Category Archives: Reviews

Avengers: Infinity War – Movie Review

Now that I’ve finally seen it, I am happy to say that Avengers: Infinity War pays off as the climax to a decade of movies that have built up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s been jokes made (by the actors themselves) about how bringing together so many stars and characters should render them each with trivial parts, but on the contrary, the movie actually gives most characters significant screen time and meaningful scenes (though some, like Black Widow and Winter Soldier, only show up for the action scenes). As well, there’s lots of good dialogue (especially lots of great one-liners — not just from Rocket Raccoon or Drax, either). So, to close off 10 years of stories, Marvel brings together the Avengers with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and recent additions like Dr. Strange, Spider-man, and Black Panther, all to stop the mad Titan Thanos (who has already appeared in several post-credit scenes) from bringing together six all-powerful cosmic artifacts known as the “Infinity Stones” and becoming a death-dealing god. It’s a relatively straightforward plot line, so there’s room for a lot of fun and action.

One of the best parts of a super-hero cross-over story is when characters who don’t normally interact, end up forming some interesting temporary teams. This device always brings out some fun, new dynamics. It was delightful to see Starlord Peter Quill get all insecure when everyone else in the crew could barely contain their admiration for Thor. As you might expect, sparks fly when two egotistical alpha males like Tony Stark and Stephen Strange begrudgingly team up. There’s even a kind of warrior sisterhood forged between Wakanda’s Okoye, Black Widow, and Scarlet Witch when they face armies of baddies together. Only after investing in all the precursor movies could these new combinations have even been possible — score one for Marvel Studios.

The other major aspect to super-hero cross-overs (or even any super-team stories) in the comic books is the coordinated attack. I don’t know if it’s because of the constraints of the visual effects budgets, the lack of variety of super-powers, or simply deficiency of imagination, but so far the top super-team battles (Captain America: Civil War was probably the best so far) have been only mediocre from this perspective. They mostly find new ways to punch and kick each other, in teams. This time, when they face a big bad behemoth like Thanos (the guy’s like 10 feet tall!) or even his pretty bad minions (who aren’t really named in the movie but are known as The Black Order), the supers have to cooperate and use their powers in new and interesting ways. (As a Dr. Strange fan, I was gleeful to see a classic spell known as the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak used to bind Thanos while Spidey blocked his eyes with webbing and allowed the others to gang up on him.)

MCU has already made a reputation for doing some pretty good action sequences and this movie has these scenes in spades. From New York City, to Edinburgh, to Wakanda, to alien planets, battle after battle was awesome to watch. I know a lot of it was CGI, but it didn’t really feel like it. Even Thanos, who was all CGI over motion-capture, was really lifelike — especially his face and his expressions, which were actually more soulful than what I’ve seen from the real face of actor Josh Brolin, who plays him.

I don’t want to spoil, so I’ve been careful to avoid any real plot points here, but there’s a lot of big things happening in this movie. I even impressed myself by staying in my seat for the entire 160 minute run — there’s not a good time to leave. I think this is a landmark movie simply because Marvel Studios was able to bring together ten years of almost 20 movies into a thrilling quasi-finale, and that’s never been done before. For fans like me, it’s a huge reward for all the time and emotion spent with these characters on screen (and I even just rewatched the whole series prior to seeing this movie). To top it all off, they were able to conclude the story but not close off the future — in fact there’s many aspects for which I am dying to see what’s next. (4.5 out of 5)

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Ready Player One – Movie Review

The paradox about watching the Ready Player One movie is that I would probably have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t read the book, by Ernest Cline, a few years ago (and then again last month to get psyched for the movie). I had been very much anticipating this movie because the book is pretty visual and movie-ready. Since I loved the book so much, I couldn’t wait to see it adapted to screen (especially with Steven Spielberg at the helm). Unfortunately, though they kept the essentials of the story about the not-too-distant future, when times are tough, but the world escapes by plugging into a massive, virtual-reality universe known as the Oasis, a lot of other things were changed. The hero of this story is one of many “gunters” (short for “egg hunters”) looking for clues to find a set of mysterious keys and an “Easter egg” left behind by the Oasis’s creator after his death. Whoever finds the egg will inherit ownership of the Oasis (along with the multi-billion-dollar company behind it). It’s an exciting premise and sets up a pretty thrilling story, filled with clues and twists, but the other big element of this story is that it’s filled to brimming with pop-culture references (especially from the 80s). Being someone who grew up in that great decade, along with being a nerd who loves nerdy things, this story was perfect for me. Unfortunately, when I got to the movie, much of what I’d loved about the book had been altered. The changes were big and small, but they added up to a lot of distraction for me and really hindered my enjoyment of what appeared to be a pretty well made movie.

