Tag Archives: superhero

“Venom” is a fun mess

Everyone wants a cinematic universe. You got a franchise collecting dust in your cupboard? Brush off that property, separate even the most inconsequential characters and give all of them a movie. Ghostbusters, Men in Black, DC comics, Transformers, Marvel comics, Star Wars, frickin’ Baywatch? Yeah, you could make ten movies out of all of them. Count that money.

Sony’s been trying to turn Spider-Man into a cinematic universe for years. The problem? Well, Spider-Man is lonesome. He has no compadres like the X-Men or the Avengers. Give a movie to Aunt May or Mary Jane? Nah. But you know what? Spider-Man has an awesome rogues gallery. Let’s give a movie to each of his villains!

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, “Venom” tells the story of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a reporter who gets canned for spewing off questions with unsubstantiated sources and who betrays the trust of his girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams). When a crazed businessman, Riz Ahmed (Carlton Drake), brings strange alien symbiotes to Earth and attempts to fuse them with unwilling participants, Eddie tries to redeem himself by breaking the story. But one of the symbiotes syncs with him, creating Venom, a monster that Eddie must harness and control to stop an alien invasion.

The film is a very predictable by-the-numbers venture. Introduce hero, introduce antagonist, love interest, save the world, blah blah. It’s very bland for something that could have been different. There are so many superhero movies that the idea of doing a movie about a supervillain holds some promise. You could bend the formula a little bit and adding a dual personality would have given the story some depth. For example, imagine a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde portrayal, with Eddie’s good nature contrasting with Venom’s evil. The interplay between Eddie and Venom in the film is the best part of the story, funny and horrifying at the same time. Eddie tries to be a hero with his newfound gifts. Venom shows him the value of power and justice at all costs. As both characters try to control each other, Eddie must confront the darkness within himself as well, Venom helping him understand the violence of the news stories he has covered in the past and putting it into perspective. The world is a vile place without rules and the only way to extract justice is to take it. Eddie suffers a personal loss that drives home Venom’s hardcore beliefs. By the end of the story, Venom and Eddie are one, for better or worse.

Do we get that? Nope. We get symbiotes throwing motorcycles in the air during a high-speed chase, a makeout threesome between Venom, Eddie and Anne and Eddie eating a lot of tater tots. A lot of tater tots.

It very nearly teeters into the realm of so bad it’s good territory. A few more gross-out moments, some more nonsenical plot moments and a better beginning to the story (it takes forever for Eddie and Venom to meet) would have put it into classic bad film territory. As it is, it’ll just have to settle for pretty bad, kinda fun.

When Eddie rushes through a nice restaurant, jumps in a fish tank and eats a live lobster, the film solidifies itself as a piece of crap that earns your endearment. Who knows if that was what intended or not, but it doesn’t matter. Glorious nonsense.

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“Justice League” Just a Disappointment

Where is the DCEU going? Is it the gritty, god-obsessed mythology of Zach Snyder? Is it a copy of the MCU? Is it something else? No one seems to know. “Justice League” is the latest example of how no one at Warner Bros. seems to know what they’re doing with the DC Universe. In the race to make a counter to Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Justice League has been given the short stick.

When a new threat to the world emerges after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Bruce Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) must recruit a team of other superheroes such as Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Together, they need to defeat the villainous Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) before he destroys the world.

That is pretty much the whole plot right there. Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it? Whereas “Man of Steel” (2013) and “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) were failed films with high concepts, “Justice League” is a failed film with no concept. It is the laziest excuse for a superhero ensemble. No deeper morals, no themes about gods and superpowers, no character arcs beyond the most absolute basic. It is a totally paint-by-numbers movie devoid of any creative spark. There is nothing memorable about it.

It really is hard to criticize specific scenes or characters because the film is so hollow. You just don’t care about the story. It’s a series of action sequences followed by mandatory “character” moments. Flash is the funny one. Aquaman is dashingly reckless. Batman is brooding. Cyborg is angry.  The villain wants to destroy the world for… reasons. He’s a baddie. The team must learn to work together as a team. Fill in the blank.

This is not the film the Justice League deserves. The audience should be on the edge of their seats as the different members of the League are assembled by Batman and Wonder Woman, broken souls who have never been heroes before. Guided by the memory of Superman, the team must put aside their egos and pasts to band together as a team (in a way that’s different than the MCU). Superman’s absence has allowed a new supervillain to emerge out of the shadows, a multi-faceted villain who has a personal beef with Batman/Wonder Woman/Aquaman/etc.

