Thor: Ragnarok – he’s come a long way, baby

The first Thor came out back in 2011, if you can believe that. And at the time it was a bit of a punt by Marvel who, until this point, had only really – successfully – thrust a decent Iron Man upon the world. Because Captain America: The First Avenger was to come later in 2011; but first the studio had some Aussie beefcake most people hadn’t heard of as the lead, along with a luvvie director (Kenneth Branagh) at the helm, putting together a flick about the God of Thunder.

What could go wrong?
Well, more importantly, what could go right?

Because Hemsworth shocked a lot of us by utterly owning the role and Branagh, considering his lack of experience in the genre, got the tone spot on, delivering action and comedy with verve and dynamism. Plus, the film was a commercial hit, which allowed Marvel to start making bigger plans to introduce a host of other characters and expand the MCU at a more rapid rate. So Thor, along with Iron Man, kinda led the way.

Moreover, if we take the team-up films, aka Avengers and Civil War off the table for a second, standalone films are probably the true measure of the strength of a character, and Thor’s sequel, The Dark World (2013), was solid enough, but perhaps suffered from ‘difficult second album’ syndrome.

Yet even an average Marvel film such as this was still a helluva lot better than most blockbusters.

So our God of Thunder weathered the storm and Marvel, as a studio, continued to read from a blueprint that the rest of us, quite frankly (wait for it), marvelled at. Because their quality with every release just kept improving, even with the odd dip, they kept upping their game and pushing the formula, lest it get stale.

This, in turn, has given us wonderful oddities such as Ant-Man and Dr Strange, and the mad, unexpected crowd-pleaser that was Guardians of the Galaxy.

And other directors have seen this, and no doubt become attracted by the prospect of a big budget and the chance to put their own stamp on a Marvel superhero.

Granted, some filmmakers with too singular a vision just couldn’t manage to adhere to the studio’s rules (Edgar Wright), but for those that did (James Gunn, Scott Derrickson) the rewards were that they produced a film audiences and critics loved, which was also a huge hit.

Which leads us to Taika Waititi.

Now for those of that haven’t seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople, get thee to your nearest TV or streaming device and watch it. For it be very funny. And most strange.

Set in New Zealand, it stars Sam Neill and some kid that’s barely acted before, and it’s offbeat and hilarious. Think Flight of the Concords/Mighty Boosh territory with a bit of Thelma and Louise thrown in and you’re halfway there.

This is what Taika brings to Marvel.

Well, that, and a large slice of Flash Gordon with lashings of retro ’80s aesthetic. I mean, the film is pretty darn cool. But in case you were worried it wasn’t cool (or weird) enough, just add more Jeff Goldblum. Or any amount of Jeff Goldblum really.

Because the man has always been about five miles left of normal, and these days he’s ripening as the years go by, like an old fruit left out in the sun. Which is actually rather delightful, as he pretty much steals most scenes.

But I digress. As usual, off topic. Rambling and setting the scene.

Let’s focus on Ragnarok.
Story and timeline wise, this film picks up two years after events in Avengers: Age of Ultron (and around the same time as Civil War and Spider-Man:Homecoming) where Thor has gone off to hunt for infinity stones. He’s introduced in a bravura first sequence involving a fire demon, a scene which rivals that of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2′s opener.

It’s kick ass, stirring stuff.

And through events involving Odin (Anthony Hopkins) Thor’s sister Hela (Cate Blanchett, having a whale of a time), the Goddess of Death, is freed after a long imprisonment.

She immediately sets out to rule Asgard and lay waste to anyone in her path – and it’s up to her baby brother to stop her.

Only problem is, he’s been waylaid on junk planet Sakaar which is ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). There he’s forced into combat with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) – whom we last saw hightailing it away from earth in a spaceship for reasons only Hulk can answer.

So this predicament means Thor needs help to get off the planet and save his people. Luckily, this comes in the form of a Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) whom he finds in self-imposed exile, and, of course, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Plus Hulk. So they form a team (of sorts) to take Hella on.

Basically they’re following Top Gear’s mantra of ‘ambitious but rubbish.’

Now, Marvel films are known for their in-film banter during fight scenes but this is, by some margin, the funniest the studio have put out so far. Yes, more so than Ant-Man, Guardians and any others you care to name. Again, the Taika influence is strongly felt, as he reportedly added a lot of the humour to the script once he came on board.