The movie spends a significant amount of time in the virtual world, so a lot of the scenes are computer generated. Ironically, since the Oasis was meant to be such a great simulation that everything seemed 100% real, I wonder if scenes set in the Oasis were actually pure CGI or if some was actually filmed in reality. The main character, Wade Watts, has an online alter-ego named Parzival and the online characters were all clearly computer-generated. However, the animation is very good (much like the animation in the movie Avatar) where characters that have exaggerated features (in this case their eyes seem a bit too large) still feel real. One of the alterations that bothered me is that there was a lot more time spent in the real world (probably because they’d hired real actors and didn’t want to waste them voicing animation) than they did in the book (at least compared to how much time they spent within the Oasis). That diminished one of the themes of the book: that virtual reality was many times more compelling to these characters than the real world. It wasn’t just teenagers hooked on cartoon violence who were into it. This digital universe was not only an escape, it was a place where people to do anything they imagined — they lived there. Because the movie spent so much time outside, I don’t think we viewers ever felt the kind of engagement or absorption into the Oasis that the book could create.

Parzival and his friends are surprisingly successful at solving the riddles within the egg hunt, and they soon catch the attention of the villains of the story: Nolan Sorrento and the forces of IOI — the evil corporation that will do anything to gain control of the Oasis. Though the way the good guys end up defeating Sorrento is pretty complicated in the book (so it’s understandable that they need to modify it for the movie), there were some unbelievably convenient things that occur which really made it feel obvious that they were trying to abridge a more complete story. I makes me think that the best audience for this movie is actually someone who enjoyed the book many years ago and has not re-read it since. That person would know enough to understand the pieces that are faithfully brought into the movie (albeit without adequate explanation or context), and yet they’ve forgotten enough of the book not to notice all the ways that the story’s been changed.

The other characters with Watts, who are nick-named the High Five because they got the top spots on the leaderboard, are good sidekicks and form your typically Spielbergian group of misfits. They are brave and loyal and easily risk everything to help Watts bring down the bad guy. However, we aren’t given much time to get to know them, and another big movie change is that very little is made of their true identities when they are revealed. In the book, all of these friendships are formed within the Oasis and that is significant. The way the virtual world allows a person to reinvent themselves, regardless of how they are in the real world, is a strong theme and makes each of the revelations of their true identities both shocking and poignant. While it may be a testament to tolerance that no one balks at their online friends’ true selves, this movie shortcut takes away another emotional strength of the book.

Finally, the biggest change from book to movie is the way pop culture is referenced. Spielberg and crew have done an excellent job at baiting and switching. By replacing the many 80s, japanimation, and fantasy role-playing allusions in the book with heaps of contemporary characters (taken from modern video games) and tropes (such as zombie apocalypse), we still feel like we’re watching an Ernest-Cline-worthy story, overflowing with pop-culture, but it’s not the same. Viewers who identify with the 80s, or fantasy role-playing may not feel as connected to those other references. I could not really get past these distractions (also because they were everywhere in the movie).

Unfortunately, what could have been a perfectly decent sci-fi adventure movie, if they hadn’t based it on the Ready Player One novel, turned out to be a mediocre adaptation. As I left the theatre, I remembered feeling the same lack of satisfaction about The Matrix when I first saw it. Maybe there’s something about a movie set in a virtual world that I can’t fully enjoy on first viewing. Whatever the problem, I can’t quite recommend this movie (especially if you’ve read and enjoyed the book), but I’ll still give it a 3.5 out of 5.