People often complain that the DCEU movies are too dark and that they’re being rushed too fast, but that’s ignoring the big problems at their heart. Being dark is not an inherent problem. Indeed, it’s a good way to distinguish themselves from the MCU. The DCEU can be dark and moody, but we have to care. Superman and Batman should be shining beacons of light in a hostile world, people we connect with and aspire to become. That has never happened in any of these films, both Affleck and Cavill flat and uninteresting cardboard cutouts. And you don’t need to follow the MCU and build up all the characters in individual films before putting them together in a team movie. It’s a disservice to the audience to think they need to be led by the hand and explained every little thing. You can introduce a bunch of characters in one film and give them fully fleshed out arcs that don’t cheat them. It’s hard, but it’s doable.

But you have to do it well. That’s what the DCEU has never done (“Wonder Woman” (2017) excluded). Tell a story with engaging characters that the audience can empathize with. The idea of the DCEU (other than to make money) was to be the “mature” superhero franchise, with high ideas of mythology, religion, idolism and violence. It has never struggled for ideas and reach, it has struggled in execution.

“Justice League” is the first film that never even tries. At least the previous films tried. But the MCU has apparently taken permanent residence in Warner Bros. psyche. They need to be different and the same, light and dark, popular and edgy. And with the trailers for “Shazam” and “Aquaman” lacking the same sort of coherent guidance needed to create a DC world, it looks like more of the same is in store. The best move would be to start over from scratch, wipe the slate clean and let the series evolve naturally, with committed filmmakers taking their time and putting together a refined product.

But that can’t happen today, when movies are planned years in advance, an assembly-line production that stifles creativity. It’s a shame.

 

“Incredibles 2” not quite good enough

Many Pixar films have received sequels even when it didn’t seem as if they needed them. “Finding Dory”, “Cars 2”, “Cars 3” and “Monsters University” are all proof of that, essentially elevating secondary characters into primary roles and trying to create franchises when one story was simply enough. The examples above in general feel less than their predecessors because of a lack of ingenuity, a sense that their only reason for existence is money. Films such as “Toy Story” are inclined towards sequels because of a wide crew of characters whose relationships develop and a chance to build upon themes of maturation and family. The same can be said of the first “Incredibles” movie, a story that tackled the modern American family, mid-life crises and adolescent angst. Those themes translate to growth in another film, much how “Toy Story 2” and “3” built upon and deepened the themes of the first movie. “The Incredibles 2” manages to do some theme building and growth, but is hamstrung by some of the same problems that plague other Pixar sequels.

The film picks up right after the events of the first film. The Parr family must deal with the fallout from another botched hero operation, and Mrs. Incredible (Holly Hunter) is recruited by the Deavors, Evelyn (Catherine Keener) and Winston (Bob Odenkirk), on a reclamation project for superheroes. In a brand new family role, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) must help raise the family, Dash (Huck Milner), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), a role he’s never had before.

The film does a good job of bringing new themes of feminism and family into the series. Mrs. Incredible is now the superhero star and Mr. is home, being a house husband. It shows how both responsibilities carry weight and importance for the good of the family. In fact, the film could have gone even further, especially in regards to the villain, whose motivation is clearly lacking after how integral Syndrome and his philosophy was to the first movie. Perhaps if the villain were a man-hating anarchist whose mission is to destroy male-centered hegemony or something to that effect. The greatest detriment to the film is its villain and how unimportant they are to the plot. There’s a slight theme about screens and how they control us, but it too could have been taken much deeper.

And as with other Pixar sequels, a secondary character is elevated to a major role in the sequel, in this case Jack-Jack. While entertaining at times, he soon overrides the plot, the same joke over and over again. It becomes redundant.

It’s still great to see the family in another adventure. The film is enjoyable with plenty of cool action sequences and funny moments. The animation looks great (aside from a few cartoony new superheroes) and incorporates the same vintage silver age of comics grandeur and sci-fi panache. But it’s all too familiar and lacks the depth of its predecessor.

*SPOILERS*

The plot is far too similar to the first film. The Incredibles family is forced into hiding, a secret benefactor tries to help them, drama ensues on the home front, the benefactor betrays them and the family must fight together to save the public. And the film ends exactly the same as the first with Violet dating Tony, the family together and fighting crime and hope for the future.

