VIDEO: See Tim’s review of the film with Adrienne Broaddus on KARE-TV (NBC Minneapolis).
Chris Hemsworth is back and funnier than ever as the God of Thunder in “Thor: Ragnarok,” an action comedy-style adventure that diverts from the path established by the first two “Thor” movies and as a result, thrives through the kaleidoscopic vision of director Taika Waititi.
The film doesn’t waste any time raising the stakes for Thor, who learns while in the capture of the fiery demon Surtur (voice of Clancy Brown) that his home planet of Asgard is facing Ragnarok – the end of days – which he thinks he puts a temporary stop to.
That all changes, though, when his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) warns Thor and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) that Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) has broken out of her imprisoned existence and is coming to Asgard to wreak havoc. In their first attempt to stop her, both Thor and Loki are cast off to the junk planet of Sakaar, where its savvy ruler Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) features Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in gladiator-style battles to entertain the planet’s inhabitants.
But with his powers restricted after being captured by the bounty hunter, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor must first find a way to convince Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to revert to Bruce Banner to escape from Grandmaster’s clutches to get back to Asgard to face off against Hela, whose powers are growing stronger by the minute.
While the first two Thor films weren’t overly serious, “Thor: Ragnarok” establishes almost from its opening frames that it will be marching to the beat of a different – and very funny – drummer. Yes, serious things do happen in the film, but through Waititi’s lighthearted approach, we’re treated to a fast-moving, neon-infused adventure romp that’s loaded with action, colorful costumes and sets, and hilarious dialogue created largely through the improv skills of the gifted ensemble cast.
All told, Waititi injects a burst of energy that’s so welcome in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And while the previous films in the MCU were hardly lacking, it’s exciting to see a filmmaker take risks and break free from the studio’s other offerings and establish its own identity. While some sequels face the danger of falling into a trap and becoming formulaic with each passing film, that’s never the case with “Thor: Ragnarok.” It’s a (Hulk) smashing great time.
Lammometer: 9 (out of 10)
AUDIO: Hear Tim’s review of “Thor: Ragnarok” with Tom Barnard on “The KQ Morning Show.”
Just because the Loki isn’t in the latest Marvel superhero movie chapter “Captain America: Civil War,” it doesn’t mean that Tom Hiddleston can’t have a little fun contemplating a one-on-one battle between the God of Mischief and say, someone like Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) at some point in the movie saga.
Hiddleston and Olsen, who recently co-starred in the Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light,” appeared to like the suggestion offered in recent interviews with the actors.
“It would be interesting because both have magic powers,” Hiddleston told me, laughing. “I’d love to play Loki’s freak-of-nature arrogance in the company of Scarlet Witch. I think Loki would be incredibly patronizing towards her, and probably would be wrong-footed a couple times by her deftness and subtlety. It’d genuinely be fun.”
Though he’s phenomenal playing Loki in the Marvel movie universe, acclaimed actor Tom Hiddleston isn’t about to rest on his laurels and settle into playing only the God of Mischief the rest of his career.
In fact, he’s continuing to take risks acting in different genres by doing everything from comedy to drama and horror; and with his new film, “I Saw the Light,” he’s strumming (and singing) a new tune, quite literally, as country and western music icon Hank Williams.
“When the script for the movie came across my desk, it seemed like the most foreign territory,” Hiddleston said this week in a phone conversation from Los Angeles. “Hank Williams’ life is so dissimilar than mine. I was born in London in 1981 and he was born in Mount Olive, Alabama, in 1923. He is so much a part of America in so many respects, and I’m British, and yet, there was a human soul in the screenplay that I could relate to because he was a performer, generosity of spirit and a joy in his performances. He garnered so much from the genuine connection he had with the audience and I can relate to that.”
On top of that, Hiddleston sai
d he was fascinated with the musician’s “spiritual struggle,” and how the emotional pain expressed through his work often stemmed from the troubled relationship Hank had with his wife, Audrey (another Marvel film star, Elizabeth Olsen, the Scarlet Witch in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and upcoming “Captain America: Civil War”).
“He was obviously wrestling with some pretty formidable personal demons,” Hiddleston said. “To me, the ultimate appeal that’s so much a part of acting is to satisfy my amateur interest in psychology. (Director) Marc Abraham’s great pitch to me was that he was making a connection to the great power of Hank’s great songs with Audrey, and the turbulent and passionate nature of his marriage gave Hank the inspiration to write great songs like ‘Cold, Cold Heart,’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart.’ I thought that was a beautiful suggestion that the personal circumstances of this great artist generated such extraordinary music.”
In a separate interview, Olsen said while Audrey wasn’t as well-known as Hank, it didn’t make bringing the character to life any easier. After all, Audrey had to be believable character that audiences could relate to, because portraying the love and strife the couple shared was pivotal to the story.
“We wanted the fights to feel angry and important, and there were so many arguments,” Olsen said. “But, we also tried so hard to make sure that their love was very clear. When we had the opportunity to show the love that they had with each other, we needed to embrace that. You can’t care about someone falling out if you don’t believe in why they are together.”
