Friday, November 24, 2017

Double Review: 'Thor: Ragnarok' and 'Justice League' (2017)

It's a double dose of 100-million dollar capeshit at the local cineplex - and while one of 'em is really good, the other one will have you pining for the days of Barb Wire and The Phantom.

By: Jimbo X

Let's talk about this whole "nontraditional casting" thing that's going around these days. 

You see, whenever Hollywood decides to turn a white character black, or Hispanic, or gay, or Muslim, or a transgender, or a morbidly obese dwarf, nobody complains. But of course, whenever a white actor is chosen to play a character who is black in other media - or Hispanic, or gay, or Muslim, or transgender, or a morbidly obese dwarf - the throngs get in an uproar. Now, you might say this is kinda' hypocritical, but you know what? They've even codified the double-dealing sanctimonious in their preferred nomenclature

Go on ahead and click on the Wikipedia. If a character of color is turned white in a movie, or a TV show or a cartoon or a video game, the masses call it "whitewashing," and it's clearly deemed a very, very bad thing. But if you're looking up the inverse - in which white characters are turned into P.O.C. - the terminology switches to the far-less-critical "nontraditional casting" - or, if that isn't condescending enough, "integrated casting," or God help us, even the downright brass-balled "color-blind casting."

Now here's the thing that really burns my toast about the idea. Personally, I don't care if movie studios wanna' make a movie where the voice of the Virgin Mary is supplied by Gina Rodriguez, nor do I care if Marvel wants to turn everybody in the Spider-Man mythos into mulattoes. Hell, I don't even mind if some opportunists out there want to turn Santa Claus into a black homosexual, even if, in the words of my good buddy Patrick Schefferty back in the fifth grade, "Santa has to be white - he's from the North Pole, not North Harlem!" What I hate about this stuff is the double standard - the notion that changing characters from white to P.O.C. is A-OK, but turning P.O.C. characters white is evil incarnate.

Just how many different "white" properties have we seen P.O.C.ed over the last few years? You've got the all-black version of Annie, the all-black version of Steel Magnolias, the all-black version of The Honeymooners, a movie where The Human Torch is black, a movie where The Kingpin is black, a movie where a black guy plays Baron Mordo - a Himalayan, for fuck's sake - and although it ain't necessarily P.O.C.-related, there's even a TV show where The Penguin is gay for the Riddler. Again, I don't have a specific problem with any of that, but I do have a problem with the fact that all them social justice people keep celebratin' making characters more like themselves but go cuckoo at the mere suggestion of making a non-white or a non-gay or a non-woman character white, straight or male. 

You can't have it both ways - if you're cool with Hermione Granger being black, you HAVE to be cool with B.A. Baracus being a five foot tall white guy named Doug or else you're a dyed in the wool hypocrite. Same thing if you think it's dandy they turned Iceman from The X-Men into a poofter but consider it a hate crime if somebody wanted to turn the two booty snatchers from Brokeback Mountain into heterosexual pussy pounders. Nor does it make much sense to celebrate turning Ms. Marvel into a Muslim woman but consider it a racist felonious assault to turn Wonder Woman into an Episcopalian dude from Minnesota. And you'd have to be one dense sonofabitch to decry the casting of a white guy to play Michael Jackson in a TV movie while simultaneously vaunting a Broadway play featuring a Puerto Rican Alexander Hamilton, let alone stuff like The Black Nativity, which effectively turns Jews into black people.

All I'm looking for is a little consistency here. Which is why I propose the following solution: every time Hollywood turns a formerly white character into a P.O.C., that means they also have to turn a P.O.C. character white - you know, because that's what equality is all about, ain't it? 

Just imagine the possibilities here.

An all new version of Family Matters, except this time around everybody's got skin the same color as three-day old peaches. Or how about a re-do of Hell Up in Harlem, where we sub out Fred Williamson for, I don't know, Tom Hanks? Shit, why not reboot the beloved Penitentiary series with a palette-swapped "Too Sweet," this time around played by a wiry Irish fella?

Go on ahead, Hollywood, turn Spider-Man into a half-Mexican. half-black kid, just as long as you also turn Madea into a Swedish-Germanic housewife played by an actual European woman. We're cool with you turnin' Captain America into a homosexual Chinaman, but that's only if you let us turn Shaft and Superfly into 300-pound Klan members from North Dakota named Clem and Josephus. And please, do feel free to make all-black versions of Ben-Hur and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, pending you also plan on making all-white versions of Menace II Society and Coming to America.