Black Panther – Movie Review

I was never a fan of the Black Panther comics. His generic animal-based super-strength and agility didn’t really impress, and his background as a king of a technologically-advanced African nation was interesting, but less so in a comic book universe where technology can do anything a writer and artist wants to imagine. On screen, however, I am now a pretty big fan of Black Panther because his story has become noble, thrilling, and really enjoyable. I think Marvel Studios is getting better at its adaptations (ignoring the recent Inhumans tv series, which was awful), knowing just how to make each character’s story special.

Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, the son of an African king who was killed in Captain America: Civil War. When his father died, T’Challa inherited the mantle of the Black Panther, the mystical superhuman protector of the nation of Wakanda. In addition to the burden of rulership, he also has to bear the responsibility of protecting Wakanda’s secret: the nation was built on a mountain of space metal known as vibranium, which has given Wakandans power, healing, and technological advancement, and therefore a reason to keep their true status from the rest of the world.

Black Panther doesn’t really tell an origin story, but still does a great job introducing viewers to its characters, including T’Challa’s scientific genius sister, Shuri; his ex-girlfriend and spy, Nakia (played by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o); his general, Okoye; and enemies Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis) who has a sonic weapon for a hand, and Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan). When vibranium is stolen from a British museum, the movie takes a turn into spy-fi territory as T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye go in pursuit of the villainous Klaue (who also has a history with the Wakanda). These Bond-inspired scenes are full of fun action, especially when a three-car chase breaks out in the streets of Busan, South Korea. The Wakandan technology (which includes gadgets with the ability to remotely take control of a car) really adds a “Mission Impossible” element to the mix as well. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects to this movie is the blending of futuristic technology with a traditionally African aesthetic. I loved the interiors of Shuri’s lab, which held all kinds of sci-fi equipment but with styling and details that carried tribal overtones. Similarly, there were many scenes involving rituals and ceremonies which also had a similarly mystical, timeless, and traditional feel. Much has already been written about how this movie is a landmark for black representation in popular culture, but without overanalyzing or getting into a political discussion, I agree that this movie has done a great job glorifying the African cultural legacy.

Another aspect to this movie that made it enjoyable is that there were a few twists on who was the enemy or “bad guy” (though not in an ambiguous anti-heroic way), and it all came back to the past and tied to Wakanda. There were themes of nationhood, patriotism, as well as power and duty. Every character (not just T’Challa) had to make a choice between serving their own needs or the good of their nation. As enjoyable as it was to watch Boseman as T’Challa, the other characters really stole the show. Shuri was the fun-loving younger sister, so she always had the humourous lines. Nakia was the skilled fighter/agent, so she always came through to save the people who needed saving. However, the one who stole the show was Okoye, the vibranium-tough, fierce warrior with a clear sense of honour, and an unbreakable sense of duty (actress Danai Gurira plays Okoye with a wonderful intensity and physicality — she speaks volumes with the thump of her spear).

The look of the film is also top-notch (Did we expect anything less polished from Marvel Studios and Industrial Light & Magic?). I’ve already touched on the wonderful production design, but the African landscapes look magnificent. The action scenes are robust and exciting, and all the effects look slick and flawless.

After feeling a sense of fatigue at the superhero movies that were being made prior to last year, Black Panther is a great continuation of the trend towards sharp, fun, thoughtful and enjoyable superhero movies that have turned my sentiments around. Landmark or not, this superhero movie really made me look forward to all the ones that are yet to come (and from all the trailers I saw before the movie, I’m sure that’s exactly what the studios are hoping). Bring on the Infinity War! (4.5 out of 5)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Movie Review

I rewatched The Force Awakens on Netflix before going to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and so I went into the theatre pumped for some storm trooper firefights, some lightsabre clashes, some new alien creatures (both cute and gruesome) and some answers to the many questions left behind by the first movie. Some answers I got, but what I realized more was that Star Wars movies don’t really service well-written stories. They love to build up their universe with a new kind of planet, or a new aspect to The Force that we didn’t know about before, but in the end they throw a bunch of cool-looking ships and characters together, with some good vs evil themes and we enjoy the heck out of them. I know I do.

