Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I love comic book movies. What? You didn’t know? Where have you been hiding for the past year or so? Anyone that’s read Film Phage for a length of time knows that I positively gush whenever a comic book movie is released. Especially when they come out of the Marvel Studios lot. Sure, the Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four (OK, maybe not them… until their reboot in 2015) franchises excite me, as they feature some of my favourite characters, but it’s Marvel Studios that are storming ahead right now. Speaking of storms… it’s about time we heard from our favourite Norse god. One that wields a massive hammer, speaks in a semi-olde world tone… and enjoys taking his top off for at least one scene in every film. Yes, it’s the return of Thor in Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

As is common across all of Marvel’s “Phase Two” films up to present, Thor: The Dark World, like Iron Man 3, picks up after the events of The Avengers. This will be something that we also see happen in next year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but probably not Guardians of the Galaxy. Essentially, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard with his somewhat devious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) after the latter tried to take over Earth (naughty, naughty!). So we see Loki sent to the dungeons whilst Thor attempts to deal with the latest threat to the “Nine Realms”… Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith is a dark elf determined to bring about the end of all worlds by ushering in a return to the darkness that prevailed in the universe before… erm… the universe by capturing the Aether. Ok, there’s a lot of oddness in the plot, but this is Thor – anything can happen! He’s a goddamn god… for god’s sake. God! Add into the mix Thor’s ongoing love for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and we have ourselves a plot!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World arguably boasts the strongest ensemble cast of any of the individual Marvel Studios movies. With the likes of Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Portman, as well as Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rene Russo as Friga and Idris Elba as Heimdall. The cast is strong, and this film really showcases that. Each character has more room to breathe and develop. The first film, like so many origin stories, placed a lot of effort into developing who Thor was and how he would become the hero we know in this film. Now that that’s out of the way, Thor: The Dark World can show the Thor world we all needed to see… and it bloody well works!

This is a more fully-realised film than the original Thor. The Asgardian universe feels more fleshed out, the action is more frenetic and the set pieces are far bigger. I mean, who thought that the final showdown in Thor was impressive? It was just Thor versus a set of armour in a small town in the US. This was hardly the super showdown we would want! Thankfully, no battle in Thor: The Dark World is as dull… especially not the final battle between Thor and Malekith. Why did I like it so much? Well, not just because it was set in good old London, but because it was simply entertaining.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Entertainment is high on Marvel’s agenda it would seem. For despite the subtitle of “The Dark World”, Thor isn’t a dark affair. Like April’s Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World features good slabs of humour in the mix. Not all of it hit the mark for me… not in a way that some critics would have you believe any way. This isn’t a comedy film. It has humorous elements (especially in the final battle), but they never distract from what’s actually going on in the film. This is a very good thing.]

I really have to come back to an earlier point to sum up why Thor: The Dark World worked so well: the cast. Chris Hemsworth has really grown into the role in a way that I’d now find it hard to replace him, just as I do with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. I’m eager to see whether Chris Evans‘ turn in next year’s Captain America sequel will do the same for him, as for me, he’s currently the weakest link in the “core” group of heroes. But it doesn’t end there. Tom Hiddleston epitomises what’s so great about Marvel’s casting choices; he’s simply fantastic. Hiddleston clearly loves playing Loki and his chemsitry with Hemsworth is at an all-time high. We need more of this in the future. Please Marvel, please. I could volley the same sort of compliments to the main cast, but I’ll avoid getting carried away. Needless to say – it’s a great effort from Alan Taylor on directing this entry into Marvel’s canon. Just give us more Thor!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Oh, and a sidenote? That mid-credits “stinger” teaser scene? Thank you Marvel. That’s much appreciated! Just as Thanos’ appearance at the end of The Avengers confused many non-hardcore comic fans, I feel that this one will totally throw you off the scent. But if you’re a comic book fan… and particularly are keen to hear a bit more of the Thanos mythos… it’s worth waiting around for.

Thor: The Dark World is another roaring success for Marvel Studios. Whilst it probably won’t attract the sort of audience that Robert Downey Jr. is capable of pulling with Iran Man films, it certain ranks as one of the best movies out of the studio. Sure, it has a bonkers plot, and Christopher Eccleston is criminally underused, but it’s a great piece of superhero action. Arguably, some might say, the comic book movie of 2013. So now… all eyes are on 2014… where we can expect Captain America: The Winter Solider, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yes, 2014 looks like a tasty fight!

So, why see Thor: The Dark World? Well, see if you tick any one of these boxes: 1) You like comic book movies, 2) you like lightning, 3) you like Chris Hemsworth‘s massive pecs, or 4) you just like bloody good films. If you’re ticking more than one of those boxes, then why aren’t you at the cinema already? Or at least googling “Chris Hemsworth topless” to know why the ladies love this Austrailian! Oh… you’ve already done that haven’t you? Cheeky!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

 

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Savages (2012)

Sometimes you just expect directors to deliver a certain “type” of film – normally because they rightfully play to their strengths. Take Ridley Scott for instance. His movies have been from a wealth of genres, but have always had that “epic” nature to them. Scott doesn’t really do movies about introspection. Similarly, with Quentin Tarantino you’re not going to get a humourless, dull looking film – you’re getting full-on acting set in a very Tarantino-esque universe, regardless of whether it’s set in World War II or Japan. Along with this, you also expect a certain level of quality with the piece – more so if the director’s carrying several Oscars under his / her belt. So what happens when the director deviates from the path? Savages.

