Thor: Ragnarok Is Three Times The Fun

For the third film in a trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok is the liveliest one of the bunch. Frankly, after the dire and listless second film Thor: The Dark World, this third Thor film is a spectacular shot in the arm for the God of Thunder’s films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Loki and Thor

Thor: Ragnarok quickly picks up where the second film left us, with Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) commanding the throne of otherworldly Asgard under the guise of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) quickly deduces what Loki is up to and the two find out the consequences of Loki’s actions. In Odin’s absence, the Nine Realms that he ruled over have slipped into anarchy. This also means that Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who was imprisoned by Odin to escape and wreck havoc on Asgard. Before Thor could stop her, he is accidentally transported to the planet Sakaar, taken captive and forced to fight in gladiator-type games held by the planet’s ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). As we all saw in the trailers, Thor’s opponent is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who was last seen going into self exile in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thor must find a way to stay alive, escape his enslavement and convince the Hulk to join him in saving Asgard from Hela.

thor vs hulk

Now reading the above makes you think this will be another serious-minded Thor film with high stakes and Shakespearean undertones. But that isn’t the case with Thor: Ragnarok. The somber approach worked in the first Thor film thanks to the skillful hands of Kenneth Branagh, who is familiar with Shakespearean drama and brought that to Thor. But this time, Thor: Ragnarok’s director Taika Waititi relied on his comedic tastes and background for the film. In doing so, he brought a welcome change of pace and mood this time around as this film is more of a comedy. This approach mostly works though I have to admit there are times there are just a tad too many jokes and there are moments that should’ve had more weight but come off as too light. It’s clear that Marvel Studios wanted to repeat the look and formula that worked for Guardians of the Galaxy and this is very evident in the scenes taking place on Sakaar. The Guardians of the Galaxy films perfectly balanced its comedic tone with serious drama but Thor: Ragnarok comes up a bit short in keeping that balance.

Hela (1)

Nevertheless, the third Thor film is a fun blast with stunning set pieces and special effects that buttress its lighter tone. Credit for that does not just go to Waititi, but the film’s stars starting with Chris Hemsworth. In other films, Hemsworth has shown that he has quite a comedic gift and he gets to display that in this film. Thor seems less pompous and more laid back in his third outing. It’s almost as if he has thrust off his original regal persona and taken on an ability to crack a joke. This does not mean he takes things lightly. Hemsworth and the director knew which moments to hold back the jokes  and appropriately react to more serious moments. Continue reading

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Robocop: Celebrating The Cyber Masterpiece

Robocop poster

On August 1987, genre film fans received a bonafide treat when the film Robocop made its debut. To say that the film was a thrilling surprise would be an understatement on the league of the title character’s stoic line delivery. Part of the reason for the enthusiastic reaction to Robocop is that August is usually a dumping ground for non-starter films that no one remembers weeks after they debut. Robocop bucked that trend with its no-holds-barred action, over-the-top violence and wry social commentary.

Serving The Public Trust

Robocop starred Peter Weller as Murphy a beat cop in a futuristic and crumbling Detroit who is viciously gunned down. Left for dead, and with a ruined body, Murphy is resurrected into the mechanical body of Robocop, a prototype robotic constable. The cyborg police officer is touted as the crown jewel of Omni Consumer Product’s (OCP) media blitz to promote a revamped Detroit to be renamed Delta City. Robocop makes an immediate impact in the public consciousness as he patrolled the dangerous streets in his sleek chrome body that was designed by Rob Bottin. Buttressed by Basil Poledouris’ pounding and bombastic score, Robocop efficiently curbs crime thanks to advanced cybernetic skills.

morton and robocop

However, beneath the chrome armor Murphy’s mind and humanity, which was supposedly wiped clean during his transformation, starts to re-emerge. At the same time, the film follows the ruthless corporate antics of Robocop’s overlords who care little for their community. Eventually, Murphy’s emerging morality clashes with his handlers, who are in league with the local crime lords. In this case, Robocop’s arch rival Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), who looks like a typical suburban father but has a severe aptitude for violence that rivals a favela gang leader. Even though these villains did not have any superpowers, their cunning and willingness to go the extra mile were quite a match for Robocop.