A big part of this movie focuses on Rey and how she set out to find the mysteriously missing Luke Skywalker (the first movie’s main plot point was trying to get a map that showed where Luke was hiding). From battles with baddie Kylo Ren in the first movie, it became obvious that she could also wield the Force, so it makes sense that Luke would also be able to train her to become a Jedi. Meanwhile, the new Empire, now known as the First Order, is hunting down the remaining Resistance forces. Princess (I mean General) Leia, and the other Resistence are pinning all their hopes on a last-minute save by Luke (though surely that’s not a very good strategy).

So after declaring that Star Wars movies don’t need storylines, what do I think makes them fun? Well, this movie’s got all of those elements too. There are lots of space battles — one of the first scenes has pilot Poe Dameron leading a risky bombing run to take out a large “dreadnought” ship, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering if the last ship would be able to release its payload in time to save them all. There are alien planets which seem oddly familiar and Earth-like — a casino planet where Finn and newbie Rose go on a mission to seek out a “master code breaker” amongst the galactic one-percenters. I was drawn into the whole atmosphere and even the mini-story of the poor rabbit-horse creatures (along with their child jockeys) being mistreated and forced to run races for the wealthy clientele. There are new creatures, like the part-hamster, part-chicken porgs, which give the kids a chuckle for comic relief; and the crystalline foxes on the red salt planet which I thought were just cool. Then there’s the in-the-moment drama, when the Resistance forces might be sitting ducks at the mercy of the evil First Order bombardment if they don’t come up with an escape plan (and I was once again held breathless at the silent moment when it all comes to a head). Finally, there’s the internal and external struggles experienced by Rey and Kylo Ren, as they’re pulled between both good and evil. I was thrilled when Rey and Kylo Ren together faced Supreme baddie Snoke and tables turned from moment to moment. So while I may not remember all these set pieces and plot pieces a year from now, together they make for a fun-filled Star Wars movie that checks off all the boxes. (4 out of 5)

Despite my having enjoyed the movie (and I didn’t even mention an awesome Luke-Skywalker-centred climax that I loved), I also wish that these sequels could have taken Star Wars in a new direction. Much has been said about how much these new-trilogy movies resemble the original trilogy. Parallels between the new characters and the old are blatantly obvious, and the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order is so much the same as the one between the Rebellion and the Empire that both sides even use the same fighter planes as their antecedents. There was strong backlash against The Last Jedi in the fandom (even to the point of wanting it to be removed from canon and remade) because it was felt that characters (especially Luke Skywalker) had been changed too much from what they had become over the years. The changes didn’t bother me (though I did agree that Luke seemed a bit weak and forlorn at first) but they should have made more changes not to known characters, but to storylines altogether (Can we leave the Skywalker-Solo family out of the picture now?). Anyway, creativity doesn’t always bring in the ticket sales. I recognize that at the end of the day, Disney still wants to sell toy lightsabres and porg dolls, so I won’t begrudge. I enjoyed the movie thoroughly for what it is, and I look forward to more.

Coco – Movie Review

I know that there have been a lot of animated films lately, and anyone with kids has already gone to see Coco and moved on, but I just saw it and still want to say how great I thought the movie was. Pixar’s track record has slipped a bit from the flawless hit-factory that it had been (no thanks to The Good Dinosaur or mediocre Cars sequels), but Coco reminds me that they are still top-notch when it comes to animated storytelling. This story of a young Mexican boy whose soul longs to be a musician, despite his family’s legacy of shunning music as a curse (ever since great-grandma Coco’s father left his family to pursue a musical career) is a fun, touching, adventurous spectacle.

Even before the first scene, I was reminded of Pixar’s technical mastery (there was a pre-movie clip with some of the creators which showed-off some of film’s wonderful visuals), but it was in the opening few sequences that their progress really became obvious. It wasn’t in the big, jaw-dropping scenes full of millions of lights and moving bits (though those are always awesome) but in the regular motion of the characters, such as main boy Miguel and his dog Dante. Human animation has always been a struggle between making the characters look and move too artificially puppet-like or too creepily realistic. In this movie, the characters all still look cartoonish (with their disproportionately large heads and hands, etc.) but their movements are amazingly life-like and the entire world they are in feels real. I was especially fascinated by a motion that occurred often in this movie: the strumming of a guitar. It is probably something that is so easily filmed using a camera in the real world, but to simulate those strumming motions and the vibration of strings in time to the music must have taken ages to get right. I know I’m geeking out a bit, but I can’t say enough about how transporting and engaging the animation really made this movie for me.