Hemsworth, too, wanted the tone to be lighter, and he’s clearly demonstrated why being let loose has been a blessing. Yes, the God of Thunder with his hammer and cape is all a bit silly. So why not double down on how mad it is? Additionally, if you were looking for a companion piece in the MCU, Guardian of the Galaxy wouldn’t be a bad bet.

Basically, when things get too serious or preposterous, burst the bubble with a joke.

Works every time.
This is something that DC, for all their progress (by the looks of the Justice League trailers) just don’t get. Superheroes are ridiculous, so let them be.

By and large, this will be the best time you’ll have seeing a Marvel film. Even if you’re not the biggest superhero nerd and have no idea the difference between DC and Marvel or who the Avengers are or anything like that, you’ll still have fun.

It kind of sets the bar pretty high for the forthcoming Black Panther if I’m honest. And though it’s likely that film won’t compete on humour (how can it?) it will probably take the title as the coolest Marvel film so far. From Run the Jewels on the trailer to Black Panther as a character and his homeland of Wakanda, it remains something of an exciting prospect to see how it comes together on screen.

So even without seeing it, I feel confident saying this is going to be a pretty strong year for Marvel.

Top 10 ‘seductive’ cinematic moments

Now we’re not talking scenes here necessarily – more just moments within a scene perhaps. Some are the first time we see the character (often the most impressive) and some once they’ve been established. All are rather brilliant. And these are a selection of my favourites.

‘Do you want some red rope licorice?’ Wayne’s World 2 (1993)
Garth is doing his laundry and in walks Kim Basinger, sucking ‘innocently’ on his licorice and sharing a steamy moment as she hands him back his tighty whiteys.

‘A blonde walks into a bank’ The Mask (1994)
Aged 21 Cameron Diaz auditioned for this film with no experience. She was cast and introduced to cinema in bravura fashion. Jim Carrey’s jaw hit the floor (as he probably wasn’t even acting).

‘A girl gets out a pool’ Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
I tend to mention this film, the original American Pie, quite often. And its inclusion here is fully justified, with Phoebe Cates emerging slow-mo from a pool in Judge Reinhold’s fantasy.

‘Why don’t you do right?’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
How do you act opposite a sex symbol that isn’t actually there? Bob Hoskins managed admirably in this scene; one where Jessica Rabbit first appears; sung seductively – in true femme fatale fashion – by Amy Irving.

‘Cat got the milk’ Batman Returns (1992)
Possibly the best transformation in cinema. Bookish and shy Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) gets left for dead, only to be revived by kitties. She then rips up her apartment to make a new suit, emerging in a vengeful mood as Catwoman.

‘Thigh or breast Mr Bond?’ Goldeneye (1995)
There’s good Bond girls and bad Bond girls, the latter being far more interesting. Famke Janssen plays Xenia Onatopp (great name), whose special skill is crushing men to death with her thighs. What a way to go.

‘A Manhattan for the lady’ The Last Seduction (1994)
Cruelly snubbed for an Oscar due to a technical reason, Linda Fiorentino elevated this slightly hokey film – and script – with a sultry performance, completely flooring Peter Berg in the process.

‘Bend over and read the letter’ Secretary (2002)
James Spader is a bit of a past master at kinky characters (watch Crash at your peril) and here, as the original Mr Grey, he puts Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in her place with a bit of spanking. Which she adores.

‘Nothin’ but short skirts around the house’ The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
‘Does daddy get a kiss from both his little girls?’ ‘Oh no. Daddy doesn’t even get to touch mommy…’ Margot Robbie holds her own in her first major role, summed up well in this scene where she teases DiCaprio mercilessly.

‘I’m the money’ Casino Royale (2006)
The more Bond films that come out the better Casino Royale seems to get. It also cements Eva Green as probably the best Bond girl there has been. She makes her entrance in a simple yet wonderful scene on a train.

The cinephile

Stepping into the foyer yours is a world of forlorn popcorn, fizzy drinks and ice cream swirls.
Sticky carpet underfoot with staff straight out of Shaun of the Dead you’re probably asking yourself, ‘Should I examine my head, where’s the magic?’ As far as movie experiences go this one is tragic.
Ticket stub in hand you advance, agitated and nervous, and when the lights go down you’re in a trance, but what do you get served first?
Nothing but a steady stream of adverts and insipid trailers, ‘Jesus, I came for this?’, you think. ‘Will it get better? Am I on the brink of something special?’
Time will tell. You have to stick it out.
For what starts hellish soon becomes bright and clean as you submit to the lure of silver screen. Less Charlie and more Martin Sheen in Apocalyse Now, your heroes come to life when the chips are down. They’ll face impossible odds but overcome them somehow. In short, they’ll do you proud.
Even in a drama where our protagonist is filled with inner torment you gradually relent and give your consent, as far as time in a dark room goes this is money well spent.
Yet here’s the rub, it’s like a snub, you resent the fact that you’re made to suffer first, cinemas are making it harder on you they should be cursed.
And as others leave the screen and disperse you’re left conflicted. If only you could put time in reverse and immerse yourself in the magic again, that would be a sick trick.
But before your thoughts go all cinematic and ecstatic know this, they’re just stories to help us make sense of the world. Armed with that knowledge your happiness will unfurl.
If all else fails there are always rom-coms. Before you know it you’re lost in the magic once again weeping into a tissue, you’re long gone.

The pen is mightier than the sword

penbluePicture this: you’re in a fight, possibly to the death, and you’re on the brink of losing. You’re scrabbling around to find purchase on something, anything to give you an advantage. Your fingers grasp a thin object. Dimly, through the red mist, you realise the tides are turning, your luck is in; for you have come into your possession a weapon mightier than most in the world of movies: the humble pen.

Many a movie fight has conveniently been won this way. I suppose this is typical of the cinematic world because we all know, in real life, you can never find a bloody pen when you want one. And the chances of one finding your questing fingers during a fight are next to nil.

But then, maybe that’s why it works. Fate is a cruel mistress and likes to throw us a lifeline when we least expect it. Anyway, moving on. To celebrate the pen (and pencil), let’s look at movie scenes where this unassuming little object has briefly taken the limelight.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Guy flies through the window with a machine gun then comes at you with a knife, what do you do? Calmly grab a pen and dispatch him, that’s what. Jason Bourne, still absent memory, demonstrates how lethal a biro can really be. Pen vs. knife? The knife stood no chance.


Liar Liar
(1997)

‘The colour of the pen that I hold in my hand is…ROYAL BLUE!’ Jim Carrey at his overacting best in the late ’90s, as a lawyer condemned to tell the truth as the result of a birthday wish made by his son. Silly, but entertaining stuff.

The Naked Gun (1988)

The Japanese fighting fish; beautiful, graceful and elegant. Quickly gets skewered with a rare Samurai pen by Lieutenant Frank Drebin, Police Squad! The pen in question being unbreakable, impervious to everything but water. Pure comedy gold.


Shaun of the Dead
(2004)

‘You’ve got red on you.’ Shaun’s pen leaks on his shirt early on in the film: a portent of things to come and an observant nod to the mindless and banal comments people say every day. Here’s a little compilation from the film. Ah, zombie-filled memories.

The Dark Knight (2008)

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t have my boy here pull your head off? ‘How about a magic trick?'” Quite simply one of the best character entrances to a film in recent years. Heath Ledger’s Joker took us all by surprise. He begins with a simple pencil…


Batman
(1989)

Another entry for the Joker, this time Jack Nicholson’s flamboyant portrayal. Here he sports a wonderful feather quill pen, used to chilling effect to spear someone in the throat. Was Heath Ledger’s version in The Dark Knight an update of this scene? Both dark and compelling with a macabre sense of humour.

The Faculty (1998)

Always considered this film, directed by Robert Rodriguez, a bit of a guilty pleasure. With slightly cringing lines like ‘Aliens are taking over the fucking school’ and Famke Janssen asking for something ‘cherry flavoured’. This pen-related scene sees Josh Hartnett’s character stab his teacher in the eye, then watch in horror as he visibly dissolves.


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
(1989)

You’re Dr. Jones (Sean Connery) and you’re trapped in the body of a steel beast, otherwise known as a tank. You spot a chance to escape and end up grappling with the nearest Nazi soldier. Victory comes in the form of a squirting ink pen, leading your companion, Marcus Brody, to exclaim ‘The pen is mightier than the sword!

Goldeneye (1995)

Click, click, spin, click, spin, spin…BOOM! The old exploding pen trick. A classic Bond scene, building to an explosive finish. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond held captive, watching a programmer attempt to break a guidance code before Sean Bean’s bad guy rocket plummets back to earth. Little does he know he holds an explosive pen in his hand.