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Review – Thor: Love and Thunder crackles when comedy doesn’t storm over drama

Thor: Ragnarok was the lightning bolt kick to the pants the franchise needed. 

While positioned as one of the Avengers Big Three, Ragnarok was the showcase standalone Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian god needed to be worthy of hanging with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America.

Ragnarok was also a revelation for director Taika Waititi, whose bombastic, carefree and colorful epic was unlike anything the Marvel Cinematic Universe had seen. 

The slant to a more easygoing Thor, who let his hair down ironically after getting a haircut, proved a winning formula for a character previous filmmakers had trouble making engaging on his own.

Ragnarok rightfully is ranked in the Top 5 to 7 films in the entire MCU.

That cast a wide, and at times, impenetrable shadow on Hemsworth and Waititi’s follow up, Thor: Love and Thunder.

For most of the first hour, T:LAT feels like it’s desperately trying to recapture that (ahem) lightning in a bottle magic of Ragnarok.

All the humor that flowed so effortlessly in Ragnarok feels forced. Waititi and co-screenwriter Jennifer Kaityn Robinson seem terrified of letting five minutes pass without a gag regardless if it undercuts the developing dramatic subplots.

This is especially problematic as the too eager playful tone fights with what should be a darker and more serious premise.

Gorr the God Butcher, a fully dialed-in Christian Bale swapping his Dark Knight cowl for a decaying body and white robes, comes into possession of a sword capable of killing gods. 

Like most MCU villains, Gorr has a credible reason for his vendetta, and goes on a god-killing spree.

Thor is still cruising with the Guardians of the Galaxy and going on wild adventures. His friendly rivalry with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) remains intact, but the other Guardians are largely background players. That’s unfortunate given the unexpectedly fun dynamic of Thor with the Guardians in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame

Still, it was a nice flex to have Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillian), Mantis (Pom  Klementieff) and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) show up at all.

Upon learning of Gorr’s murderous actions, Thor returns to New Asgard — now a tourist destination run by his very bored ally Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). 

Thor gets some unexpected help in repelling Gorr’s initial strike by a new Thor, his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who’s now wielding his mostly restored hammer Mjolnir. 

Jane’s arc is mostly true to the comic minus 70% of the pathos. 

To refrain from spoilers, let’s say Jane’s arc had serious potential right from the start, but Waititi would prefer to focus on laughs and awkward comedy instead of taking a more substantial approach to this subplot.

Sure it’s fun to see Thor get weirded out with his now powered-up ex and old weapon, but Waititi plays that out too long.

While the biggest example there’s other signs some of Waititi’s comedic instincts fail him. 

Thor’s massive goats in the comics are portrayed as bleating idiots that quickly wear out their welcome. Waititi’s CGI character, Korg, is another character that’s best in small doses. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that the film turns for the better when Korg’s screen time is reduced.

When a character learns her arm has been dismembered it’s played more for laughs instead of a horrifying, traumatic moment.

A detour to gain help from Zeus (Russell Crowe) takes up more time than it’s ultimately worth. At the very least there’s a payoff to this scene by the film’s conclusion that should excite comic fans.

Had Waititi stuck with that tone for the second half of the movie Love and Thunder would rate near the bottom of the MCU offerings.

Thankfully he dials way down on the humor in the film’s superior second half. It almost comes off like Waititi was leery of embracing the darker tone and stayed in his comfort zone until it was time to get serious.

Love and Thunder is an immensely more enjoyable film for this shift and earns the heartfelt emotion by its conclusion.

Impressively, Waititi resists the urge to go out of the way to make Jane a better Thor than Thor. It’s an unfortunate crutch of writers to make women Mary Sues in action films, but Waititi and Robinson wisely just expand the spotlight to include both Thors instead of overcompensating for Jane.

Despite the first half struggles, Love and Thunder is a gorgeous film to behold throughout.

Waititi fully understands the nature of the source material visuals and stages some mesmerizing imagery. 

Cinematographer Barry Baz Idoine is game with bright hues for the lightning effects and a sumptuous array of colors in the backdrop. One of the film’s most stunning sequences features a near absence of color. It makes for a shocking contrast to the vibrant colors on display.