Robocop and Boddicker

The film made quite a splash that late summer and for good reason. Thanks to Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, Robocop excelled in macabre humor and biting action scenes. Verhoeven and the other filmmakers including producer Jon Davision, and screenwriters Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, were clever enough to inject a balance of pathos for Murphy’s plight and inspired social observations.

Dystopian Corporate Culture

Robocop’s futuristic America is one where the country is slowly decaying as common decency gives way to empty consumerism. An insensitive corporate culture has taken hold on society as the top business leaders claw each other to get to the top while the rest of community suffers from their decisions. The main corporate scumbags in the film were Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) and his boss Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), and both men exemplified the callous, slimy and two-faced negative image of corporate leaders. Seeing Morton’s conniving machinations and Jones’ ruthless actions were fascinating to watch and reflected the narcissistic business-oriented culture of the ‘80s.

Jones and ed209

Sadly, the film’s commentary echoes the fraying moral fabric of today’s society and illustrates how prophetic Robocop was in predicting our future. Of course, violent crime is not as prevalent as in that film, but many of the other dystopian aspects presented in that film seem just around the corner for us, if not here already.

The level of violence shown in the film is still quite shocking today given the way Verhoeven seems to revel in showing us how vicious humanity can be. What helped make the level of violence so intense and shocking was the superb makeup work by Bottin.

First Modern Superhero

In many ways, Robocop can be considered a prototype for modern superhero films. The film was inspired by The Six Million Dollar Man and the more adult-oriented comic books that appeared in the 1980s. Groundbreaking comic book writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller were making a splash with their graphic comic book stories where the heroes were more than willing to use extreme violence to fight crime. Robocop employs similar means, using all of his weapons and high-tech tools at his disposal. A good example of this in the film is where a thug took a woman and used her as a shield against Robocop. The cyber cop then used his advanced marksman skills to castrate the bad guy through the woman’s dress with a perfect shot that left her unharmed.

But Robocop didn’t just have street punks to fight against. His greatest enemies were his corporate handlers who stripped Murphy of his humanity and did not have the public’s best interest at heart. OCP only saw Murphy not just as an asset but as a quick fix. The company wanted to replace Detroit’s human police force with a robotic one they could control. Their first attempt, the lumbering ED-209, proved to be a failure and so the Robocop program was quickly brought online as a stopgap measure. Even though Robocop was a public success, he was distrusted by many human police officers who correctly saw him as a threat to their livelihood. The one exception was his partner Lewis (Nancy Allen), who eventually deduces Robocop’s original identity and helped him recover his humanity. Although ED-209 was considered a failure, due to software issues, the robotic sentinel was still a credible threat to Robocop. ED-209 was quite popular with fans and the stop-motion effects by Phil Tippet used to bring him to life was one of the last times the effect was used in a major film.

Violent Laughs

ED-209’s failed debut when he mistakenly kills a hapless OCP executive was one of the film’s funniest and macabre moments and illustrated how Verhoeven reveled in directing over-the-top violent scenes that brought out guilty laughs. Keep in mind, that the executive’s death scene was actually edited from a more violent version where the robot repeatedly fired on the corpse, which sprayed blood all over the boardroom. Then there were the clever commercials that were inserted in between scenes, which were bursting with satire. Fans of the film still love the line from some ads “I’d buy that for a dollar!” which was shouted from a john buying the services of prostitutes.

 

Given all the film’s merits, what made Robocop a masterpiece that still resonates thirty years later was its core conflict of individuality versus an overbearing corporate culture. We empathized with Murphy’s dilemma as his humanity shone through all the hardware covering up what remained of his physical body. It was also a metaphor for the capacity of our human spirit to rise above encroaching technology.

José Soto

 

 

The Defenders Come Together At Last

marvel-defenders-tv-show-images

The Marvel Studios mini-series event The Defenders just premiered on Netflix and is the culmination of the past four Netflix/Marvel superhero streaming shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The Defenders finally brings the main leads from those shows together at last like in The Avengers, which what fans have been waiting for ever since the superhero shows were announced years ago. Needless to say this is a big deal for fans of the shows for obvious reasons.

