Lightning Review: Thor

Review #112

Thor movie posterSynopsis
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the arrogant heir to the throne of Asgard. When his kingdom is invaded by a small group of Frost Giants, he, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleson) and his friends Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandrall (Josh Dallas), and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) go to the home of the Frost Giants, breaking the fragile peace. As punishment for his actions, the king of Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), removes Thor’s remarkable powers and banishes him to Earth.

Review
After the more grounded Iron Man and Iron Man 2 and the more “out there” The Incredible Hulk, Marvel released their riskiest film of Phase One in Thor. Where the previous films are more science-fiction, Thor is a full on fantasy. Under the helm of Kenneth Branagh, it worked. I like to see that J. Michael Straczynski helped with the story. At the time, he was the writer of the comic book Thor. Who better to help write the character than the person who eat, sleeps, and breathes Thor? The special effects are hands down the best of Phase One, particularly the sprawling cityscape of Asgard. The only word I can use to describe it is “stunning.” Thor follows a similar formula to Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk where is shows the character’s strength in the beginning. In the previous movies, they showed Tony Stark’s engineering skills and Bruce Banner’s scientific skills. Here it literally showed Thor’s strength, by having him fight a bunch of Frost Giants.

The Frost Giants were minor villains.  Mostly they were used to flesh out one of the best aspects of the movie: Loki, played fantastically by Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston brings Loki to life, becoming relatable and empathetic. I almost began rooting for him. Chris Hemsworth does great opposite Hiddleston as the titular Thor, too. The connective thread between the Phase One films, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, has a few funny moments, which is nice given he isn’t seen very much. Hawkeye makes a cool cameo, but unfortunately he isn’t seen in action. Thor was Marvel’s biggest risk to feel out what their audiences were willing to see, paying off greatly due to breathtaking visuals and two great lead actors, paving the way for Marvel’s more outlandish films several years later.

Rating
4/5

Also check out my reviews for the other films in Marvel’s Phase 1: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Kenneth Branagh – Director
Ashley Miller – Screenplay
Zach Stentz – Screenplay
Don Payne – Screenplay
J. Michael Straczynski – Story
Mark Protosevich – Story
Patrick Doyle – Composer

Chris Hemsworth – Thor
Natalie Portman – Jane Foster
Tom Hiddleston – Loki
Anthony Hopkins – Odin
Stellan Skarsgard – Erik Selvig
Kat Dennings – Darcy Lewis
Clark Gregg – Agent Coulson
Colm Feore – King Laufey
Idris Elba – Heimdall
Ray Stevenson – Volstagg
Tadanobu Asano – Hogun
Josh Dallas – Fandrall
Jaimie Alexander – Sif
Rene Russo – Frigga
Adriana Barraza – Isabel Alvarez
Maximiliano Hernandez – Agent Sitwell

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Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Review

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith movie posterSynopsis
Three years after the start of the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) begins having nightmares about the death of his wife, Padme (Natalie Portman). Hoping not to lose his wife the same way he lost his mother, he searches for a way to prevent her death. He confides in his friend Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who offers him a solution: learn about the Dark Side of the Force from the Chancellor.

Review
This is it. This is what Star Wars fans have been waiting for since Obi-Wan and Darth Vader first dueled on screen in Star Wars: A New Hope : Anakin’s turn towards the dark side. This easily is the most action-packed of the Star Wars films. It starts in the middle of a dogfight above the planet Coruscant and ends with one of my favorite movie sword fights. The epicness of the large battle seen at the end of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones flows into this movie. Several scenes share the scale of that battle, but are broken up into smaller sequences. Although General Grievous (voiced by Mathew Wood) may not have a strong presence in the movies (The Clone Wars television show is another story), he is one of the most menacing villains, and one of my favorite Star Wars characters (he’s a four lightsaber wielding cyborg, how is that not awesome?). The relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan was built much more than in Attack of the Clones, which is where I feel it should have been built in the first place. Once again, Christensen’s Anakin is the weakest part of this film. Christensen is monotonous and Anakin acts like a child. Although it still has some flaws, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is the strongest movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Rating
4.5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
George Lucas – Director / Writer
John Williams – Composer

Ewan McGregor – Obi-Wan Kenobi
Hayden Christensen – Anakin Skywalker
Natalie Portman – Padme Amadala
Ian McDiarmid – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine
Mathew Wood – General Grievous (voice)
Samuel L. Jackson – Mace Windu
Frank Oz – Yoda (voice)
Jimmy Smits – Senator Bail Organa
Temuera Morrison – Commander Cody
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Christopher Lee – Count Dooku

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones Review

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones movie posterSynopsis
Ten years after becoming Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Ewan McGregor) apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is turning into a skilled Jedi Knight. They are assigned to protect Padme Amadala (Natalie Portman) after an assassination attempt on her life. Anakin returns to Naboo with Padme while Obi-Wan’s search leads him to the cloning planet of Kamino, where he meets the bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) and his clone army. Meanwhile, the Sepratists, lead by the mysterious Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), are amassing an army, putting the Republic on the brink of war.

Review
The Star Wars prequel trilogy seems to follow the same format as the original trilogy. The first movie, The Phantom Menace, introduced the main character and focused more on the action, like Star Wars: A New Hope. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is much like Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back where it is more concerned with building the characters and setting them up for the final installment in the trilogy.

Other than for special effects, the Star Wars films have simply dabbled with CGI before but they never fully embraced it. With this film, there is a heavier use of CGI for characters, leading to the creation of some pretty good looking species. The animatronics and makeup may look better, but some of the creatures could not have been done that way. Also, Yoda is converted from puppet to digital for the first time. His transfer went pretty well. Some of the action sequences he does towards the end could not have done with a puppet.

I really like Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I thought he did Well in The Phantom Menace as the Padawan but he does equally as well, if not better, as the mentor. I’m not sure if he was trying to do an imitation of Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan from the original trilogy) or not, but there were glimpses of Guinness’ Obi-Wan showing through. He is easily the highlight of this movie.

The last forty or so minutes is probably the largest and most epic battle of the entire Star Wars Saga. It is such a large scale fight, I can’t think of many that can compare. It is also unique in the Star Wars movies because it is one continuous scene, rather than showing part of it then cutting away to show part of something else. Even during the climactic lightsaber duel, it doesn’t cut away, allowing the focus to stay on those particular events. At the very end, the Imperial March plays while the camera pans over the Clone Army, giving some great foreshadowing about events to come later in the saga. I would have rated this movie a half-point lower if I didn’t enjoy this last act so much.

My biggest problems with Attack of the Clones is Anakin. He comes across as a love-sick puppy. Some of his lines, particularly those between him and Padme seem like they were pulled from an afternoon soap opera. The film shows hints of Anakin moving towards the Dark Side, showing he is full of emotion (mostly anger), but it makes him look even more like a child. I have a hard time believing this whiny kid would become one of the most badass villains in cinema.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is the low point in the Star Wars saga. This is mainly due to the central character of Anakin. He comes across as a whiny, love-sick brat who in no way resembles the awesome character he will become. Despite this, there are still some redeeming qualities. The visuals looks great, Ewan McGregor fully comes into the mentor role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the battle between the clone and droid armies is one of the most grandiose of any in all the Star Wars movies. If Anakin’s character growth had been handled differently, Attack of the Clones would have been an entirely different movie, and probably one more deserving of the character.

Rating
3/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
George Lucas – Director / Story / Screenplay
Jonathan Hales – Screenplay
John Williams – Composer

Ewan McGregor – Obi-Wan Kenobi
Hayden Christensen – Anakin Skywalker
Natalie Portman – Padme Amadala
Ian McDiarmid – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine
Samuel L. Jackson – Mace Windu
Frank Oz – Yoda (voice)
Temuera Morrison – Jango Fett
Daniel Logan – Boba Fett
Christopher Lee – Count Dooku
Leeanna Walman – Zam Wesell
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Jay Laga-aia – Captain Typho
Jack Thompson – Cliegg Lars
Silas Carson – Ki-Adi-Mundi / Viceroy Nute Gunray

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace Review

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace movie posterSynopsis
When the Trade Federation sets up a blockade around the planet Naboo, two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), are sent to find a peaceful settlement. When the negotiations fail, the Jedi flee with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to the Republic capital Coruscant. Their ship is damaged during the escape, forcing them to take shelter on the planet Tatooine. There, they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who Qui-Gon senses has a strong connection with the Force and accompanies them on their journey.

Review
After waiting 16 years since Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was released, George Lucas finally shows how the Star Wars Saga all begins. With the progress in special effects since Return of the Jedi comes a whole new visual style to the Star Wars universe. Although it has its bumps, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace tells the story it wants to, while throwing in some visual flare to really make it pop.

The Phantom Menace follows a similar formula to A New Hope. There is some exposition to learn about the characters, but for the most part it concentrates on the action. It hardly takes a break so it keeps moving along fairly quickly. However, there were times it felt like scenes were cut short to keep the movie moving forward, making transitions feel abrupt. This does not apply to action scenes, which receive their fair share of screen time.

Despite knowing several of the main characters and already aware of their fates (if you have already watched the original trilogy), there is still a sense of wonder and discovery throughout the film. One of the draws for me about the original Star Wars trilogy was the vast universe it built. This film takes that same feeling and builds on it. Sure, a good chunk of the movie is set on Tatooine, a planet seen several times before, but more time is spent amongst the city and ordinary folk and learning more about their way of life. There is a sense about how vast and strong the Jedi are. The Republic Senate, merely mentioned before, is shown, along with the galactic capital Coruscant. If this movie does one thing correctly, it’s expand the Star Wars mythos and universe.

Much like A New Hope, a lot of the core cast of this film were relatively unknown at its release. Liam Neeson and Ian McDiarmid were the only ones who had any major acting experience (again, referring to the main cast). Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman were just starting their acting careers and Jake Lloyd was just a young boy. It was easy to tell they were still somewhat new.  There didn’t feel like there was much emotions in their lines and it came of very flat most times.  But overall they all did well with their parts.

My biggest complaints about The Phantom Menace is the dialogue. Much of it was delivered as if the actors were on a stage play, making it come off as corny on screen. I know the actors can do better, I’ve seen most of them do better. Maybe it was because some of the actors were still fairly inexperienced, but they just seemed awkward in their deliveries.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace gives Star Wars fans what they have been waiting for almost two decades: a glimpse at how everything began. The film’s pace is quick, concentrating a lot on the action. Although I know the fates of the main characters, it is still entertaining to see their origins, as well as expanding the Star Wars universe. It is a very similar sense of wonder during Star Wars: A New Hope. Because of the movie quick pace, several transitions feel abrupt. Most of the cast were fairly inexperienced at the time and it was obvious but the parts were well cast. The Phantom Menace isn’t as good as its predecessors, but it does well to expand on fan-favorite characters from the original trilogy.

Rating
4/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
George Lucas – Director / Writer
John Williams – Composer

Liam Neeson – Qui-Gon Jinn
Ewan McGregor – Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman – Queen Amidala / Padme
Jake Lloyd – Anakin Skywalker
Ahmed Best – Jar Jar Binks (voice)
Ian McDiarmid – Senator Palpatine
Pernilla August – Shmi Skywalker
Oliver Ford Davies – Sio Bibble
Hugh Quarshie – Captain Panaka
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO (voice)
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Frank Oz – Yoda (voice)
Samuel L. Jackson – Mace Windu
Terence Stamp – Chancellor Valorum
Brian Blessed – Boss Nass (voice)
Andy Secombe – Watto (voice)
Ray Park – Darth Maul
Peter Serafinowicz – Darth Maul (voice)
Lewis Macleod – Sebulba (voice)

Thor: The Dark World Review

Thor: The Dark World movie posterSynopsis
In the aftermath of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) treachery, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard after bringing peace across the Nine Realms. However, Malakith (Christopher Eccleston) and the Dark Elves return after a 5,000 year slumber. They plan to use The Aether, a force older than the Universe itself, to destroy the cosmos and return everything to darkness. Thor must face an enemy that even his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) can’t withstand, in order to save everything, and everyone, he loves.

Review

Marvel Studios told some great stories in their Phase One slate of movies, culminating in the grand and marvelous The Avengers. But they are really hitting their stride in their Phase Two movies. Thor: The Dark World took cues from The Avengers and is funny yet serious, without becoming comical (in the bad way).