And of course, we're totally fine with you folks remaking Birth of a Nation as a virulently anti-white black supremacist revenge fantasy under one condition: you also make a race-swapped remake of Fight For Your Life, this time revolving around a peaceful family of pacifist whites getting gang raped, racially humiliated and murdered by an ardent black identitarian - who, naturally, gets his testicles blown off by a 4'10, 200 pound 83-year old woman right after he posits his mama leaving his daddy for a white man as the origin of his racial animus

I mean - that is what "diversity" is supposed to be all about, isn't it?

Who'd thunk a pile of rocks would be the best Marvel character to hit movie theaters in years?

Anyhoo, speaking of things that'll make your head explode, we've got a back-to-back twofer of new capeshit movies, and we're starting the superhero double-header with Thor: Ragnarok. Now, I gotta' be honest with ya: I went into this movie with ZERO expectations. In fact, the only reason I was seein' it in the first place was because they do half-priced tickets at the local googol-plex and I had a strange hankerin' for popcorn and Red Vines that evening. Well, not only was I pleasantly surprised by how good it was, it plum knocked my damned socks off - not only is this one of the best pure action flicks of the year, it might just be the best MCU movie to date. Yep, better than Winter Soldier. Better than Civil War. And it's WAY better than The Avengers, and it ain't even close. 

And that's for one very good reason, kids - unlike virtually every Marvel movie that's come down the pipes over the last five years, the story of Ragnarok is self-contained. You don't really need to have seen the last 18 Marvel movies to grasp what's going on, and even better, the whole damn thing doesn't revolve around being a sequel hook and hardly anything more. As a matter of fact, you keen cinemaphiles might note the basic structure of the movie is borrowed from two of the greatest spectacles in Hollywood history - Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments

You scoff? Hell, half the movie is about a royal figure falling from grace and being sold into slavery (and forced to engage in death sports to return to his rightful place in the kingdom) and the other half of the movie is about a God-man trying to rescue his chosen people from certain death by sneaking 'em through a parted sea. Hell, all the movie really needs are subplots about Soylent Green and maybe an intelligent ape or two and it's practically a loving homage to the complete Charlton Heston filmography.

So the flick begins with Thor in hell, except they don't call it hell, and he's all chained up by this giant CGI meatball demon monster and of course Thor knocks his head off and drags it back to Valhalla as a trophy. Only thing is, his brother Loki has been impersonating their daddy Odin since the last Thor movie and even though they hate each other's guts they decide to work together to find out where there estranged daddy is, and with a little help from Doctor Strange they find out their pa (played by a one-eyed Anthony Hopkins) is living out the rest of his years in Norway but before he dies he lets 'em know he kinda sorta sired an illegitimate love child before either of 'em were born and she calls herself "The Goddess of Death" and she's hellbent on destroying their kingdom and, hey, what do you know, here she comes right now. So we meet this hihereto unmentioned older sis (played by Cate Blanchette with moose antlers) and she's powerful as fuck and immediately shatters Thor's magic hammer and blasts him three universes over.

So while she's ethnically cleansing Thor's multicultural viking utopia, Thor winds up crash landing on this junk heap planet where he's sold into slavery by a black Valkyrie (who is literally introduced drunk off her ass on a 40) and forced to have gladiator duels to the death under the watch of Jeff Goldblum, who walks around wearing blue eyeliner and acting like he's a supporting cast member in The Hunger Games the whole damn movie. Well, eventually, Thor has to scrap with the planet's grand champion of ass-whuppin', and what do you know, it's the freakin' Incredible Hulk wearing a gladiator helmet made out of old washing machine parts. From there, they go on to have the single greatest brawl in comic book movie history, complete with Hulk landing the old Macho Man Randy Savage elbow off the top rope form 500 feet in the air.

Eventually, The Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner and he and Thor and that black Valkyrie chick and even Loki decide that they gotta' do something about that Hela chick running around mass murdering their home planet, so they get together to steal one of Jeff Goldblum's rape-copters to fly into a giant supernatural vortex (which they keep calling "the devil's anus") so they can go back to Viking World and kick some ass. That leads to our damn near 40-minute-long denoument in which Cate Blanchett's zombie army goes toe-to-toe with our heroes and the last remaining Viking soldiers on a rainbow bridge, and just when you think the people who made this shit can't outdo themselves, I assure you ... wait about two more minutes and they're about to blow your brain outta' the back of your skull one more time.

This thing starts off like a spiritual adaptation of God of War and ends like a spiritual adaptation of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and in between we've got EVERYTHING we loved about old sword-and-sandal cheese-fests like The Beastmaster and Clash of the Titans. That, and it's legitimately one of the funniest movies to come out this year - whether it's Bruce Banner's less than stellar landing at the start of the final battle or Thor recounting a story of when his brother turned into a snake and tricked him when he was a kid, there's about four or five laugh out loud moments in this sumbitch - hell, it's such a hoot to sit through, you won't even feel like complainin' about the fact they cast Chinese and Mexican actors to play Norse gods.