Something, anything different would have been appreciated. Perhaps there is a supervillain family that the team must confront and turn to their side. Perhaps the supervillains were being paid off by the government when the supers were banned to stop committing crime, echoing current fears about corruption. Or the film is set 14 or so years after the first one and the Parr family must deal with Violet going to college, Jack-Jack and Dash not getting along as brothers and other maturation issues.

The result would be a different story with a different conclusion. The family would have grown in some way, having overcome new dilemmas and conflicts. But director Brad Bird, as with many directors before him, was too enamored with his previous project and simply retread what worked.

 

“Deadpool 2” a lot of fun

The first “Deadpool” film broke the mold on what a successful superhero movie could be. You didn’t need a stand-up, morally righteous caped crusader who fought for the right thing. You could have a trash-talking, fourth wall-breaking, crude protagonist in an R-rated, violent film. And it can make money. Lots of money.

So for a sequel, it’s important to make something the audience is familiar with while trying to keep its originality. “Deadpool 2” is mostly successful at this venture, still delivering a fun movie that falls into some common traps of the superhero genre.

Directed by David Leitch, “Deadpool 2” continues the story of Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). After a traumatic event in the film’s opening sequence, Wade goes on a mission to find his purpose, discovering a teenager named Firefist (Julian Dennison) who is being hunted by a time-traveling mutant badass, Cable (Josh Brolin). Determined to save the youngster, Deadpool creates a team including the super-lucky Domino (Zazie Beetz) to hilarious effect.

The character of Deadpool remains as crude and as funny as ever, with quips, dirty gags and violent killings galore. It’s not as ingenious as its predecessor because we’re not shocked by the vulgarity and blood as we were the first time. It gives the film a general sense of been-there, done-that to an extent, but it is entertaining nonetheless.

The plots for Deadpool films are generally secondary and that is the case here again. The viewer doesn’t much care if Deadpool succeeds in his mission to save Firefist. We’re here to see gags and action and laugh. It’s almost a shame that the plot is not totally outlandish as this might serve the character better. Perhaps a recently-formed X-Force team that goes on a killing mission against the gangs of New York leading to mass slaughter or Deadpool being cloned and going to battle against himself. There are plenty of off-the-wall premises that could really push the envelope into weirdness and absurdity.

As such, “Deadpool 2” suffers somewhat because he is now one of the big franchises he so successfully parodied. There’s a disconnect between trying to make fun of the Avengers, the X-Men and the DC Universe while at the same time also being on the same tier as them. New characters are introduced such as Cable and Juggernaut, Universe-building with X-Force comes to fruition and there will inevitably be more merchandise, more spinoffs, more movies. The original “Deadpool” worked so well because it bucked trends. “Deadpool 2” wades back into them somewhat.

“Deadpool 2” is still a fun time for fans of the character however, and it has an engaging story that feels bigger than the first film. Seeing Cable and Deadpool together onscreen at last is a treat, and there are plenty of funny moments and engaging action sequences. For those with a taste for the genre, it satisfies the craving.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is the ultimate showdown the MCU deserves

With near 40 characters, dozens of sideplots and a ten-year buildup spanning over a 15 films, it seemed as though Marvel’s “Infinity War” would be a colossal mess. It’s amazing therefore that not only is “Infinity War” not a disaster, it tells a great story that deftly weaves together everything special about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and sets up a killer finale.

The film focuses on Thanos (Josh Brolin), a warlord who seeks to wipe out half the universe with the use of the Infinity gauntlet which he can wield when he discovers all 6 Infinity stones which have appeared sporadically throughout the Marvel Universe up to now. As each Marvel character from Iron Man to Dr. Strange to the Guardians of the Galaxy to Thor to Black Panther comes to grips with his plan, various scenarios emerge to try and stop him before he harnesses the ultimate weapon in pursuit of a psychotic quest. Even that may not be enough.

Thanos serves as the protagonist. He becomes one of Marvel’s best villains to date, joining Loki and Killmonger as fully realized characters with sympathetic agendas and interesting personalities. The fact that he is not a simple evil monster bent on world domination, but has an interesting take on how to save the universe, gives him an interesting ethical quest. He’s empathetic and terrifying.