Probably what I like best about Thor 2 is that it develops so many of the characters, particularly Loki. Despite finding out his true heritage as a Frost Giant in Thor, and attacking Earth in The Avengers, we learn there are still people he cares about. Loki has become one of (if not the) best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is a multifaceted character that is hard to trust but easy to love.

Anything that comes out of Kat Dennings mouth in this movie is comedy gold. I don’t think she said anything that I didn’t at least chuckle at, let alone laugh out loud. Stellan Skarsgård plays a crazy Erik Selvig perfectly. I think I missed the explanation of why he went coo-coo (It was from his manipulation at the hands of Loki in The Avengers, fyi), but it was an interesting turn for the character that Skarsgård pulled off. Easily, though, the best performance of the film belongs to Tom Hiddleston. It is hard to image anyone else in the role nowadays. Hiddleston has come to embody the character so well.

The action this time is bigger than it was in Thor. The scale of it is somewhere between Thor and The Avengers. Instead of just Asgard, now all of the Nine Realms are in trouble, culminating in a showdown between Thor and Malakith in London. The final showdown looks fantastic. The special effects are well done, especially considering the fight bounces between Earth and the different Realms.

Like all Marvel Studio movies, this film as a scene to set up a future film. So don’t forget to watch all the way to the end of the credits, because there is both a mid-credits and post-credits scene (Now Marvel is just getting obnoxious). The mid-credits scene can be compared to the post-credits scene in Iron Man. In Iron Man, it showed the course the movies would take in Phase One. Here, it shows the story arch the movies could take potentially up to Avengers 3.

Thor: The Dark World continues to build off previous Marvel films, while also standing alone. Tom Hiddleston has completely become the character of Loki, who gets some great character development. Great comedic timing by several actors and bigger action, really giving gravity to the threat, keeps Marvel’s Phase Two moving along strong.

Rating
4/5

Also check out my reviews for the other films in Marvel’s Phase 2: Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man.

V for Vendetta Review

V for Vendetta move posterSynopsis
In a fascist Great Britain, the freedom fighter known simply as “V” (Hugo Weaving) plans to bring down the oppressive High Chancellor (John Hurt) and return the power to the people. But when Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) unexpectedly gets involved, V must determine if she is an asset, or a liability.

Review
Several years ago, I started an annual tradition of watching V for Vendetta on November 5th. It is based off of a graphic novel of the same name, written by Alan Moore in the 1980s. The graphic novel is amazing (if you haven’t read it, check it out), but the movie updates V for Vendetta‘s themes for a more modern audience, but the central message remains the same. Very rarely do I think movie adaptations are better than their source material. But in this case, V for Vendetta delivers everything the graphic novel does and more.

Action sequences don’t happen very frequently in this movie, but when they do, they are intense. If you liked the action from The Matrix trilogy, the Wachowski brother’s project directly before working this film, then you will enjoy it here as well. The last fight between V and Creedy’s soldiers took a page out of those films. It even has got “bullet time,” this time with knives included!

Despite never seeing his face, Hugo Weaving does fantastic as V. He strongly delivers his lines, particularly on the more serious ones. And his monologue? Perfectly executed. Natalie Portman does quite well as Evey. Some of her best scenes are when she gets kidnapped and her captors interrogate her. To see her transform as her character transform is remarkable.

One of my favorite things about V for Vendetta is its pacing and how the characters are developed throughout the film, particularly V. We aren’t given all his history at once. Instead we are given bits and pieces that are finally brought together in narrated journal entries. Same goes for the rise of the of the High Chancellor. It is an excellent method to not dump all the information at once, but still keep the audience engaged.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into them, but V for Vendetta has several thought provoking ideas that are worth your attention. Some of which include what the relationship between a government and its people should be, and the power of an idea. Definitely what makes this movie one for me is its ability to present its messages in an entertaining way without becoming preachy.

The filmmakers did everything right in V for Vendetta: intense action sequences, good characterization, great story pacing, and it does an outstanding job of getting its message across. This is a very in-depth movie, but also can be viewed just for entertainment. Watching it every year is a tradition I plan on keeping for a long time.

Rating
5/5