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Entries in chris hemsworth (7)

Thursday
Apr302015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

I’m in the minority when it comes to the first “Avengers” movie. Though functional, it lacked soul. While others argued that the previous individual heroes’ movies did the heavy lifting of getting them to a certain point, thus allowing it to be a mindless action extravaganza, I saw an empty film, one where the characters ended up exactly where they began. The story was inconsequential, the character progression nonexistent and the tone all over the place. With so many characters and stories to converge into one, such a misfire was not entirely unexpected. But if “The Avengers” was a akin to a juggler calmly juggling three balls—competent, but unimpressive—“The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is like a pro juggling flaming swords while hopping on one foot. In nearly every single way, “Age of Ultron” eclipses its predecessor.

In this installment, the Avengers have intercepted Hydra and taken back a scepter that was once wielded by Loki. In the scepter is a powerful gem that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believes could change the world for the better. With its power, he believes he can create a global defense program called Ultron (James Spader), which will work to keep outside invaders at bay. However, that program eventually gets a mind of its own and decides that the only way to help the world is to destroy it. But first he must take out the Avengers with the help of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

There was an early moment in “The Avengers” when Captain America (Chris Evans) found himself struggling with the fact that he was frozen solid for 70+ years and everyone he knew and loved, everyone he fought alongside with in the war, was now dead. He was unfamiliar with the modern world and was trying to cope with a situation he didn’t fully understand. The movie then transitioned to Stark in his playboy pad cracking quips. It was an uncomfortable transition, just the first of many that pervaded the entire movie. “Age of Ultron,” on the other hand, does a much better job of mixing drama with comedy, even as the characters joke it up in the midst of a potential apocalyptic event. Whereas only the comedy worked in the last one, the drama here is just as potent as it earns its one big dramatic moment near the end of the film instead of forcing it in like the mishandled Agent Coulson “death” in the original.

Perhaps more importantly, “Age of Ultron” delves into each of these characters more so than (arguably depending on which film we’re talking about), the heroes’ individual stories themselves. You see, Scarlet Witch has the ability to manipulate a person’s psyche, which both serves as an interesting ability in and of itself and as a way to explore the characters’ motivations and fears. The darkest, and perhaps even most thoughtful, moments of the film come during these moments as we see a bit of what fuels the Avengers, particularly Tony Stark as they expand further on the hesitance and anxiety that was explored so wonderfully in the underappreciated “Iron Man 3.” While the film could have and should have explored these angles more, the fact that they’re there at all is nothing short of astounding when you factor in the sheer number of characters writer/director Joss Whedon had to juggle. Each one, even the seemingly less significant characters, receives just enough screen time to help explain who they are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. These explorations may not be as complex as these characters deserve, but they’re rich with possibilities and if future individual installments continue with the seeds that are planted here, we’re in for a more mature, darker and thematically interesting Marvel universe than we have yet seen.

Yet there are nevertheless some flaws in “Age of Ultron.” Almost all are minor, like Olsen’s inability to keep a consistent accent, though one exception is the half-baked burgeoning romance between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). While the seeds are planted early (and potentially for a future standalone Hulk movie), it’s never developed to a point of relevance. At one point, another character asks about their romance, but one can’t help but wonder how that person even knows, as the flirtatious chemistry isn’t there and she had just met the group for the first time.

But you won’t leave the theater thinking of those things. You’ll leave thinking of the high-flying action, hilarious humor and terrific new villain. Spader is perfectly cast as Ultron, serving up his usual drawn out line readings as he brings a cold, calculated and ultimately frightening layer to what could have otherwise been an emotionless antagonist. As he mocks the human race for their blind faith and frivolous existences, a level of menace that no prior Marvel movie had yet reached is achieved. It’s both a testament to Spader’s talent and Whedon’s writing.