Running only eight episodes, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist along with the supporting actors from their respective shows and Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, the show’s main villain. The Defenders does not take long to get into the action and meat of the story. It starts with all four heroes separately running afoul of the mysterious Alexandra and by the third episode they all meet in the heat of battle and the story just moves along from there. As expected with these Marvel Comics stories, the four don’t exactly get along at first, which is best shown with Rand actually hurting the invulnerable Cage with his Iron Fist. But all ends well as they put aside their differences to face their mutual foes.

In their separate investigations, they learn  that the shadowy criminal organization, The Hand, who have appeared in Daredevil and Iron Fist, are making an ominous move in New York City. In a nutshell without giving too much away, the leaders of the Hand, which includes Alexandra, are carrying out an operation that will wind up destroying the city and it’s up to our heroes to stop them.

alexandra and gao

Overall, The Defenders is an enjoyable and brisk-moving mini-series that should delight fans and casual viewers. All the actors bring their A game to the show with the standouts being Cox and his own show’s cast. Fans of the shows should be pleased that all the characters are faithfully presented. Matt Murdock carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jessica Jones drinks whenever she can, Luke Cage stands around and gets shot at without any injury and Danny Rand finds any opportunity to say “I am the Immortal Iron Fist!”

Despite all the complaints about Jones and his show, his character here is much better portrayed and less insufferable. Fortunately, Jones proves that he can bring something to the role and Iron Fist’s appearance here presents the case that the faults with the Iron Fist TV show were due to those showrunners, not the character or actor. For example, Jones seems more at ease during his fight scenes, a critical flaw with Iron Fist, and on the whole, the fight choreography was crisp and full of power. The standout fight scene was probably in the third episode when the four Defenders finally all meet each other, but the others spread out in the other episodes are fun to watch and grab your attention, though at times they are too dark and it is clear that some of the actors seem more natural at fighting than others. That criticism does not apply to Jones, believe it or not.

defenders hall fight

The villains are another quibble with The Defenders. Unlike The Avengers which had the breakout villain, Loki, the villains in this show are not particularly compelling. Basically, they are just a bunch of super ninjas and though that is appropriate for the power levels of the Defenders, they could have been more threatening or had more clear motives. Another gripe about the show and the villains has to do with the fact that the show takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  It is not the fault of the show, but it is annoying that with the severity of the threat to the city, no one has the notion to try to contact the Avengers or even Dr. Strange given the supernatural aspect of the Hand. We don’t even see the Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, whereas in Spider-Man: Homecoming that film took every opportunity to show the tower whenever there was a shot of the city. Then there is the reaction of some of the characters to what is going on; basically they have a hard time believing in the Hand and their threat, and even the nature of the leads’ powers. This goes for especially Luke Cage, who cannot accept that Danny Rand spent time in another realm and became a mystical warrior. That is a strange reaction for an inhabitant of the MCU that has seen open alien invasions and big league superhuman battles. Let’s not forget that Cage himself has superhuman powers. For these reasons it is hard to accept that The Defenders takes place in the MCU. But that is something that fans have to ignore and just go with the story.

daredevil and defenders

What ultimately makes The Defenders work is the camaraderie between the leads and seeing them all together. Thankfully, after taking time to introduce them individually in the first episode with interesting cinematography that presents each hero with a different color scheme, the show quickly has them teaming up and getting to the meat of the story. Their interactions were very amusing and some of the show’s best moments. They all had good chemistry and complemented each other well to the point we were sold that they came to care about one another. While The Defenders may not have the same thrilling impact and joy of The Avengers, it is quite enjoyable in its own right and helps set a path forward for the future of these grounded heroes.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

Comic-Con 2017 Movie & TV Highlights

San Diego is host once again to Comic-Con and after a slow couple of days, interest exploded into unbridled passion today with the reveal of several high profile trailers and announcements. By no means does this mean that the news coming out of Comic-Con before today wasn’t anything to laugh off, it’s just everyone was waiting for the big guns today.