We've got 1,544 dead bodies (almost certainly this year's mortality rate grand champion.) 100 dead lava monsters. No breasts. One pair of buttocks (which belong, to of all characters, The Hulk.) Ten Kung Fu fights. Twenty-five exploding spaceships. Multiple decapitations. Multiple impalements. Multiple disintegrations. One character literally being turned into a puddle of guts. Eyeballs roll. Arms roll. Giant Saint Bernard attack. Gratuitous "Immigrant Song" (a wasted opportunity, since we ALL know "God of Thunder" would've been a better choice.) Gratuitous Jeff Goldblum. Gratuitous 80's John Carpenter ripoff synth soundtrack (supplied by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame.) Laser fu. Shock collar fu. Giant hammer fu. Lightning fu. And the thing more or less responsible for this movie existing in the first place - some serious sibling rivalry fu.

Starring Chris Hemworth as Thor, the last Asgardian action hero who loses his hammer, gets a shitty haircut from Stan Lee and winds up making more one-liners than the entire cast of Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour combined; Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who runs around with a fruity aristocratic mullet and smirkin' ear to ear in practically every scene he's in, probably because he fucked Taylor Swift and can't nobody take that away from him; Cate Blanchett as Hela, the living embodiment of death who has eyeshadow smeared all over her forehead and is the only character in movie history to sport designer moose antlers; Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner - you know, the effete alter ego of the broccoli-green CGI wrecking machine we call The Hulk; Tessa Thompson as the black Viking chick Valkyrie, who spends half the movie drinking outer space Colt 45 and driving star cruisers under the influence so she can enslave intergalactic gladiators; and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin, who decides to retire in Norway, promptly die and then come back at the very end to give his young 'un some sage life advice.

Written by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost and Eric Pearson - all of whom are actual comic book writers, which probably explains why this is one of the few big-time comic book movies to roll around this year that didn't suck - and directed by Kiwi Taiki Waititi, who also provides the voice of Korg, this kinda' autistic rock monster who's probably the funniest character in the entire MCU. Oh, and if you haven't checked out some of Waititi's earlier flicks, you really should, especially 2007's Eagle vs. Shark, which is basically a movie about Napoleon Dynamite falling in love with Amelie (with a central subplot about getting revenge on an old school bully who now has M.S.)

Anyway, this is a hell of a movie, ya'll, and probably the biggest surprise I've experienced at the multiplexes all year round (yep, even bigger than when I went to go see Girls Trip and I got two fried onion rings in my order of tater tots.) I give it a solid three and a half stars out of four and now demand that all subsequent Marvel movies follow this one's lead. Jimbo says definitely check it out, even if you have to pay for it.

The best part is when Batman explains he's only on the team to meet racial hiring quotas.

Well, the good news about Justice League, I suppose, is that it's marginally better than Batman v. Superman, which is sorta' like bragging about being the smartest kid in special ed, but hey - baby steps, remember. 

Anyhoo, this movie is still a great big mess, thanks in no small part to Joss Whedon comin' in at the last minute and re-scriptin' everything 'cause Zack Snyder's kid killed herself. In fact, I'm convinced that all Whedon did was resubmit The Avengers script with a couple of names swapped out, which probably explains the two or three times in the movie Superman calls Batman "Iron Man." 

So the flick starts off with these kids asking Superman if he ever fought a hippo while they record it with their cell phones, so the Whedon Effect is in full force just a minute into the movie. Then Batman dangles a bad guy off a roof and he turns into a grasshopper demon and they have a kung fu fight while flying all over Metropolis. During the credits they play this sappy-crappy song while the front page of The Metropolis Post shows Superman, Prince and David Bowie as "missing alien heroes" on it and then a bunch of ruffians DESTROY an orange stand run by some Muslim woman and there's long, lingering shots of homeless people holding signs that read "I tried," because that's exactly the kind of world limp-wristed liberals like Whedon think we've got without Obama ... I mean, Superman.

Then Batman goes to Iceland and tries to recruit Aquaman and he looks just like WWE 'rassler Roman Reigns and he's onscreen all of 96 seconds before he takes his shirt off. Then the Flash goes to see his daddy in jail and he's convinced he didn't really kill his mama. Then we go to daddy Cyborg's house and, yeah, his whole backstory is pretty much Astro Boy: The Black VersionThen the Amazons tinker around with this giant crate and this Loki ripoff named Steppenwolf pops out and sics a million billion insect warriors after 'em, then he chases 'em on horseback with his big laser axe.