There’s a lot to love about “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Many have said the story is too convoluted for its own good, but my only thought is that they must be comparing it to the original. Of course the story is too convoluted in comparison because even the simplest stories are more convoluted than no story at all. And that is the film’s greatest strength. Rather than rely on the previous films to carry its story and characters like the last film, “Age of Ultron” crafts its own and brings the characters all to interesting points that show great promise for future Marvel films. I’ll admit to feeling superhero fatigue over the last couple years, but “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” has renewed my enthusiasm and if it accurately represents the foundation for future installments, I simply can’t wait to see what comes next.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron receives 4/5

Friday
Nov082013

Thor: The Dark World

If you ask me, out of all the Marvel movies leading up to and extending past last year’s summer megahit “The Avengers,” 2011’s “Thor” is by far the weakest. While certainly a summer spectacle worthy of the Marvel name, the main character was, quite simply, kind of dull. Thor simply didn’t have the personality of someone like Iron Man or the altruistic morals of Captain America or even the unpredictable nature of The Hulk. When compared to some of our greatest superheroes like Batman or Spiderman, Thor didn’t stack up. While those characters had demons to wrestle, events from their lives that dramatically changed them forever, Thor was a “just because” fighter. His motivation never really extended past the knowledge that it was simply what he was supposed to do. Such thinness is boring and it made “Thor” the only Marvel movie in this “Avengers” canon that wasn’t recommendable. Its sequel, “Thor: The Dark World” fares slightly better than its predecessor, but many of the same problems pervade it. It’s safe to say that if you enjoyed “Thor,” you’ll enjoy this, but Thor nevertheless remains the most uninteresting character in Marvel’s current movie bag.

Thousands of years ago, Bor, the father or Odin (Anthony Hopkins), defeated a monstrous race of beings known as the Dark Elves. Led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), their goal was to reverse the state of the nine realms to a period before creation using a relic known as the Aether. Despite their defeat, Malekith escaped, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike once again. The relic was then buried deep, in a place where hopefully nobody would ever find it. In present day, the alignment of the nine realms, known as the Convergence, is upon us. This alignment is causing vortexes to appear in the realms, one of which astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon. This leads her to the Aether, which manifests itself inside of her. Now Malekith is out to get it, but Thor, along with his untrustworthy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is going to attempt to stop him and save Jane.

One change in Thor’s character that is immediately recognizable in this film is that his childish wanting-to-fight attitude from the previous movie has been replaced with a more mature willing-to-fight attitude. Rather than taking pleasure in it, he sees battle as his duty, to protect the nine realms. A late scene speech confirms this. Furthermore, due to a couple of scenes that shall not spoiled, he’s facing some true emotional pain. Thus, there is more character development here than there ever was before. This is a welcome inclusion and helps make him more likable, more like someone we would want to cheer for rather than someone we’re supposed to. This by no means makes Thor someone worth watching, but it’s a step in the right direction and if the excellent foreboding final shot is any indication, there are some truly exciting things on the horizon for the muscular god.

But hope for future greatness is not relevant to this current product. There is still a lot of bombastic action, as is common in all superhero movies, but little reason to care, mainly due to a somewhat confusing central story, some grating comic relief side characters and a bland enemy. Kat Dennings, in particular, tries far too hard here, cracking jokes at every turn to the point of obnoxiousness, while the enemies are faceless drones with masks akin to the emotionless one Michael Myers wears in the “Halloween” films. Despite an interesting dual hero/villain role for Loki (that is, unfortunately, far too short to have much impact), there’s little to keep one’s interest here.

Where “Thor: The Dark World” really finds its inspiration is in its action heavy finale. It’s so exciting, you’ll find yourself caring about what’s happening, even if you don’t really care about why. Other superhero movies, including this year’s “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel,” went far too over-the-top with their endings. The action came so fast and heavy that it was difficult to not become numb to it. Due to the film’s set-up, the characters see themselves flying through multiple vortexes, constantly transporting from place to place and narrowly escaping disaster. This allows for a variety other similar films can’t afford and it keeps you on your toes because what happens next is likely to be different and unexpected.