ben-affleck-as-batmanBefore today’s revelations, the biggest news coming out of the comic book/genre convention could have been considered negative. First, was the rumor that Ben Affleck was stepping away from the role of Batman in the DCEU. That was disturbing to the fledgling cinematic universe since his character was supposed to be the lynchpin tying the DCEU films together. It was kind of ironic because when he was first announced as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, his casting was widely derided among fans but since the release of that film, many have come around to embrace his portrayal as an older and embittered Batman. In fact, many have claimed that Affleck has been the best actor to play the legendary superhero to date. Today, the actor dispelled the gossip and stated his intention of remaining in the role. Whether that holds up as filming starts with The Batman remains to be seen, but hopefully it will be true.

Next was the unveiling of the second trailer for Marvel’s upcoming TV show Inhumans. Overall, it was a better looking trailer compared to the first bland teaser, but what ruined it was the cheap looking CG used to animate Medusa’s hair, something that everyone was waiting for and it was a disappointment. With the IMAX pilot coming in less than two months it is hard to see how the effects will improve significantly. The other disheartening news was that 20th Century Fox is apparently not letting go of the Fantastic Four film rights with the announcement that a Doctor Doom film is in development. If this were to happen, the rights will stay with the studio instead of going back to Marvel Entertainment since Marvel’s premier supervillain is so closely associated with the Fantastic Four. The fact that the film is being developed by the showrunner of Legion is a bittersweet salve for fans hoping and desperately wishing that Marvel Studios would get back the rights to the superhero team given Fox’s abysmal record with their versions of the Fantastic Four.

Today, the big guns were brought to bear as trailers after trailers were released to hungry fans attending the crowded convention or scouring the Internet. In many ways, Warner Bros. and DC Studios won the day with the universal acclaim received for the third trailer for this year’s Justice League. Building on the success of this summer’s Wonder Woman, the new trailer opens with the Amazonian princess doing her thing then quickly cuts to showcase the other members of the team and a tantalizing tease of the film’s villain Steppenwolf. The Flash stole the trailer with his awkward and funny demeanor that called to mind Spider-Man. Sadly, although he was teased, there still isn’t any sign of Superman. Come on DC throw us a bone!

Speaking of Superman’s absence, DC Studios announced their updated slate of films and a sequel to Man of Steel was not on the roster, which is disappointing. However, some of the announcements made up for it with Green Lantern Corps, Justice League Dark, Batgirl, Wonder Woman 2, Shazam, Aquaman (this one is no-brainer given that it’s currently filming and footage was shown tonight), Suicide Squad 2, The Batman and The Flash: Flashpoint. The last film sounds very exciting since it can be the method used to reboot the DCEU if needed, and on the other hand could explain the recasting of Batman if that were to happen.

Marvel Studios, like DC Studios, had a huge presentation with stunning announcements and teases of their upcoming films. We got a glimpse of concept art for Captain Marvel and sweetening that presentation was the news that Captain Marvel will be set in the ’90s and have her fighting the Skrulls, one of the core enemies of the Fantastic Four. We also learned that Lawrence Fishburne and Michelle Pfeiffer are joining the cast of Ant-Man and the Wasp as Bill Foster/Black Goliath and Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp.

The highlights for Marvel Studios’ presentation were the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. While the visually stunning and trippy Thor: Ragnarok trailer was released online, the ones for the latter two films so far are absent. This has been super frustrating for fans online since we have all been teased for a week about how jaw-dropping the footage is in Avengers: Infinity War. It was first shown in the ultra-exclusive D23 expo last week and everyone was hoping to see it this weekend. For some reason, probably for marketing, Marvel has refused to drop the trailer and most of us have to contend with leaked grainy footage. Our best hope is that enough leaks forces Marvel to release the trailer like DC did with Suicide Squad two years ago. But seriously, Marvel stop the tease, you could have topped DC tonight but you let that victory slip from your fingers!

Other trailer highlights include these nuggets:

Stranger Things 2! With our favorite ’80s geeks cosplaying the Ghostbusters as they come upon another sci-fi mystery!

Defenders, which has a kick ass trailer featuring a grounded and gritty version of the Avengers and Justice League!