The second half is also better as it gives Hemsworth more time to delve into the emotional turmoil Thor has endured without the need of a punchline to ruin the moment. Hemsworth was quietly the MVP of Infinity War in large part due to showing a stripped down and far more emotionally vulnerable side to Thor. There’s a handful of moments here that provide that same opportunity and Hemsworth shines.

Portman seems re-energized returning to the MCU in a feature role. Jane has vulnerabilities on another level and Waititi eventually gives Portman time to focus on them.

Thompson remains a fun supporting character, but Valkyrie might be better served as the star of her own Disney+ series.

One area where there’s no letdown from Ragnarok is the fight scenes. Waititi approaches these with the vigor and imagination of a child playing with their action figures. They’re wonderfully staged with creative uses of character powers.

Ultimately, an MCU film with a promising start and lackluster second half (see Iron Man 3) is far less exciting than a film that rests on its potential before waking up for a sensational second act.

Love and Thunder might not be in the upper echelon of MCU films, but Hemsworth has settled in so firmly to this role that even an inconsistent Thor adventure is worth the ride. Just don’t forget to muzzle those goats.

Rating: 8 out of 10

DC Reviews 7-5-22

DC kicks off July with some big reads including the second installment of Dark Crisis featuring Deathstroke’s Secret Society vs. Nightwing and the Titans. Batman 89 #6 concludes the Tim Burton inspired Batman series. Chip Zdarsky begins his run of Batman #125. Check out all these reviews and more.

Batman 89 #6

Batman #125

Batman Killing Time #5

Dark Crisis #2

DC vs. Vampires #7

Flashpoint Beyond #3

The Joker #15

Batman 89 #6

It’s always a little bittersweet when a fantastic mini-series reaches its conclusion. Batman 89 has been an excellent what if scenario imagining how a third Tim Burton Batman film would play out.

Batman writer Sam Hamm clearly understood the tone of the Burton films, which was conveyed beautifully in the unofficial conclusion of the trilogy.

Two-Face is on the loose and has killed Commissioner Gordon. Batman still isn’t ready to take down one of Gotham’s shining lights. Hamm gives a nod to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in this regard and it’s nearly as effective.

Catwoman and Robin team up to help Batman, but this was always bound to come down to Batman and Two-Face. Hamm did a strong job of making Two-Face feel like a legit, unpredictable threat.

Artist Joe Quinones’ style fits wonderfully with the Batman film aesthetics. The likenesses to Michael Keaton, Billy Dee Williams, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Gough are impressive. Quinones makes the layouts a little confusing in illustrating the conflict between Harvey Dent and Two-Face, but otherwise the art is superb.

Leonardo Ito’s vibrant colors also reflect the Burton films with occasionally garish combinations to make characters stand out further.
Hamm and Quinones craft a brilliant sequel to one of the more influential comic book movie franchises.

While it would continue veering into unexpected deviations from the world Burton set up, it’d be great to see another installment featuring this creative team going for another spin in the Burton Batverse.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Batman #125

It’s the start of another bold new era for Batman. Or not. Chip Zdarsky is the latest high-profile writer to take a spin in DC’s flagship title.

At least through the first issue, Zdarsky sticks to the recent Batman greatest hits.

A sidekick gets shot leaving them on death’s door, a longtime Rogue has a new master stroke plan poised to carry out even after his death, a new armored enemy emerges and Bruce Wayne is having another debate of Batman’s effectiveness.

The problem with so many scores of Batman titles coming out on a weekly basis is it’s challenging for a new writer to come up with something original. Let alone an engaging enough storyline to keep readers invested long-term.

Not that Zdarsky isn’t game to try. He puts Tim Drake back in the role of Batman’s main partner. This is an excellent choice as this remains the best iteration of the Dynamic Duo after Dick Grayson’s Robin.

Penguin and Clayface are featured heavily as they’re taking out Gotham’s wealthiest. It’s an Ok premise just not necessarily something that hasn’t been done countless times in Batman books.

Jorge Jimenez returns as the artist, which has pros and cons. The biggest con is some of the storylines involve similar type villains as Jimenez’s previous run with James Tynion IV.

On the plus side, Jimenez’s artwork has a real energetic flow from the action to even basic conversations.

Tomeu Morey’s color work is sharp with some striking colors.

