Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok

"Third time's a charm" is the aptest phrase that can be used for Marvel's latest entry into its cinematic universe, Thor: Ragnarok. Returning once again to lead this voyage is Chris Hemsworth, who of the top three characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has had the roughest go at it in his solo adventures. However, with Taika Watiti in the director's chair, Thor: Ragnarok is not only the best Thor films but one of the best Marvel projects to date.

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Review: Doctor Strange

10643689501470780548050 It’s hard, currently, to walk into a Marvel Studios movie and not have that up-surging hint of pure excitement, that childlike feeling of anticipation as you know you are about to see an intellectual property (maybe even one that you relate to, inherently or otherwise) treated with the utmost grace and ability that large-scale filmmaking has to offer. This is no different in director Scott Derrickson’s interpretation of Doctor Strange, where an amazing cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role brings one of Marvel’s lesser known but greatly powered heroes to live action in a stunning and wondrous way. In fact, it is the sense of awe and grandeur that Doctor Strange inflicts that makes it so impactful, by ways of the introduction of magic and the deep mystery of the beyond, the film props itself up immediately as one of the best Marvel productions to date.

This film suffers some of the same indignities that the Marvel formula provides, namely a rushed prologue and shortened character development. However, these are largely sidestepped by the structure Derrickson lays throughout the movie: by taking advantage of the very tropes a character such as “Doctor Strange” is inundated with, the movie leads the audience to clever assumptions about characters, supplanting concrete descriptions with vague but informative notions. He lets the audience do the work he could have done with more run time.

The supporting cast is nothing short of fantastic, usually the case with films from Marvel Studios but especially so here. Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in a contrasting performance to Cumberbatch’s aloof Strange, a stoic and severe reminder of the variety of personalities at play in the movie as “Mordo”. Benedict Wong, easily enough as the character “Wong”, offers up a sort of characterization of Mordo’s severity, one that serves as both beloved guide and unintended comic relief throughout the movie. The only real disappointment is Rachel McAdams in the extremely forgettable position of lead love interest in a Marvel Studios movie as “Christine Palmer” a character that connects Strange’s old life to his new one and fulfills little purpose other than that.

The real high casting points in this film are the triumvirate of players at the top: Cumberbatch as “Doctor Strange”, Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One” and Mads Mikkelsen as “Kaecilius”. Cumberbatch exceeds in his portrayal of Strange, he has always done well with the “brash American” characters and that skill is honed to a fine point here: at times sarcastic and playful, severe and enraged, the range he displays is wonderful. Swinton excels as she always does, donning an intriguingly androgynous form for “The Ancient One” and thoroughly accomplishing the effect that she knows much, much more than Strange or even the audience does. Mikkelsen takes a stereotypically underdeveloped Marvel villain and makes up for what the script lacks in with the pure intensity of his performance.

However, if there is one reason to see this movie, it is for its visual splendor. From beginning to end the movie is packed with stunning cinematography. Cinematographer Ben Davis adds to the feel he honed in Guardians of the Galaxy with a foreboding sense of forever. Anywhere from the “mirror dimension” to “The Dark Dimension”, the level and layout of the CGI work create mind-blowingly powerful landscapes and scenes. The very addition of something as illogical as magic to the Marvel universe opens up a plethora of visual options as the film takes on an almost kaleidoscopic nature, transcending normal visual cues for something altogether new for audiences.

Ultimately, Doctor Strange is a treat for the viewer in many ways: superb acting, the impact of an interesting yet underutilized character, a classic formula whose faults are for a bit lifted, but probably most of all Doctor Strange will owe its success to the rich visual thematics it has been imbued with by director Scott Derrickson. Between his delicate handling of a premise that could easily have jumped the shark and the impeccable acting chops of Benedict Cumberbatch, perhaps the most polished Marvel Studios movie yet was made, and it is a joy to behold.

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Review: Ant-Man

AntMan Ant-Man is the longest gestating Marvel film to date. Initially worked on by director Edgar Wright, even before Robert Downey Jr. put on the now iconic suit, Ant-Man was a little more fleshed out than just a pipe dream. Fast forward past The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Avengers: Age of Ultron to Marvel’s latest ambitious project. A movie about a lesser known character who shrinks to the size of an ant while fighting crime. The premise is silly, but inject a little Marvel Studios magic and you got yourself another summer hit.

The movie stars Paul Rudd, known comedic actor and all around loveable goofball as Scott Lang. The character differs from the average Marvel superhero because he is not a hero in any way, shape, or form when the film starts. He’s a known thief, who lives by a system of morality, but a thief all the same. When Lang is released from prison he makes a promise to himself, his daughter, and ex-wife that he is done for good in the crime world, of course life has a way of making liars out of the best of us. We are also introduced to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), an aging scientist who in the past created a suit and technology that allowed him to shrink to the size of an ant. Pym, has since retired from the scientific world, but keeps his formulas and life’s work very guarded even from his former partner, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Pym has an estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), that works with Cross on his attempt to recreate Pym’s works as he has since taken over the company.

Pym recruits Scott Lang to infiltrate his former company, Pym Technologies, and help to destroy all the work so that Cross cannot sell the technology to military contractors. A simple enough plot to get us moving in the right direction. What takes place next is an Ocean’s Eleven type film. Lang brings in some other thieves to round out his support team on this heist. They proceed to gather materials, and prep for the work at hand.

One thing is clear when watching these Marvel Studios films, they understand to keep the genre alive you have to attack each film with a new and inventive style. While this is an original flick, Ant-Man doesn’t feel like other Marvel films. It is a heist film first with superhero elements. Its incredibly funny, and well paced. The side characters are nearly as important as Rudd, Douglas, Stoll, or Lilly. While they aren’t flushed out nearly as much, they play such an integral part of what goes on you will not forget them. Michael Peña as Luis absolutely steals the show every time he is on screen, that hasn’t happened in a Marvel film ever; its a true collaborative effort. Douglas does a wonderful job as the old codger who is still smart as a whip and tough as nails. The flashbacks and callbacks to his past are important and fascinating to the overall film. Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne gives you just enough to be excited to see where they go next with the character. She isn’t a damsel in distress, but rather constantly clamouring to be the lead because frankly she is more qualified. This is a nice push back to the criticism of Marvel’s so called lack of female characters problem. Corey Stoll as the villain Darren Cross was a well placed over the top corporate bad guy. His performance was strong, but like a number of Marvel Studios villains he is more mustache twirling and less developed than he should have been. Last but certainly not least, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang performance is wonderful. He delivers every bit of loveable goofball and guy who can’t get out of his own way. Very similar to how Robert Downey Jr. played Tony Stark in the first Iron Man film. He strives to be better, often falling short, but keeps getting back up. His comedic timing works well here considering the outlandish subject matter of his “powers.” All and all, Marvel Studios cranked out yet another hit even when they had to make a last second director change from Edgar Wright to Peyton Reed. Reed was able to take the bones of the script, rework it quite a bit to fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe properly, and make it his own. Any Marvel Studios fan should be pleased with the outcome.

[easyreview title= "Review of Ant-Man" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.0" overall= false]