Anthony and Joe Russo deserve a great deal of credit for finding a way to balance all of the characters while making sure that no one feels thrown in. Each storyline builds in progression to the climax, creating a tapestry of plots around the theme of sacrifice. What will it take to save the world? Your life? Your lover’s life? Your soul? It’s a dark, emotional story, something far deeper than anything the MCU has ever done before. We’re now passed the simple good guy vs. bad guy plot. We’re delving into deep human nature.

In a way, it’s similar to a “Lord of the Rings” film or “Game of Thrones” as Marvel has pushed each of their characters to the final breaking point. It feels like an ending of sorts and that gives the film added heft. This feels like the send off we deserve.

*SPOILERS BELOW* DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM

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Many will state that this is only half a film, but it is not. The protagonist is Thanos, and he goes from having a goal to achieving a goal, end of story. We all know another film is coming, but the Avengers finally have their “Empire Strikes Back” down ending necessary to really test their mettle. The next film should be connected but feel distinct as it’s own entry.

There are a few storylines that need to conclude, specifically the Tony Stark and Steve Rogers plot. These two have been at it over different ideologies since the first “Avengers” film. “Civil War” officially broke them apart and now the need to destroy Thanos will bring them together. Tony has been trying to avert cataclysm since the beginning, always looking for a way out. Might that mean he and Steve need to recognize the need for self-sacrifice together? Tony and Pepper Potts as well are nearing the end of their drama. Will they get to have a happy ending with a family or will Tony sacrifice himself for Pepper’s future?

Also needing a conclusion are Bruce Banner and Black Widow. Their romance has lost steam over the years, but now they must determine whether or not they can make it work.

Thor seems to have most of his character arc wrapped up after “Ragnarok” by inheriting the responsibility of becoming king, but perhaps he will explore the nature of revenge in the final film. Rocket surviving hints that he will continue to be a foil for the god of thunder.

And of course, the next film will be a continuation of Thanos’ story. After proclaiming he has lost everything, he has still achieved his goal. Whether he is happy or not with the result will determine his future actions. Logic dictates that he will safeguard the Infinity gauntlet at all costs, meaning that the Avengers will be dictating the action. But with reality itself malleable, perhaps madness may overcome the titan, testing his will. Things could, and should, get mighty trippy.

One thing that was lacking from “Infinity War” was a direct ideological confrontation against Thanos. The next film should firmly introduce what the Avengers stand for and how that vision is different than Thanos’ genocidal fanaticism. This will ultimately show what the Avengers stand for and serve as the overall moral of the entire saga. In tying with the previous films, it will likely involve the need to stand together as a team and the value of every person.

One can not help but think back to Vision and Ultron’s conversation at the end of “Age of Ultron.” Vision mused about mankind’s shortcomings and Ultron reminded him that they’re doomed. Vision agreed, but that there was grace in their shortcomings. That speaks to the ending of “Infinity War.” Now comes the need for Earth’s mightiest heroes to show that though they may be defeatable, their ideals aren’t.

At the end of the film, it is hinted that Captain Marvel may be part of the solution against Thanos, but this plot has some inherent danger attached to it. The Avengers can not win with a deus ex machina where a magical being comes in and saves them. The victory must come from them.

And we all know that death is not a certainty in superhero films. Spider-Man, Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy are not really gone. They have further films still to do. We know they’ll be back. It’s just important that when they do come back, the effect of death is not minimized. Characters can not come and go without consequence or else the films will become a muddled mess without stakes. All future deaths will simply be viewed as empty because we’ll just wait for their return. It’ll be tricky for the Russos to navigate that return without cheapening the film’s power.

As the penultimate film of the first MCU iteration, “Infinity War” does a great job of setting up the final film. The saving of the universe is at stake as well as deep themes of personal loss, sacrifice and revenge. It’ll be a long wait till next year to see how it all turns out.

 

 

 

“Black Panther” a cultural milestone for cinema

Director: Ryan Coogler

Producers: Victoria Alonso, Jeffrey Chernov, Louis D’Esposito, Kevin Feige, Stan Lee, David J. Grant, Nate Moore

Writers: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

Cinematographer: Rachel Morrison

Editor: Debbie Berman, Michael P. Shawver

Actors: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita N’yongo, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, John Kani, Andy Serkis, Letita Wright

 

Synopsis:

T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his home of Wakanda after the death of his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani). Wakanda is a technological marvel hidden in the heart of Africa, powered by a precious metal called vibranium. After going through the ritual ceremony to become the next king, T’Challa dons the persona of the Black Panther, a superhero figure of legend and myth. He sets out to find Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), one of the few outsiders to know of vibranium and a killer of the Wakandan people and bring him to justice, along with his bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira), his ex-girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita N’yongo) and with the help of his sister, Shuri (Letita Wright). Little does he know though that a new enemy, the dangerous commando, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), lurks in the background and seeks to usurp the throne.