“Thor: The Dark World” isn’t without other merits either. It has some mildly amusing humor and one absolutely terrific off-kilter cameo from another popular Marvel character, but the film as a whole is decidedly lackluster, and that’s even if you don’t take into account how the 3D glasses further dim an already visually dark movie. In the end, it really is a shame all of the film’s inspiration comes from its action rather than its story because the latter trumps the former every time. “Thor: The Dark World” is kind of like a Stairmaster work out machine. You’re technically taking steps up, but you’re not really going anywhere.

Thor: The Dark World receives 2.5/5

Friday
Sep272013

Rush

Ron Howard is a director that most think rather highly of, but the truth of the matter is that he’s somewhat inconsistent. Sure, we all love “Apollo 13” and “Frost/Nixon,” but there’s also his lousy adaptations of “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons.” He’s even dabbled in comedy a bit over his many years, most recently with 2011’s “The Dilemma.” Anyone remember that train wreck? Probably not, because our perceptions of his skills as a director are skewed towards his greater works. His latest, “Rush,” is closer to the latter films than the former, unfortunately, but that doesn’t automatically make it bad. It’s a good movie and its problems stem more from a slightly unfocused script and poor characterizations than any specific directorial decision, but as far as dramatic, based-on-true-stories go, it’s not particularly memorable.

The movie takes place in the 70s and stars Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, a reckless Formula One racecar driver with dreams of becoming world champion. He’s one of the absolute best in the sport, matched only by Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl. The movie follows their rivalry and creates an interesting dynamic between the two. Despite their dislike for each other, there’s a mutual respect. Without the other, they would be unstoppable, which isn’t as interesting to them. It’s the competition, the thrill of victory after a hard fought battle, that compels them to do what they do. Because the two hardly spend any time together, their complicated relationship must have been tough to convey, but “Rush” rises to this challenge. Aside from the intellectually insulting closing narration that unnecessarily spells out their feelings, the complexity of their bond is handled with aplomb.

Nevertheless, the film loses its focus all too quickly. Just as we’re getting to know one of these men, a transition is made to the other, or even worse, the focus leaves them altogether. Too much of the early moments in the movie focus on the economics of racing—like the battle to find a sponsor—rather than the emotional struggle and pressure they must have felt in those early days. Too often, important moments in the lives of these men are glossed over. These moments could have helped us gain perspective on who they were and what drove them to race so vigorously, but the movie doesn’t seem interested in that. A good example comes in the form of Hunt’s short-lived wife, Suzy Miller, played by Olivia Wilde. When she randomly and awkwardly appears, the film immediately cuts to their marriage, only for the next scene to play out their break-up. She then disappears for nearly the entirety of the rest of the movie, reappearing only for a brief lunch scene with Hunt. It’s implied that Hunt’s love of racing interfered with his love for Suzy, but the entire arc is rushed through so quickly, it hardly makes an impact.

I suppose such a decision was a conscious one. The film is trying to condense many years worth of time into a couple hours—seen most noticeably when it starts bypassing important races and instead lets us know what happened through onscreen text, not exactly the most exciting tactic one can use in a movie about racing—so Suzy’s lack of prominence isn’t surprising. If this speedy approach does one thing well, it filters out some of the narrative pollution and allows the natural tension of such a dangerous sport to take center stage. These drivers live on the edge, well aware that every time they hop on that track, it could be their last. As Hunt puts it early on, “The closer to death you are, the more alive you feel. It’s a wonderful way to live, as if each day is your last.” This theme is an interesting one that will allow those who have never really done anything daring to live vicariously through the characters. Even if you don’t care at all about Formula One racing, it will be hard to deny that you weren’t on the edge of your seat during the nail-biting finale.

Yet the fact remains that the film, from a storytelling and scriptural point of view, is lacking. Frankly, if you’re looking for a great movie with a similar story, you’re better off with 2010’s wonderful “Senna.” Although a documentary, its drama is more potent, its action is more intense and the devastating ending touches on feelings “Rush” doesn’t come close to. With some great performances and exciting sequences accompanied by a sometimes frustrating lack of focus, “Rush” relegates itself to a minor diversion and nothing more.

Rush receives 3/5

Friday
Jun012012

Snow White and the Huntsman

It may only be a minor consolation, but it’s worth noting that Snow White and the Huntsman has very little to do with the Twilight series beyond its lead star. Pre-release comparisons purporting their similarities are nothing more than cynical assumptions. Those people who scoffed at its existence will most likely find themselves pleasantly surprised after viewing. Coming hot on the heels of March’s Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman once again tells the oft told story of Snow White as she conquers the evil witch and claims her rightful place as queen, but the story is tonally more aligned with the original Brothers Grimm story than the cutesy versions we show our children. The movie is dark, violent, sinister and frightening. Other movies glossed over the evil underpinnings of the story, including the eventual murder of the title character, but not this one. This is a mature telling that is worthy of admiration.

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) used to be a happy girl. Her father and mother, the countryside’s king and queen, loved her and each other dearly. Unfortunately, her mother quickly fell ill and passed away. Her father was overcome with grief until he met a beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who he immediately married. However, right as they were about to consummate their marriage, Ravenna murdered him and began a takeover of his city, locking Snow White in a tower. Years later, right as Ravenna is about to take Snow White’s life, she escapes. Ravenna, determined to get her back, employs a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down, but he soon learns of Ravenna’s wicked ways and instead helps Snow White in her quest to bring justice to her land.

Snow White and the Huntsman does for the classic story what Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban did for that popular series—it progresses it with true passion, meaning and thematic growth. It’s not just an attempt to cash in on the Snow White name or the star power of Kristen Stewart. It is instead a visionary approach to the story, full of beautiful imagery and wondrous imagination. Throughout the movie, the characters travel to different places, all with their own distinct feelings and visual styles. Some are bright and lovely like an animated movie come to life, a place you’d love to spend time in. Others are morbid and unsettling, like the Dark Forest Snow White escapes to, which gains its strength through its visitors’ weaknesses. It’s the place nightmares are made of. Other landscapes include beautiful snow covered gardens, war torn battlefields and more.

If nothing else, Show White and the Huntsman is visually arresting, a surprisingly gorgeous bit of eye candy coming from first time director, Rupert Sanders. He puts a deft touch to the tiniest of details, almost as if he had been doing this for many years, and he makes his vision come to grandiose life. Still, being a first time director poses many challenges and he is unable to overcome all of them. Action clichés abound, including an excessive use of slow motion, and though he pulls some decent performances from Hemsworth and Stewart (the former who finally gets to play someone other than the bland and emotionless Thor and the latter who gets to do something other than bite her lip), he fails to contain Charlize Theron. She goes all out in the movie, chewing the scenery like it’s bubble gum. She is so over-the-top, her supposed menace turns to amusement. She’s not bad per se, but she doesn’t fit in what is otherwise a tonally balanced movie.

The film occasionally suffers from cinematic ADD, like when a gruesome troll shows up for a fight and then walks away before anything actually happens, but its biggest detractor is its fluctuation in believability. Kristen Stewart, though more impressive in this role than many others, is not a convincing warrior, making her late movie transformation tough to swallow. Even more difficult to believe is her ability to outrun, outmaneuver and outwit a team of guards (thanks partially to a randomly placed horse resting on a nearby beach) once she escapes from the confined tower she’s been locked in for so many years. Yet the movie still pulls you in, your suspension of disbelief never wavering for too long. Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t eclipse every adaptation of the story that has come before it, but among the more adult oriented versions, including 1997’s acclaimed Snow White: A Tale of Terror starring Sigourney Weaver as the witch, it stands alone.