A new trailer for Star Trek: Discovery, looks stunning though the Klingons seem weak compared to the classic space viking look!

But the most exciting trailer for the day was the first teaser for Steven Spielberg’s next sci-fi epic, Ready Player One. This trailer about a futuristic video game player is so loaded with genre Easter eggs, it warrants multiple viewings! Who knows how jammed the final film will be? But the awesomeness of this trailer will make anyone want to go out and read the book that inspired Ready Player One. Those shots of the Iron Giant and the DeLorean from Back to the Future sold it!

That does it for this year, sure there is one more day left of Comic-Con 2017, but no major announcements are expected, but you never know. Maybe first looks of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Predator, or Avengers: Infinity War will finally be unveiled to the entire world. Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates, and here, of course!

The Spider-Man Movie Costumes Ranked

Spider-Man has one of the most recognizable and iconic superhero uniforms in comic books. Yet, bored artists have seemed fit to tinker with the design and this tendency has spread to the costume department of the Spider-Man films. It seems as if they need to impart their own take on his duds and no matter how hard they try it’s hard to get away from the timeless red-and-blue suit with the bug-shaped lenses and webbing motif.

Here is how they rank up and what is interesting to note is that there isn’t a stinker in the wardrobe. It all boils down to personal taste in fashion!

black Spiderman suit

7. The Black Suit (Spider-Man 3): This Spider-Man costume symbolized how Spider-Man 3 went so wrong. The black-and-white suit worn by Spidey in the comic books is almost as popular as the original and created a sensation when it premiered in the ‘80s. What made it so unique was its simplistic and striking design. All the costumers had to do was copy that look, instead they took the lazy way out by painting the regular suit black. So boring!

6. The Amazing Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man): This is not a bad Spider-Man costume per se, it’s just that the others before and since have been better. Known for its yellow and narrower lenses, elongated spider symbol on the chest and back, and spandex material, this Spider-Man costume complemented actor Andrew Garfield’s lean build. Its spandex origin made the suit seem more like a sports uniform.

5. The Homemade Suits (Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Spider-Man: Homecoming): Before donning the official Spider-Man costume and becoming a full-fledged superhero, Peter Parker dipped his toes into the vigilante/wrestler field with these quickly put-together rags that were amateurish. The funny thing is that these homemade suits are rather well done, concealed his identity and were functional. It’s hard to decide which is the best, so they’re all lumped here.

Iron Spider-Suit

4. Spider-Man Mark II/Iron Spider Suit (Spider-Man: Homecoming): Briefly seen at the end of the film, this would have been an upgrade of the first suit given to Peter by Tony Stark. Inspired by the newer Spider-Man costumes in the comic books, the uniform looks more like a suit of armor. Too bad Parker did not try it out but there’s a nagging feeling we haven’t seen the last of it. Don’t be surprised if he winds up wearing it in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

spider-man 2

3. Spider-Man (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3): This was the very first Spider-Man outfit for the films and it had to make its mark on the big screen, while being faithful to the comic books.  Most fans breathed a sigh of relief when actor Tobey Maguire first donned the suit because its look captured the essence of Spidey. The costume only differs from the classic uniform with its raised and silverish webbing pattern and the longer spider symbol.

Spiderman Homecoming in truck

 

2. Spider-Man Mark I (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Captain America: Civil War): This high-tech uniform shocked and delighted fans when Spider-Man made his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War. It keeps the basic red-and-blue design, but with smaller spider symbols and looks more stylish.  In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we learned that the suit was jammed with many technical goodies like spider drones that made it seem more like a scaled-down Iron Man suit. It’s a great suit, but it does not fit with Spidey’s down-to-earth roots.

1. The Amazing Spider-Man, Version 2 (The Amazing Spider-Man 2): As flawed as that film was, one thing that the filmmakers got right was the look of Spider-Man’s uniform. It was a nearly perfect replica of the costume from the comic books with a nod to Todd MacFarlane’s Spider-Man thanks to its larger lenses. Not only was it faithful to the classic Spider-Man costume, but it looked sensational on the big screen. Too bad, we probably won’t see it again.

Lewis T. Grove