This wasn’t a groundbreaking start to the next great Batman run. Zdarsky is a skilled enough writer to make even the familiar more than tolerable. Hopefully upcoming issues appropriately raise the stakes and the challenge for Bruce Wayne.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Batman Killing Time #5

The inevitable pattern of a Tom King story arrives with the penultimate chapter of Killing Time.

After a promising start, the mini-series just utterly unravels into a near complete mess.

For the first six pages, King writes in graphic detail how various henchmen of Gotham’s top rogues engage in a violent and gruesome shootout.

King continues this story’s not as fascinating as he thinks gimmick of breaking down random intervals of time. This issue feature the payoff to this gimmick, which is somewhat clever while inviting far more questions that don’t hold up to much scrutiny.

Batman and The Help speed off to grab the eye of Christ from Catwoman and The Riddler while Nuri Espinoza tries to apprehend the eye for her superiors.

Espinoza is easily one of the worst characters King has created. Every other line contains some forced obscenity like a child trying out how to appropriately use the newly discovered words.

Batman Killing Time is another bait and switch title as King’s focus remains on Catwoman. Having written Catwoman for nearly 100 issues now, it’s almost impressive how King doesn’t seem to have a handle on writing Selina Kyle at all.

Batman’s presence is minimal and he barely has more than a few lines.
David Marquez’s art is gorgeous. Even at the series’ most frustrating Marquez has consistently held up the artistic end. It’s too bad it’s not attached to a stronger story.

Alejandro Sanchez’s color work is just as inviting and beautifully crafted in detailing this chaotic battlefield.

Killing Time felt like a welcome shift from King’s recent disappointing Batman stories, but it’s fallen into far too familiar patterns and likely a lackluster final installment.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Dark Crisis #2

Easily the most frustrating aspect of Dark Crisis’ second issue is that sudden realization that the fun is over and the issue is done. That’s how good this installment was — it’s easy to get lost in the story and forget the page count.

This kind of leads to a shock that these thrills and excitement aren’t continuing on for another 24 pages. Writer Joshua Williamson seems so well prepared for his big DC event showcase and is showing the moment isn’t too big for him. The Flash and Justice League Incarnate readers already knew this, but to a wider DC audience, Williamson tackling the entirety of the DC Universe is proving a revelation.

Deathstroke leads his Secret Society against the Titans. This is a huge moment and this ambush comes off brutal and sudden. If Teen Titans Academy had been a stronger book this would have been even more impactful as the younger members try to survive this onslaught.

It’s not the junior members Deathstroke is after, or a veteran that had a teased death last issue — it’s Nightwing. This is a fitting clash and seemingly completes the mission of making Nightwing an elite top tier DC character. With the death of the Justice League this was essential.

Williamson also drops the bombshell that Deathstroke is working under someone else’s orders, before ending with a focus on Hal Jordan and a terrific cliffhanger.

Like Williamson, artist Daniel Sampere is fully ready for this spotlight and delivers some of his strongest work. There’s a scene here that states its an homage to George Perez. It says a lot that Sampere can base a drawing after Perez and at least initially raise honest questions if DC didn’t just use a panel of Perez’s art. Artwork that matches up well with Perez is a rarity and Sampere is knocking out career best work here.

Alejandro Sanchez has plenty of opportunities to flex his superb coloring techniques. That’s crucial during the Titans vs. Secret Society battle and the Green Lanterns’ ring. Tom Napolitano works in some creative lettering as well.

Dark Crisis still feels widely out of place in the current DC Universe, but it’s been a fascinating and amazing read so far. This creative team is doing tremendous work and if the rest of the series is this strong it could become one of DC’s best events over the last decade.

Rating: 10 out of 10

DC vs. Vampires #7

Now beyond the midway point along with a couple of one-shots, DC vs Vampires’ main story resumes. For most of the issue, writers James Tynion IV and Matthew Rosenberg continue another verse of the same song — the vampires are several steps ahead of the few surviving heroes and brutally kill anyone that gets in their way.

This doesn’t make for the most suspenseful read as the heroes rarely put up a fight before getting savagely killed by their former allies and friends.

Tynion and Rosenberg throw a slight glimmer of some resistance if not hope for the heroes this installment. One hero who was among the first to encounter the vampires has become an effective vampire killer and a band of heroes has two Hail Marys left to stop Nightwing and his vampire army.

While the odds still don’t look great at least it’s something.

