I DID IT! I watched 17 movies in a little more than a month! As someone who normally gets so bored watching TV that I fall asleep, this was a huge personal undertaking, and to be honest, kind of took over my life in the last week. But it was very worthwhile for various reasons. If you want to catrch up on the whole series, here it is.
First off, love it or hate it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most influential and successful movie series of our times, and has inspired everything that happens in Hollywood to a huge degree. And while I often joke that Kevin Feige is a genius, he is. Maybe not in the Charlie Chaplin/Orson Welles/Miyazaki/Coen Brothers way, but no one will ever be able to do what he has done again: take a series of multimillion dollar movies and turn them into episodic television.
A lot of people are trying but they barely get the throne room door open, let alone ascend to the throne. For better or worse, this series has changed how we expect our entertainment to be.
And so to the finale before I watch AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR tonight.
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? No fucking way.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Mark Mothersbaugh. Cheesy arcade music mixed in with stirring Wagnerian riffs. The only person who could have done this better is Gustav Mahler.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: For some reason, I didn’t go see Thor: Ragnarok when it first opened. I guess I was just sick of Marvel movies. I saw it a few weeks in and then I cried because I knew it had been crowded it off the IMAX screens and I would never see it as big and loud as I wanted to see it because it is the perfect movie. The perfect movie for ME anyway. In veering between gaudy mockery and mythological end times – and selling them both – it was like a wire had been put directly into my brain to project my dreams onto the screen.
Thor: Ragnarok is a delirious journey into magic. The magic of a filmmaker who understands that the most wonderful thing we can experience in a movie theater is to care about someone else. And when that emotion is accompanied by spectacular visuals, in-jokes and payoffs that justify my last month of movie watching, the BEST superhero on superhero battle yet, technological innovation, and Jeff Goldblum – well, you have the perfect movie.
It even has Karl Urban.
The most amazing thing about Thor: Ragnarok is that director Taika Waititi balances jokes about aliens pooping with an Asgard that is finally full of wonder and mystery. It’s a JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. The film’s opening sequence with Surtur is as majestic as anything in the best fantasy films, with added Led Zeppelin. And then we get hardcore MCU continuity with Thor and Loki’s adventures in New York and Doctor Strange. AND THEN we get sadness as Odin dies and the final Hopkins sleep. And then, we meet Hela, the FIRST female supervillain in a Marvel Film and Cate Blanchett in a headdress straight from Jack Kirby. AND THEN we get a comedy that’s part Planet Hulk and part District 9 and part “Valkyrie is the coolest new Marvel character yet.” AND Stan Lee in a cameo that’s an important part of the story. And Jeff Goldblum doing what he does, which is the greatest thing ever. And KORG, from the cover of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY 83. AND Idris Elba’s Heimdall as Aragorn with dreadlocks leading his people to safety in Helm’s Deep. And the BEST line yet in a Marvel movie stolen from a child who visited the set. (I’m not sure I believe that.) And a Thor vs Hulk battle for the ages and the Hulk wearing pukka shells, and and …
…okay all of that and then just after you’ve laughed at Mark Ruffalo in a Nagle t-shirt complaining that Tony’s pant are cut too tight, we go BACK to the fantasy world and Thor is maimed and has to destroy his world to save it.
AND THEN HULK FIGHTS FENRIS.
I love this movie.
The only thing I can compare it to is Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer by Stephen Chow. Both of these and Thor: Ragnarok have story arcs for each and every character, no matter how minor, and similarly mix broad farce with heroic wonder without ever making you think how it’s being done.
For instance, let’s take Skurge, played by Karl Urban. A minor character. We’ve seen “The villain’s sidekick” in EVERY MOVIE IN THIS REWATCH. But did any of them have the following dialog?
Hela: Tell me about yourself, Skurge.
Skurge: Well, my dad was a stone mason and…
Hela: Yeah. Right. Ok. I’ll just… I’ll stop you there. What I meant was what’s your ambition?
Skurge: I just want a chance to prove myself.