Background Info:

The Black Panther character was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1966. The first mainstream black superhero, the character was moderately successful during his initial run and bounced around with general comic’s popularity over the coming decades. In this age of superhero film mania, it’s surprising (disappointing) that a film starring a black lead has taken so long to get to the big screen (18 years since the first X-Men film though it’s important not to forget the “Blade” trilogy even though they never quite had the superhero budget treatment). With Ryan Coogler, after his success with “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”, and the Marvel movie machine behind the production, the hype for releasing the film was tremendous as it has become the highest grossing superhero film yet and the third-highest grossing film ever in the United States.

General Review:

The film feels different than the other Marvel films in its single focus and intimacy. You don’t have Iron Man or Thor showing up for a comical cameo or a whole lot of universe building that sets up future films. T’Challa himself is a very serious character with no quipping, no clever lines and no camera winking. It’s a relatively simple story of a son atoning for the sins of his father and learning about the responsibilities of being a king. It’s a path Marvel should take more often.

The look and feel of the film is impressive, bringing a new culture to life that is both new and familiar. When the film lags or stutters from time to time, it is still never boring or uninteresting as the viewer is immersed in this new world, part sci-fi, part African tribe, part dream.

Many point to the film as Shakespearean, which is indeed the case with the relationship between T’Challa and Killmonger. The familial line and feuding brothers and a fight over the throne all add different dimensions to a film that tries desperately to break the Marvel mold. It elevates the story beyond just another fun time at the movies.

There are points when the film feels a bit aimless and trying to find its way as in a car chase sequence in South Korea or a bank robbery in London, almost as if such sequences were pushed on by the studio to make the film more action and adventure when it doesn’t really need it, but the dynamics of incorporating some James Bond-esque scenes are nevertheless intriguing. You can still ride the ride of the film and feel the power of the story. Taking root in mythology and family gives the movie added emotional weight and featuring the “black experience” in today’s world makes the film timely.

What matters most from a cultural standpoint is what Black Panther represents. Much like “Wonder Woman” last year, seeing a different type of superhero (not a straight, white male) is inspiring. What he represents is in some ways more important than who he is. The film does a good job of balancing that expectation of illustrating the image of a black superhero without playing it up for selfish reasons. Add to that the representation of strong female characters who fight alongside him and serve as his preeminent bodyguards and you have a fully diversified film, still a rarity from Hollywood.

SPOILER SECTION

Plot Breakdown:

  • Inciting Incident: T’Challa returns home to be crowned king.
  • Act One Climax: T’Challa decides to find Ulysses and bring him back to Wakanda for justice, his first act as king.
  • Midpoint: KIllmonger defeats Black Panther and throws him over the waterfall’s edge.
  • Act Two Climax: After rising from the dead, Black Panther concocts a plan to take down Killmonger using the help of his sister and loyal subjects.
  • Act Three Climax: T’Challa retakes the throne and decides to share Wakanda’s technology with the world.

Analysis:

An argument can be made that Killmonger is a more interesting character than T’Challa. His position that the world has turned its back on those of African heritage and they must seek to overthrow the world is interesting. The betrayal of T’Chaka against Killmonger’s father adds further fuel to his anger and gives him empathy. His role could have been expanded more and truly represented the repressed African spirit. Perhaps we see glimpses of his youth and the hardships he endured. Perhaps he comes to Wakanda and presents them pictures of the slums of LA and Washington, DC, showing how the colonizers are still abusing Africans and how the Wakandans have turned their backs on their own people. This would have really elevated the film more as an ethical examination. The film nearly breaks free of the superhero genre in the way that “The Dark Knight” and “Logan” have before, but doesn’t quite get there.

T’Challa is a strong character, but a little too perfect. He has no inner challenges in regards to character. Perhaps if he was fearful of the throne and the burden it will bring to him. Perhaps if he failed in a more dramatic fashion than his inability to capture Ulysses and the tribes grumbled about his lack of leadership. Maybe he considers letting Killmonger have the throne as it has brought him nothing but misery. Such plot points are hinted at in the film, but could have been enhanced even more.

Another thing missing is a representative character of the Wakandan people, someone who witnesses the events of the plot as a spectator. Perhaps T’Challa meets a young child on his first stroll through the city as king and talks to him, encouraging him to be a doctor or engineer like his sister and reminding him not to fight with his siblings as peace is the way. As the battle over the throne commences, we see the conflict among the common people through his eyes as different families take Killmonger or T’Challa’s side and conflict erupts on the street. The boy sees peace as the way and forms a group that refuses to go along with Killmonger’s war plans, bringing the people to T’Challa’s side as the final battle begins.

Wakanda is a dream representation of an African utopia, a place of beauty, innovation and peace, a black Camelot in a way. It represents a world that could have been were it not for colonization, racism and genocide and all the negative forces of the globe. Seeing that representation is a hope for all peoples, not just Africans, but everyone who believes in an ideal world full of culture and peace. The film does an admirable job of creating a world that many dream of and hope to create. For so long, Camelot was a place of Anglo-Saxons, but seeing a new type of El Dorado and Atlantis onscreen is important. That will ultimately be “Black Panther’s” legacy. The final shot of the film, an impressive T’Challa in his regal robes and spaceship next to a young boy playing basketball, is an uplifting image of hope.

 

 

 

“Thor: Ragnarok” goes for straight-up fun and it works

The previous “Thor” films were admirable action adventures, but lacked heart and individuality. It’s hard to make a serious film when your protagonist is a hammer-wielding god and the villains are weird space aliens. So Marvel has wisely decided to ditch the pretense and go straight past logic into pure fun. These films are better for it.

Directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor: Ragnarok” features the titular character (Chris Hemsworth) trying to prevent the foreseen end-of-days. Despite his best efforts, his long-entombed sister and goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), emerges to destroy the nine realms. Trapped on an alien planet with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor must team up with the Asgardian Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to escape his bondage from the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and save his home before Hela destroys it.

In lieu of trying to capture the serious tone and majesty of “Game of Thrones” or “The Lord of the Rings”, “Thor: Ragnarok” instead throws caution to the wind and tells a fanciful adventure-comedy that ties in to its predecessor’s mythology. Never taking itself too seriously and playing up the dynamics of the visuals, the film is a constantly enjoyable ride. Most answers to the plot seem to be as simple as why not. We want to see Hulk and Thor in a gladiatorial match. Why not. Wouldn’t it be cool for Jeff Goldblum to be in a Marvel movie just playing himself? Why not. No room for Natalie Portman in the story? Cut her. Why not. Let’s have Thor fight a literal Satanic creature. Why not. Let’s put in Dr. Strange for pretty much no reason. Why not. There’s something oddly commendable about such an approach.

For the returning characters of Thor, Loki, Banner, Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), having been with the franchise for so long, they have developed a comforting rhythm. The viewers know what to expect and they deliver their part.

It’s sad to write, but again, it’s the role of the villain that is a tad shallow and forgettable. Even with an actress with the chops of Cate Blanchett, there’s just not a lot you can do with a one-dimensional, evil villainess role. Her desire is to destroy the galaxy because she’s the goddess of death and hated her father. That’s not very interesting. Throwing in that she’s Thor’s sister does little to deepen their connection since they’ve never actually met before. If Thor and Hela remembered each other, if they used to play as children until Odin banished her for being evil or Loki tricked her into becoming goddess of death, that would have added some personal stakes. Thor would be remiss to kill his sister because he cared about her once. Perhaps Hela might have second thoughts about annihilating everything, but chooses to forge ahead regardless. But instead we get just another going-to-destroy-the-world story.

Regardless of that, the even humor and colorful visuals keep the story entertaining. Most other characters, no matter how insignificant they at first seem, are fleshed out, interesting, and given good character arcs such as the Grandmaster, Skurge (Karl Urban), Valkyrie and Korg (voice of director Waititi). It gives the film an intriguing ensemble usually lacking in Marvel films.

The film fully feels like Thor’s story as the stakes for him grow higher and the personal choices he has to make impact his character. Can he take his father’s throne? Can he make the hard decisions he needs to without corrupting himself as his father did? Can he bring Loki, Hulk and Valkyrie to his side? At the film’s conclusion, the weight of responsibility for his people is all that matters and his love for them drives his heroic nature. His story therefore, with actual stakes to the film, is memorable.