Then there's a TV news story about a women threatening to anally rape aliens for probing her husband (because that's what Whedon thinks is funny, I take it.) And because this shit doesn't feel dated enough already, Amy Adams' mom makes a joke about her daughter being "the thirstiest" woman in the newsroom. Fuck, how long before we get a one-liner in here about fidget spinners? Then Wonder Woman recounts a battle with Steppenwolf three million years ago, with Green Lantern and Black Lightning both making split-second cameos.

Then Wonder Woman goes to visit Cyborg and she has to explain why they need him for a diversity hire. Then Aquaman fights Steppenwolf underwater while "Icky Thump" by the White Stripes plays, because this movie doesn't feel dated by a good ten years already. Then a buncha bug-eyed insect monsters start eating Latvia and Steppenwolf says something about summoning Darkseid. By the way, now is a good time to let you know the CGI effects in this one are spotty as fuck, with the lighting being so dark half the time you can't tell what in tarnation is supposed to be happenin' onscreen. Oh, and before you ask - the "Flash-time" sequences are nowhere near as well done as the Quicksilver scenes in all them X-Men movies.

Now the movie's hitting peak clusterfuck. Batman calls in an AT-AT ripoff and since Cyborg is basically Johnny 5 from Short Circuit (except presumably better at basketball and freestyle rapping), he already knows how to drive it. Then Batman proposes the idea of using some of Steppenwolf's Martian demon DNA technology to resurrect Superman. So they dig up Superman's grave and throw him in a puddle of brown goop and they drop an electrified Rubik's Cube on top of his corpse and he jumps 5,000 feet in the air the moment his ticker starts working' again. But Cyborg's self-defense system automatically targets Superman, so he laser eyeballs him and proceeds to beat the shit out of the entire Justice League single-handed (and LOL when Wonder Woman headbutts Superman, then the headbutts her so hard she's plowed 18 feet underground.) In fact, Supes is about to squeeze Batman's brains out his skull like a tube of toothpaste, until Amy Adams shows up and hugs him and tells him to stop throttling everybody. Then Superman flies off into a cornfield and does some soul-searching and Steppenwolf combines these three magic Rubik's Cubes together so he can make giant tentacles come out of the ground and ruin everybody's front lawn. Then Batman hops in his Batmobile and drives around Chernobyl trying to draw as many intergalactic space bugs as he can while demonic purple silly string chews up everything.

Then when it looks like Steppenwolf is about to wreck everybody's shit, Superman shows up and smacks his silly ass all over Russia. There's a lot of post-script stuff after that, but it's not really worth talkin' about. Oh, and in the credits, the Flash and Superman have a foot race to the Pacific Ocean and Lex Luthor breaks out of jail and starts an anti-Justice League with Deathstroke ... in case you were wondering what the sequel hook for JLA 2 was gonna' be. Then again, considering this movie's underwhelming box office performance, this might be the only Justice League flick we'll be seein' for quite some time.

We've got 45 dead bodies. 300 dead alien bug monsters. One dead horse. Zero breasts. Multiple impalements. Arms roll. One bank robbery. One underwater battle. Five kung fu fights. Gratuitous slow-mo karate. Gratuitous snappy patter. Gratuitous comedic relief (that isn't really comedic or relieving, actually.) Truth-telling lasso fu. Demonic stalactite fu. Laser cannon fu. And the thing more or less responsible for this movie existing in the first place - obvious last second rewrite fu.

Starring Ben Affleck as Batman, who tells Aquaman "I'm not the one who brought a pitchfork" to a fight against 15 million bug warriors; Henry Cavill as Superman, who spends three-quarters of the movie pushin' up daisies before he's resurrected, J.C.-style; Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, who actually gets smacked around by a bigger, stronger male coworker but doesn't file a sexual discrimination complaint; Ezra Miller as The Flash, who says "yay, we can bring [Superman] back, but not in a Pet Semetary scenario"; Jason Momoa as Aquaman, who at one point says he doesn't really give a shit about climate change; and pretty much stealing the movie all by his lonesome, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, Batman's high tech backseat driver who remarks "I miss the days when our biggest concerns were exploding wind-up penguins."

Co-written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, who tried real hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice but apparently forgot to bring the bottle and directed by Zack Snyder, who truthfully was only around for about half the movie, which means I reckon he only deserves half the blame for it being the overturned mobile home of a movie it is.

Eh, the best I can give it is two stars out of four. It's an incremental improvement over the turd-fest that was BvS, but this series has a looooooooong way to go before it can match the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jimbo says check it out, but only if you can get somebody else to buy you a ticket.


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