In a few lines we have a laugh that shows how dumb Skruge is, followed by a brief exchange that makes us understand Skurge…and also shows that Hela understands humans and their dreams as well as anyone. As Hela’s dastardly deed unfold, we’re SHOWN Skurge having second thoughts about his job as executioner – he’s just a big dumb stone mason’s son who wants to get girls and fame and glory. Sure, we know he’s going to turn on Hela. But when he does, it’s in something that was set up two hours before in a scene TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM WALT SIMONSON. That is so cool.
Although the VFX in this movie were by ILM, as usual, with their fleet of helper studios, I have a feeling that Kiwi Waititi picked up something from hanging out near WETA for half his life. Or maybe it’s just what they do in New Zealand. Thor: Ragnarok does things I haven’t seen since Peter Jackson was on form in Lord of the Rings, like the “EPIC FLASHBACK.” LOTR was full of little flashbacks to things that were only talked about in the books but seeing them (Isildur!) was pulse pounding. In Ragnarok we flash back to Valkyrie’s last stand, and it’s hypnotic and dreamlike, a window into a whole other narrative and saga that fires our imaginations. (It was also shot in a completely crazy new technology that made it look so bad ass.)
Waititi also isn’t interested in cute. Korg and Miek could bt the Rocket and Groot or Timon and Pumbaa of Ragnarok, but Korg (voiced by Waititi) talks in an annoying whisper moan. And Miek is a slug. Apparently they are coming back, but it isn’t because they are cute.
I haven’t even mentioned how this is the FUNNIEST Thor and the BEST Loki. And the most LOVABLE Hulk. I never even GOT Tom Hiddleston until this movie. AND it manages to fit in a ton of MCU trivia and Easter eggs and call backs. (I’ll admit I didn’t remember that Thor’s “The sun’s going down” thing was a call back to Black Widow until this rewatch.)
In case I need to be more clear: Thor: Ragnarok is my favorite MCU movie. It was made JUST FOR ME, and I’m going to stick to that story.
WOULD I REWATCH: To be completely candid, I did this whole rewatch thing just to justify the fact that I bought the DVD.
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
I’m cheating a little here since I never got a review DVD of this but I did see it twice in the theater and that was only a few weeks ago!
DID I FALL ASLEEP? When I saw this in the theater, as excited as I was, I was extremely jet-lagged after a hellish 9 hour flight, and I was in one of those recliner chairs…but I did not let myself fall asleep.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Between Kendrick Lamar’s searing beats and Ludwig Goransson’s regal and propulsive horn blasts, this was pretty much ideal.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: I guess I don’t have to say much more about Black Panther, since I’ve been writing about it for all of 2018. If you had told me when Marvel Studios began 12 years ago that “In 2018 a Black Panther movie will become a rallying point for how African-Americans see themselves” there is no way I could have believed it.
This is a good place to leave this series of essays/reviews. In the long journey from Tony Stark’s weapons demonstration in Iraq to the bullet trains of Wakanda, Marvel Studios has grown up. They’ve proven they don’t have to be just about making money, or being entertaining…they aren’t afraid to acknowledge that superheroes matter because they help us see the best part of ourselves, and they aren’t afraid to make a movie that matters.
To do that, they only had to make one decision: letting Ryan Coogler make the movie he knew he had to make, to create a Wakanda as an ideal that matters to real people.
Coogler gave us a whole new galaxy of heroes and heroines to root for. And a T’Challa who is still learning how to rule and be the man he needs to be – and made us want to accompany him on that journey. And all of Marvel’s vaguely motivated villains shrivel beneath the fury of Killmonger, an adversary who finally believes in what he’s fighting for. (Bonus: They did not make Michael B. Jordan ugly.)
And because it’s the MCU, after all, a post credits scene that lets us know that Wakanda will play a central role in Avengers: Infinity War.
I’m ready for it. Are you?
WOULD I REWATCH: I hope I get a review DVD.
FINAL THOUGHT: After watching these 18 movies, I’m filled with admiration for the men and women who created the Marvel COMICS that inspired so many of the best moments. (And Stan Lee’s comedic timing really is great, as all his cameos proved.) But above all, the imagination of Jack Kirby shines on, in Thor and the Hulk and Groot and Black Panther and the Celestials. This one genius beyond compare. As you watch Avengers: Infinity War, think a little about Jack Kirby. Without him, you wouldn’t even be in the theater.