Otto Schmidt’s art didn’t seem as polished as it has in previous issues. There’s a looseness and a sketch-like quality to the pages that’s very noticeable in character expressions. It’s not Schmidt’s best work, but the energy in his pages still make for a dynamic presentation.

This series has been on the verge of getting stale for a few months now. Giving the heroes some chance to get a win is major.

Hopefully at least one of these plans comes to fruition so the vampires have a legit battle on their hands instead of running up the score against a hapless opponent. This was an encouraging issue for a maxi-series that’s desperately needed an infusion of suspense.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Flashpoint Beyond #3

For a seemingly frivolous and wholly unnecessary mini-series, Flashpoint Beyond has sure made for an excellent read.

Writers Geoff Johns, Jeremy Adams and Tim Sheridan have made a captivating story that is deliberately playing against fan expectations. Even better, it’s paying off with a mystery that’s leaving enough breadcrumbs for aspiring detective readers. For those who just want to enjoy the ride and let it play out, Flashpoint Beyond has been a surprisingly amazing mini-series.

Thomas Wayne gets recruited to aid Super-Man, Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing on a mission that could determine the fate of the Flashpoint Earth. It’s a major surprise and Johns, Adams and Sheridan are definitely embracing the anything goes concept of this world and the ability to take some welcomely unexpected twists.

Xermanico handles the art for most of the issue with Mikel Janin knocking out the final two pages. Xermanico is a clean, crisp artist with a natural sense of storytelling in directing readers’ eyes to his focus.

The colorwork from Romulo Fajardo Jr. and Jordie Bellaire (for Janin’s pages) is also steady without needless frills. There’s a slightly washed-out quality to the backgrounds while the characters get an extra boost in colors for a nice effect.

This is a terrific example of a mini-series where the creative team in unafraid to take major risks. It’s led to Flashpoint Beyond being one of the out of nowhere best DC titles on the stand today.

Rating: 10 out of 10

The Joker #15

James Tynion IV wraps his mystery thriller featuring Jim Gordon with a strong final issue.

While the series had a few down moments, Tynion’s endgame smoothly concludes this yearlong plus chase of The Joker.

Gordon is back in Gotham and breaking down his encounter with Bane and The Joker to Batman.

Batman is slightly worried Gordon actually killed Joker. Instead Gordon explains the threads with The Network, Bane, Vengeance, the Sampsons and The Joker.

It’s a complex web that Tynion mostly navigates through without major problems.

There’s some wonky continuity issues specifically with Task Force Z.

Tynion’s payoff to A-Day actually makes sense even though it directly clashes with Task Force Z. Maybe there’s more resolutions to come in Task Force Z?

Giuseppe Camuncoli’s clean artwork features precise line work and panels without a ton of clutter. Camuncoli’s layouts play up the revelation drops as Gordon explains the larger purpose of his assignment.

Arif Piranto’s colors aren’t overly bright and fit seamlessly with the tone of the story.

Tynion took some curious paths but ultimately The Joker was a wild ride and a terrific showcase for Jim Gordon and inspired moments of lunacy for its title character.

Rating: 9 out of 10

GI Joe Classified Series HasLab fully funded, Stretch Goal #1 revealed

This wasn’t a surprise considering how passionate the GI Joe Classified Series fanbase has been. The bigger surprise was the HasLab HISS Tank was fully funded in less than 12 hours.

I’m pretty sure even the Joe team was shocked by this immediate funding. To celebrate, the team revealed the first of four Stretch Goals — a missile rack for the HISS.

You’ve still got a “few” more days to back the project if you’re still on the fence.

Flashback to 2015? Server switch

Just in case you’re wondering why the site has suddenly reverted from talking about Avengers: Infinity War to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The site is undergoing some mild maintenance and I figured it’d be better this week than next. Hopefully we’ll be back up by Sunday at the absolute latest. For now enjoy the trip through memory lane.

Matthew McConaughey goes to war in Free State of Jones

Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mahershala Ali headline an intriguing story that looks to be an action-packed historical based epic that’s a departure from those on comic book movie overload.

Free State of Jones features McConaughey as Newt Knight, who led an uprising to secede from the Confederacy during the Civil War and beyond.
Continue reading Matthew McConaughey goes to war in Free State of Jones

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