Snow White and the Huntsman receives 4/5

Tuesday
May012012

The Avengers

It’s been building to this for years now, ever since Tony Stark first suited up to be Iron Man. Since then, we’ve had a sequel to that film, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, each working as a set up to this moment, when all of them are brought together to form The Avengers. Expectations are high and if early reviews are to be believed, they’ll be met, but I have a sneaking suspicion that in retrospect, opinions of it won’t be nearly as good. The Avengers is no different than any other superhero movie, except there are six of them, which turns out to be too much for one film. Eye candy notwithstanding, The Avengers is tonally inconsistent and character growth is all but missing, making it one of the most disappointing and shallow experiences of the year.

The main villain of the film is Thor’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Using an artifact called the Tesseract, he has opened a portal through space and has arrived at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his team of scientists are working. After causing a bit of destruction and forcing agent Clint Barton, better known as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), to take his side, he sets off to start a war. Fearful of what could come, Fury forms a team of Earth’s greatest heroes to fend Loki off, which includes Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Loki’s brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

The Avengers has a number of problems, but its biggest is that too much of the film’s enjoyment is supposed to come from the novelty of seeing all these heroes fight side by side against evil and even that proves to be too difficult a task to pull off. Although the finale is unquestionably fun to watch (particularly thanks to the Hulk), the film misses a clear opportunity to make this team a single unit. Aside from one instance where Iron Man bounces a projectile of Captain America’s shield, the powers of the heroes are never incorporated together. Instead, Iron Man is flying through the sky, the Hulk is jumping here and there off buildings, Thor is fighting his brother and Captain America is on the ground doing his own thing. They’re isolated so much it begins to feel more like little snippets of each hero’s movies have been cut together and less like the cohesive team experience we were promised.

When they are all together, they’re not fighting (unless it’s with each other), but these characters have been established differently in their own films and they don’t particularly mesh well. Iron Man, for instance, is the funny one, the one who always has a quip ready to spout out when confronted by someone else. In his own films, where the tone could be established as a singular trait, that’s totally fine, but when opposite the seriousness of Thor or Captain America, he doesn’t work, and vice versa. In one particular instance, Captain America is struggling with the idea that the he was frozen solid for 70+ years and everyone he knew, everyone he fought alongside with in the war, is now dead. He’s unfamiliar with the modern world and is finding his predicament difficult to handle. The movie then directly transitions to Stark in his playboy pad bouncing jokes off left and right. There’s an uncomfortable flow in The Avengers—it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a serious, tense action film or a silly, self aware comic book movie—and it pervades the entire thing.

There’s also a distinct lack of character progression in The Avengers. While it could be argued that the other films addressed that issue by building them up to this point, it doesn’t excuse the thin writing here, which is surprising given how gifted writer/director Joss Whedon is with writing characters. They all end up pretty much where they were before (despite some poorly implemented middle ground where the characters struggle over the death of a character with whom they hardly had any interaction), which is precisely the problem. The story moves forward, so the characters must as well, but they don’t. Any minor progression is forced in arbitrarily and usually through quick lines of dialogue. Thor says at one point he used to court war, but now shuns it, as if that’s all you need for character growth.

Now, is The Avengers still worth seeing? Sure it is, but only for the most basic, visceral reasons. It’ll get your adrenaline pumping, but emotionally and narratively, there isn’t much going on. Never mind the useless, ugly and sometimes imperceptible 3D that dims the picture; when it gets to that final stretch of film, you’ll be won over, just as I was. Without it, the movie fails. That, of course, makes it a clear case of style over substance, which is what the public is calling for, so I guess in that regard it succeeds, but consider this. Both stylistically and narratively, The Avengers is most comparable to the recent Transformers films in that they both neglect the story and characters, hoping the slam bang finish will make the audience overlook its obvious deficiencies. That’s not a good thing. Once the excitement dies down and moviegoers have had repeat viewings, the veil will be lifted. The Avengers is nothing special.

The Avengers receives 2.5/5