Now playing in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee, and expanding to more theaters this week, “I Saw the Light” begins the night Hank and Audrey Williams was married, and follows the couple through their doomed marriage as Hank rises to the top of the music world – a rise and eventual fall that’s beset by Hank’s alcohol abuse and a painful, chronic back condition.
Suffering with Hank throughout his long bout with alcoholism was Audrey, and it was very difficult to contemplate how she dealt with the pain, Olsen said.
“At a certain point, obviously people who are dealing with their own demons, you can’t ever understand what that is and to be in their shoes,” Olsen said. “But to love someone deeply experiencing that and being on the other end of it, I think is a very painful place to live in.”
Sadly, Audrey met the same fate as Hank did, Olsen noted.
“She died of alcoholism as well, when she was in her 40s and there was a lot of pain, I’m assuming, on her part from being connected to his demons, and that conflict of living and loving that man,” Olsen said.
The film only follows Hank to his premature death in 1953 at age 29, revealing, that, while his career was on the downslide near the end of his life, he still wrote and performed classic pieces of Americana, such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
“He was so authentic from top to bottom and beginning to end,” Hiddleston observed. “So the heartbreaking tragedy of Hank is, the more he suffered, the better his music was. There may be a part of him that was aware of that. Famously, in trying to appease Audrey, when they moved to Shreveport, he spent 1948 largely sober. He was on time, he was well-mannered, he was professional.
“The suggestion is, he didn’t write any good songs in 1948, and somehow the well dried up,” Hiddleston added. “I don’t subscribe to the belief that the more screwed-up your personal life is, the better your work. I think it’s possible to create great work from a healthy place, but Hank, as the facts say, he wrote some of his best songs when he was in the middle of enormous personal suffering.”
While Hiddleston perfectly embodies Hank in looks in “I Saw the Light,” perhaps more amazing is how he flawlessly sings the country music legend’s songs throughout the film. Hiddleston is humble in any praise he receives for his vocal performances, suggesting that we won’t see him on tour, guitar in hand, anytime soon.
“I’m not going to give up the day job just yet,” Hiddleston said, laughing.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Earth’s mightiest heroes are disassembled and reconfigured in an exciting new way in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a thrilling, complex and action-packed sequel to the overrated 2012 original.
Once again written and directed by Joss Whedon, the hotly anticipated follow-up to “The Avengers” delves deeper into the fragile psyches of the seemingly unstoppable band of superheroes. It also skillfully blends a new villain and additional super-powered characters to the mix, thereby distancing it from any potential threats of sequelitis. The progression of the narrative feels natural and doesn’t try to rest in any way on its laurels, even though the film is a sure-fire box office blockbuster.
“Age of Ultron” picks up in the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia, where the villainous organization HYDRA holds Loki’s scepter from the first “Avengers” film in their bid to develop weapons of mass destruction. The team recaptures it, but thanks to the wicked, mind-altering powers of Wanda Maximoff (Elisabeth Olson) and hyper-speed of her twin brother, Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a trap is set by Hydra when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) uses the scepter’s power to jumpstart his dormant global peacekeeping “Ultron” program. Stark has the support of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), but the rest of the team – Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) feel left out in the dark.
The final execution of the program, which helps Stark finally realizes his goal of artificial intelligence, ultimately manifests itself in a super robot named Ultron (voice of James Spader), who not only wants to kill his creator, but rule the Earth after he realizes his plan of global annihilation. And that’s especially a big problem when the Avengers as a team find themselves at breaking point, where loyalties are questioned and trust becomes a big issue, since members of the group have different ideas on how to proceed with stopping the enemy and creating a peaceful future.
Coming in at just over 2 hours and 20 minutes, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” doesn’t feel too long, but rather a complete story because Whedon wisely uses his time to weave in the darker, complex vignettes of each team member in between all the action. For this reason, the film has more of a Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” sort of edge to it, making the narrative that much more satisfying. While there are plenty of gags and laughs in the “Age of Ultron,” to be sure (a burgeoning romance between Hulk and Black Widow spurs some saucy humor, and there are also running jokes about Cap’s clean-cut demeanor and Thor’s hammer), it’s just refreshing to see that Whedon has adapted to the darker path of the Marvel movie series, where life for its superheroes moves onto shakier ground.
Of course, “Age of Ultron” is packed to the hilt with action, and the special visual effects are about as good as it gets. Particularly impressive is how the fluidness of the metal-based Ultron allows for some expressiveness, and you can really feel Spader’s smarmy characterization flowing through it. The hotly anticipated Hulkbuster scene is also hugely entertaining and diehard fans will definitely not be disappointed.
While the core cast of “Age of Ultron” delivers as expected, it’s exciting to see the introduction of new Marvel Universe characters to the mix like Vision (Paul Bettany) — who is a particularly thrilling addition — and the Maximoffs, who are finely realized by Olsen and Taylor-Johnson. And, without revealing too much, it’s great to see a hint of how the Avengers team is undergoing changes as the film series heads into the two part “Avengers: Infinity War” chapters coming in 2018 and 2019. There will be more in between, though, with “Ant-Man” (in July) and more “Captain America” and “Thor,” because the Marvel Universe is an expansive one – and we can’t get enough of it.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11”and various Minnesota radio stations.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers