Film and drama

Screen Themes: Thor Ragnarok and the sequel conundrum

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Let’s all go to the movies! Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the latest blockbuster from Marvel studios and considers the perplexing issue of sequels.

Thor: Ragnarok

Directed by Taika Waititi (2017)

I’ll get this out of the way: I’ve never sat through an entire Thor movie before this one. Frankly, I always thought that Thor was a boring character and, while I appreciated Chris Hemsworth’s contribution to the Avengers movies, I never felt the desire to see his solo adventures. And then Taika Waititi came along.

The New Zealand-born director known principally for the superb Hunt For the Wilderpeople got his start as an actor, then jumped into the director’s chair for 2007’s Eagle vs Shark. A friendship with star Jemaine Clement led to Waititi directing episodes of Flight of the Conchords, which in turn led to a shot at the US remake of distinctly British comedy The Inbetweeners. In 2014 Waititi directed and starred in the vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows (once again accompanied by Jemaine Clement), but it was his 2016 movie that really made a mark.

Telling the story of overweight orphan Ricky Baker, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a truly beautiful film, both from a cinematic perspective and from the humour that Waititi and his talented cast (including Sam Neill and Julian Dennison) wring from the material. Ranging from wryly amusing to laugh out loud funny, Waititi proved that he was a talented director with a distinct voice. Eventually, Marvel Studios came calling.

Not exactly known for their "hands off" approach (Avengers director Joss Whedon has been particularly critical of studio interference), Marvel nonetheless let Waititi brand Thor: Ragnarok with his particular style of humour and the result is the funniest Marvel movie ever made. To be fair, this is not a hotly contested title, as only Ant-Man could really be considered a comedy amongst the Marvel pantheon, but this nerd-friendly action comedy was far funnier than most of the mainstream comedies released this year.

Starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Anthony Hopkins (Odin) and a scenery chewing Jeff Goldblum (The Grandmaster), the standout character in Ragnarok is undoubtedly rock-man Korg, voiced by Taika Waititi himself. With a character based on a Kiwi pub bouncer, Korg has many of the best lines in the movie and provides a nice counterpoint to the rather boring B-plot of Idris Elba (Heimdall) trying to save the people of Asgard.

It is this latter point that prevents Ragnarok from getting a perfect score; at 2 hours and 10 minutes, this is the shortest Marvel movie ever, but still felt a good 20 minutes too long. There seems to be an attempt to invoke the Jewish struggle in the frequent repetition of the "Asgard is wherever the Asgardians are" cliché, but the scenes away from the main characters tend to drag interminably.

Despite being filmed on the Gold Coast, Thor Ragnarok feels like a Kiwi movie, both from the directorial tone and the presence of Waititi regulars, like Sam Neill (in a hilarious cameo) and Rachel House as the Grandmaster’s enforcer Topaz.

Even if you don’t like superhero movies, Thor Ragnarok is worth checking out.

Rating: 9/10

The Sequel Conundrum

It is a widely accepted fact that most sequels aren’t as good as the original. Seldom will you find a movie fan who will argue the merits of Blues Brothers 2000 over the original and although there are some obvious exceptions (Terminator, Godfather, Aliens) the bad far outnumber the good. With over 40 sequels or remakes already released this year, the problem isn’t going away — unless of course people stop paying to see them…

For studios, sequels are a safe bet, particularly if they don’t deviate too far from the formula that made the original successful. Sometimes this works, as in the case of the inexplicably entertaining Fast & Furious series, and sometimes it doesn’t, as demonstrated by the witless Hangover sequels. Without sequels, however, we would never have the simple joy of Toy Story 2, the satisfying cheesiness of Wrath of Khan or the anarchic splatter of Evil Dead 2. Even this year, we’ve had Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and a pretty great Trainspotting follow-up — none of which make up for the unwatchable Transformers: The Last Knight.

Two sequels are hitting the big screen this month, follow ups to relatively unremarkable comedies, Bad Moms and Daddy’s Home. Opening this week, the former stars Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell play two clichéd mothers who can’t handle the responsibility of parenthood and have to cut loose. A movie about women written and directed by men (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) this lazy comedy looks like a carbon copy of the original (but adding in another generation of bad mothers). Somewhat amusingly, this sequel has something of an identity problem: distributor Roadshow can’t seem to work out whether the movie is called Bad Moms 2 or A Bad Moms Christmas. Either way, it looks bloody awful.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Daddy’s Home 2 has the potential to be sporadically amusing. Returning from the original are competing (but now friendly) dads Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell, joined here by their own sires Mel Gibson and John Lithgow. The addition of acting wrestler John Cena as yet a third dad may be over-cooking the mix, slightly, but the latest trailer makes me cautiously optimistic.

As to why two sequels have taken exactly the same approach in introducing comically crappy parental figures, you can probably put this down to the Dante’s Peak effect — there’s no such thing as an original idea in Hollywood.

At the end of the day, sequels are a part of life, but I’ll come back to my original point; think twice before you take out a second mortgage to buy movie tickets for the family. If nobody goes to see Avatar 2, there’s a chance we might not be subjected to Avatar 3, 4 and 5 — and that is a world that I’d like to live in.

Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)

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