Savages comes from Oliver Stone – a three-time Oscar winner and writer of such classics as Platoon and Natural Born Killers, as well as a slew of politically-bent films such as W, Nixon and JFK. Savages deviates from this political bent (if taken at face value) to deliver a story about drug trafficking across the Mexican-US border in California. In a nutshell, two friends: one ex-US army (Taylor Kitsch) and one academic / botanist / hippy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) find a way to make the best marijuana possible and make a fortune. However, the Mexican cartel headed by Salma Hayek and her lieutenant Benicio Del Toro want their share of this business. Oh, and John Travolta‘s involved as a corrupt Federal agent… Sounds like a great cast right? Sure, I can’t fault that, but the film just isn’t as good as the sum of its parts.

The happy couple…. or throuple.

The entire story is actually based on a book by Don Winslow, which I haven’t read, so I can’t comment on the film’s accuracy in this respect. The flaw for me was just caring about some of the characters, namely Blake Lively‘s “O”. “O” or Orphelia is the girlfriend of both Kitsch and Johnson – they both sleep with her and live with her in a very hippy-esque manner. Despite the fact that I imagine Kitsch‘s character John would never do this considering his general bad-mannered demeanour. He’d be more likely to kick your front teeth out if you accidentally glanced at his girl over a crowded bar. Now, it’s “O” that causes a hell of a lot of trouble for the boys in this film and I just found myself wondering why the hell they didn’t just cut and run. Her back story is muddled (mentions of an absentee mother who doesn’t care, yet she writes these loving e-mails to her is just one of these) and you just realise how vapid she is as a character.

However, this isn’t the major thing that drew me to despair. No no, that came about 10 minutes before the end of the movie. I obviously won’t ruin it, but Oliver Stone whips out one of the most hackneyed and amateur ways to end a movie. I’m not even talking about the sequel-bating that most films offer, but something else entirely worse. I’m unsure if the original book does this or not, but if it does, then Stone shouldn’t have followed it to the letter. It’s horrible and incredibly frustrating. I actually found myself getting angry as it unfurled. Movies don’t often make me angry, but this genuinely did.

It all goes along with the fact the movie seems to think it’s far cleverer and wittier than it actually is. For a start, it’s narrated by Blake Lively who gives the ol’ “don’t think I survive just because I’m narrating this…” – this isn’t witty. Hell, Kickass did this exact same thing two years ago. It also just came across like it was trying too hard to be something cool and pulpy like some of the modern day-set Tarantino movies. The sound effects, the editing, the cultural references. All just tried way too hard.

Benicio Del Toro: Reliably disturbing. Reliably brilliant.

Having been so negative on the movie, I must commend some of the actors, especially the always reliable Benicio Del Toro. This guy oozes¬†malevolence¬†in every role he takes and this is no exception. It reminded me of just how great he was in Sin City and he yet again turns in a strong performance. The same is true of Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass) and even Salma Hayek. I thought the tent-pole names really pulled their weight. It was also great to see John Travolta return to the cinema after a hiatus following tragedies in his personal life. It should however be noted that he’s only in 4-5 scenes, but he shines in them. I love the recent Travolta – anything non-campy past Pulp Fiction is grand with me. This performance reminded me most of Face/Off… just without the wild and whacky impressions of Nic Cage.

We’re hiding our identities until you change the ending…

For a two hour plus movie, I just felt the film was bloated. It had its great set pieces and some eye candy and I felt my interest rising throughout the second half of the film, but any enjoyment was completely obliterated by that hackneyed ending. After the credits roll you’ll be sat there wondering “so what… that’s it?”. It’s not frustrating for the right reasons, such as Killer Joe‘s cliffhanger, it’s frustrating because it’s just bad.

Savages is a disappointing film, especially considering the great ensemble cast and some quality performances. At the end of the day, it ended up coming off like a video game’s script than anything else. Nothing against game developers, but you expect far more from an Oscar-winning writer than you do a story writer for Nintendo. And that ending? Good God that ending stank.

So my advice remains that you should always play to your strengths. Sure, it’s fun to dabble in new ventures, but at least make sure those ventures might yield something worthwhile. Just as I don’t expect Michael Bay to helm the next Tree of Life, or Quentin Tarantino to tackle an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, I don’t expect Oliver Stone to turn in something like this. He knows better. Then again, even Ridley Scott has turned in some questionable output recently, so it seems like these ageing juggernauts don’t always hit the target. And to be honest, they probably don’t care either. Frankly, I’d rather they took the occasional chance than resort to what James Cameron has tasked himself with: abandoning all diversity and just dedicating himself to making Avatar sequels. Such a waste.

Phage Factor: