Thor: Ragnarok

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins

Director: Taika Waititi

Writers: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost


Sometimes I find it hard to believe that just a couple of years ago I was starting to feel fatigued by the abundance of superheroes in cinema. When Age of Ultron came out, it felt like the MCU was beginning to run out of steam and that this would be the beginning of the superhero genre’s decline. But then Civil War happened. And then Deadpool. And then Wonder Woman. And then Logan. The resurgence of superhero movies over the last two years has been astonishing. I keep telling myself with each new MCU release to remain critical and to not get swept away with the hype, but with their subsequent releases of Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy II, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, they’ve been on a hot streak that shows no sign of slowing down. Now with Thor: Ragnarok they’ve knocked it out of the park once again and my inner twelve-year-old self is doing cartwheels and screaming with delight.

After an unsuccessful search for the Infinity Stones, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard upon learning that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is no longer there. There he finds his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) impersonating their father and orders him to reveal where he is hidden. They find Odin on Earth where they learn that he is dying and that his passing will allow his firstborn child Hela (Cate Blanchett) to escape from the prison where he has held her for millennia. Hela emerges upon Odin’s death, destroys Thor’s hammer, dispatches of her brothers and makes her way to Asgard to begin her conquest. Thor winds up on the planet Sakaar where he is captured by the bounty hunter Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) and becomes a prisoner of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). He is made to fight as a gladiator and is reunited in the arena with his good friend Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). However Asgard and its people, under the care of Heimdall (Idris Elba), remain in danger and so Thor makes it his duty to assemble a team and defeat Hela.

Even though Thor has always been one of the Marvel franchise’s most enjoyable heroes and Loki remains the undisputed champion of the MCU villain hierarchy, neither of the Thor movies have been particularly great. It always bothered me that Marvel had this wondrous mythological-fantasy universe at its disposal and yet insisted on moving the action to Earth with its familiar settings and (relative) realism and Jane Fosters. There is none of that here. Ragnarok fully embraces its realm of sci-fi/fantasy and is never afraid to go too big or too crazy. The movie draws its inspiration from the campy fantasies and space operas of the 70s and 80s like Logan’s Run and Flash Gordon and creates what truly feels like a comic-book universe. The costumes, sets and scenery are extravagant and cartoonish, the retro-techno music perfectly complements this disco neon-lit pop art sci-fi tone they’re going for, and the colours are so saturated you’d swear you were on a Magical Mystery Tour with the Beatles. Sure, the CGI landscapes, creatures, and battles don’t look at all real, but man do they look great.

This movie takes on a much more comedic tone than the non-Ant-Man Marvel movies are used to, thus requiring Hemsworth to put his comedy chops to the test, and he seriously delivers. As the macho, charming, ridiculously handsome god of thunder Hemsworth has always been fun and likeable but here he reaches new heights and makes Thor seem more human than ever before, whether he’s thoughtfully reflecting on his responsibility to his people that he has thus far neglected or he’s bumbling around like a goofball. Hiddleston is as good as ever as the devilish trickster Loki whose leanings between good and evil are forever going back and forth minute by minute, as is Ruffalo who shines in his dual roles as the exasperated Banner and the reckless Hulk. (In an odd twist akin to Deadpool being the best of all the X-Men movies (before Logan anyway) Thor has provided us with the best Hulk movie to date). Thompson holds her own as the hard-boiled Valkyrie admirably, Goldblum with his idiosyncratic tics and unique line deliveries is wonderfully employed, and Blanchett… what can I even say about her? Some actors can chew scenery; Blanchett devours entire sets and looks fabulous doing it.

This is the Thor movie I’ve been waiting for and it was well worth the wait. It was funny, exciting, colourful and utterly rewatchable. The dramatic moments might not have been particularly deep and parts of the plot might have been a little predictable, especially in the third act, but that’s okay. Sometimes all a great movie needs to be is great fun. Thor: Ragnarok is so much fun to watch that even the jokes I had already seen several times in the trailer, like Thor’s reaction when he meets Hulk in the arena (“I know him! He’s a friend from work!”), still got a laugh out of me because Hemsworth is just that good. The last couple of years have been an interesting time for superhero cinema and have seen some real gamechangers to the genre. Thor: Ragnarok is not one of those gamechangers, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, all you need is an awesome protagonist battling a fire demon while ‘The Immigrant Song’ by Led Zeppelin plays. This movie has that, and then some.

★★★★★

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Creed

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew

Director: Ryan Coogler

Writers: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington


Rocky is the classic underdog story. The reason it has struck a chord with so many viewers and has remained an American classic is because of what Rocky’s journey represents, both for himself and for the audience. The story of a bum who never thought he’d amount to anything being given a shot at the world title appeals to the ideal of a ‘nobody’ becoming a ‘somebody’ through hard work, endurance and heart. In many ways Rocky is the story of the American Dream. One of the challenges facing Creed is that it has to somehow tell that same story without repeating it. It has to be true to the spirit of the original film while still telling its own story in order to truly come into itself as a reboot of an iconic classic. Under Coogler’s direction Creed succeeds admirably both as a sequel and as its own movie and is more than a worthy successor to the Rocky franchise.

Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitamite son of the late Apollo Creed, the heavyweight world champion, who is adopted and raised by Apollo’s wife Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). Growing up in the shadow of his father Adonis dreams of becoming a great fighter as well but wants to do so in his own name. Having grown up in a wealthy background though, nobody will give him the chance he needs because he’s never known what it’s like to fight out of necessity. Adonis travels to Philadelphia in order to track down his father’s former opponent and good friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) who is now retired and managing a restaurant named after his late wife. He also meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician who also dreams of making a name for herself. When Rocky reluctantly agrees to take him under his wing, a life-changing opportunity is presented to them that could be the making or the unmaking of Adonis Creed.

What this film cleverly does through Adonis’ story is provide an underdog’s journey that is not a repeat of Rocky’s but is instead a parallel. Rocky was a poor, modest fighter who resigned himself to a life of unrealised dreams and potential until he was given an opportunity to show everyone what he could really do. Adonis has grown up with all the advantages that Rocky never had and is as aimless as Rocky was. Nobody will give him the chance to prove himself because nobody believes that he has what it takes. Adonis has to fight in order to prove that he isn’t what anyone else says he is and that the only person who can define him is himself. This is a battle that he has to fight both on and off the ring as he sets out to prove himself to the world. What makes this film work is that, much like how Adonis does not try to live off his father’s name, this film doesn’t try to live off Rocky’s name. It tries to tell its own story with its own character in its own way while still honouring its roots. Creed is a Rocky film in spirit but in everything else it is a Creed movie.

Michael B. Jordan is unstoppable in this film. The determination and grit he shows as Adonis is astonishing. We see that he admires the father that he never knew and tries to emulate him in his journey to become a fighter. He doesn’t want the Creed name to be what gets him there though, so this is something he has to accomplish as himself. Perhaps this because he doesn’t want his name to be the only part of him that people will ever see or maybe it’s because he feels that he has to earn the Creed name before he can wear it. All he knows is that fighting is what he has to do and no one is going to tell him otherwise. Stallone delivers a career best performance in his return as a retired Rocky Balboa. He plays him as a man who has truly lived a fighter’s life. He has known happiness and pain, love and loss, and success and failure, and he looks back at it all now without regret. When Adonis comes into his life and asks him to be his mentor, that’s when Rocky decides that perhaps he’s got one more fight left in him after all. Also worthy of praise is Bianca, a love-interest who isn’t just a love-interest (a rare species in films). She is a complete character with a personality, a story and a purpose.

The underdog story has been done to death in film and yet Creed manages to make it feel fresh and new. It had me rooting for Adonis every step of the way yet there was never a point when I thought that his victory was a sure thing. Just like in the original Rocky this film allows the viewer to really follow this character and to learn what this chance means to him. You feel the effort he puts in as he fights through blood, toil, sweat and tears to prove himself. Every hit he takes is a blow and every punch he lands is a victory. Creed is packed with powerful boxing matches and stunning training montages and possesses that raw intensity that Ryan Coogler is so good at capturing. This could have gone very badly very easily but, against all odds, Creed is a resounding triumph.

★★★★★