Beyond the impressive visuals, this movie also harkened back to some of the more heart-touching works in the Pixar canon, like Up or Toy Story. (Be warned that there’s a surprisingly simple yet moving scene at the end of the movie. It’s right where you expect it to be, but it’ll still getcha! Tissue, please.) Miguel (played by newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) is an exuberant, happy kid, who balances a love and respect for his family with a secret love of music, especially the music of his idol: Ernesto de la Cruz (played by Benjamin Bratt). When some magical coincidences end up sending him to the land of the dead on the Mexican Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), he meets up with the spirits of his past relatives and the conflict between love of family and music sets up a difficult choice for Miguel again.

As usual, in these kinds of movies, a bunch of ground rules are set for the Land of the Dead, establishing that Miguel needs to be blessed by his family before sunrise in order to return to the living (subject to terms and conditions). Along the way to solving those challenges, Miguel runs into a vagabond spirit, Hector (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) who is trying to get back to the living world before he is forgotten, and fades away, forever. The ground rules are a great way to lay out the dramatic stakes (especially for kids), and it’s so much easier to understand what things mean in the language of the movie. That being said, there are a few delightful plot twists in this movie (not entirely unpredictable, but enjoyable nonetheless) which also keep things interesting. The best part of this story is that these concepts are all cast within the context of the Mexican culture and its folklore and traditions. From ofrendas (i.e. altars) where families display photos and other items to honour the dead; to alebrijes (i.e. spirit animals) which are colourful fantasy creatures carved out of wood or paper mache for the celebration of Dia de Muertos, it really brings this celebration of Mexican culture to vivid life, and ties it all back to music (which is apparently a big part of Mexican culture as well, at least according to this movie).

All in all, it’s great to see another new creation from Pixar (especially one that does not involve humanizing generally cold things like toys or bugs or fish). I look forward to them continuing on this path (even though I’m also looking forward to more sequels such as Incredibles II coming), because while they are definitely leading the way in terms of animation technology, they have also led the way in terms of creative family-friendly visual storytelling; and we need as much of both as we can get. (4.5 out of 5)

The Shape of Water – Movie Review

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is known for his creepy creativity and imaginatively dark and gothic style, which I recently got to peek into at the “At Home With Monsters” exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. His movies have ranged from character tales about individuals who are haunted (both emotionally by past tragedies, and actually by ghosts) to high-octane action adventures involving bizarre, monstrous creatures. Similar to the movie that put him on the map, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water falls somewhere in the middle. It’s a character-driven romance, but it’s got clearly fantastical elements to it. Essentially it’s a cross between The Beauty and the Beast and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a dash of E.T. thrown into the mix. I enjoyed the character drama, but I really wish there had been a few more imaginary beasties.

The one beastie at the heart of this film is an amphibious man-creature (very similar to Black Lagoon‘s gill-man, or Abe Sapien from Hellboy — fun facts: del Toro also wrote and directed the Hellboy movies, and actor Doug Jones played both Abe and the creature in this film. This movie’s story (set in the 1950s) takes place after the creature is captured and taken to a government facility for study (aka every otherworldy creature’s worst nightmare). Eliza is a mute woman who works at the facility as a cleaning lady and she quickly connects with the creature’s pain and loneliness and starts to form a relationship with it. Other characters include Eliza’s co-worker and friend, Zelda (played by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer); Eliza’s neighbour Giles (played by Richard Jenkins), an aging commercial artist and closeted homosexual, Strickland, the facility’s militant security chief and captor of the creature (played superbly by Michael Shannon); and Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, the scientist studying the creature. Because this is more of a character film, we get a pretty good look at each of these characters and really start to understand them and know them. That’s really the strength of this movie (more than the fantastical elements). The characters are quirky and unique and everyone gives a very good performance that drew me into their lives.

