief shoot em up with the Russian baddies being confused about their target was the perfect followup.)

The May LMD storyline actually had us feeling sad for the fake May and the LMD Radcliffe was revealing, unlike’s Agent May’s “clone,” it knew it was not the “real deal.” This storyline just gets better and better. The fake Holden even knows about Fitz’s problems with daddy…

Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays on ABC.

CAST:

Guest starring Patton Oswalt as Sam/Billy/Thurston Koenig, Artemis Pebdani as LT Koenig, John Pyper-Ferguson as Terence Shockley and Zach McGowan as The Superior.

Agents of SHIELD: Wake Up – Melinda May (Review)

MALLORY JANSEN

Agents of SHIELD “Wake Up” answers a few questions while posing at least one more.  Will the Melinda May LMD (Life Model Decoy) somehow try to rescue the real Agent May? There is one more question, though, that begs answering…How long has Talbot been in Senator Nadeen’s camp and is he the other LMD that Radcliffe refers to?

The LMD storyline is very good. The camera work on the show has been concreting on odd angle closeups of the main players. Mallory Jansen as Aida has gone from being coldly pleasing to fairly sinister with those almost extreme zoom shots of her eyes looking pretty darned scary.

Kudos are in order for the fight scenes between May and Aida. The long running fight between the android and the agent were convincing and exciting to watch. Well done.

On top of the keeping May calm via those programmed fights with her captor, in her mind,  (which, incidentally, the agent keeps getting better at…) there was the Fitzsimmons reveal.

In the previous episode Fitz is seen talking to the Aida head and, apparently, checking the system out after being told to leave it alone. This week, Simmons catches Fitz out and accuses him of being obsessed with the robot.

She is wrong. Fitz is obsessed but with investigating his “friend” Radcliffe. He has suspected the not-so good doctor for some time. The end result of his work is that Holden is arrested and placed in holding. (See what we did there?)

It is interesting to note that in this episode, like the previous one, agents are shown acting oddly. This keeps the viewer guessing about just who the other LMD actually is. Mack and Yo-Yo, with their moment being spoiled by his rushing off and not participating in the mission.

Fitz with his apparent preoccupation with Aida’s severed head, Daisy with her odd reactions to things and so on. Even Phil is not acting “normally.” The big surprise, although not really as Talbot has always been a treacherous character, was the general being a lapdog to Ellen Nadeer, the woman who “killed” her own brother.

It does seem rather odd that Coulson missed this one. But then the operational head of SHIELD has been acting odd lately. His fixation on Melinda May and her cultivation of same, is also out of character. The two have always been close, but this close?

Another reveal had to do with May getting the nickname of “The cavalry.” She apparently rescued a young Daisy from her mother…

Fitz arresting Radcliffe and being all bad-arsed about it was brilliant. Apparently the addition of all that bearded scruff has allowed Leo to become a tougher, and rougher, agent.

Hopefully, the LMD May will help rescue the real one and Talbot will turn out to be another android clone. After all, the Holden that Fitz shot was yet another LMD. It seems that Radcliffe has been a very busy little villain…

Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays on ABC.

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