Once Eliza finds out the nasty fate in store for the creature, she sets out to liberate him and that’s when the movie kicks into high gear. As much as this is a story about how love can transcend outward differences, it’s also the classic theme of who the true monster really is. As Strickland feels driven to prevent his own failure in handling the creature, his obsession becomes maniacal as he tries to stop Eliza at all costs. These traditional fairy tale themes are given a more mature treatment in this movie, which has a grown-up sense of both sexuality and aggression/violence. Admittedly, by the end I was more sold on the good-guys vs. bad-guy theme than the romance and love theme of this movie. Eliza does mention how the creature was able to communicate with her, and she clearly felt a strong connection to his loneliness, but it just was not enough to convince me of a transcendent bond that they supposedly had. That’s why in the end, though I really liked this movie, I didn’t love it. All the style and imaginative flair that comes with del Toro’s creative touch goes a long way to making the movie special, but in the end it oversold and could not deliver on how magical it was supposed to be. (4 out of 5)

Thor: Raganarok – Movie Review

After Wonder Woman and Spider-man Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok seems to prove that we’ve hit a good patch of superhero movies at the moment. Starting out with a tongue-in-cheek, fourth-wall-breaking monologue fakeout, I was having a good time with the charming humour right from the start — which didn’t let up all the way to the (more somber) end. Chris Hemsworth is now one of my new favourite movie stars (an honour he didn’t achieve in either of the two other Thor or Avengers movies). He’s got that action-hero-charm that has made stars out of Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, and more recently Chris Pratt, and this movie lets him work it. As a prisoner of the fire demon Surtur, he never breaks a sweat as he cracks wise while defeating Asgard’s timeless enemy and returns to the cosmic home of his god-like people. Upon arriving, he finds things a bit out of whack (and his father Odin is missing) and we are treated to a humourous play within a film (featuring some great celebrity cameos). The light-hearted tone continues as Thor returns to Earth and meets up with Doctor Strange (another cool cameo with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his MCU role). Within a short time, this movie has already featured appearances of some of my current favourite actors (Tom Hiddleston, Cumberbatch, etc.) and soon will feature cinema-queen herself, Cate Blanchett. She plays Hela, Norse goddess of death, and sister to Thor and Loki. When she’s unwittingly released from banishment, she quickly takes action to regain control over Asgard and begins by destroying Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir (simply by gripping it tightly).

Surprisingly, while the Hela storyline is the cause of the titular Ragnarok (the end of the world), it’s not the focus of a big part of the movie, putting it on the backburner for most of the middle half of the movie. Instead, in the course of trying to stop Hela, Thor and Loki get catapulted to some previously-unknown junk world called Sakaar. On Sakaar, Thor becomes a contestant in the gladiatorial games run by the Grandmaster (played by Jeff Goldblum in a trademark, weaselly peformance). Of course, by a huge galactic coincidence, anyone who’s seen the movie trailer knows who Thor faces in the arena as the Grandmaster’s current champion. Seeing the Hulk, Thor is surprisingly happy, stating that it’s OK because “He’s a friend from work”, right before getting slammed into the wall. As I mentioned, the humour is one of the best parts of this movie, and thankfully that is not the best joke in the film (far from it). The rest of the story has the characters working to escape from the planet in order to return to Asgard and end Hela’s reign of terror and possible destruction of everything. Sounds pretty packed, eh?

The other wonderful aspect about this movie was the fast-paced action. From scene to scene, it toggled between well-shot, space-action (similar to either of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies — in fact, this would have made a great Guardians 3); and some slower-paced funny dialogue and interaction between characters. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves making this movie and that enthusiasm comes through. New Zealander director Taika Waititi is a breath of fresh air for the Marvel cinematic universe, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

With a high degree of Australia/New Zealand content in the cast and production roster, it’s certainly the crown jewel to have Blanchett playing Hela. The role is a walk in the park for her, but it’s great how she revels in Hela’s superiority complex and bitter resentment of everyone who wronged her even a little bit. Frankly, I think Blanchett needs to play more of these deliciously villainous roles. I only wish that more of the plot had involved her. As a movie villain, she didn’t really get to stretch her wings much beyond snarling a lot and tossing her endlessly conjured blades everywhere, like magicians’ scarves.

After the disaster that was Thor: The Dark World, it’s nice to see that all it took for the franchise to hit its groove was to loosen things up a bit. Let’s hope that we’re on a roll. (4 out of 5)