Thor: Ragnorok 2016 ****

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The regular reader of this blog will recognise that there’s few franchise films; no Avengers, just a few superhero films, no James Bond, a couple of Star Wars spin-offs; what we’re looking for is unknown or known but underrated films that are worth bring to people’s attention. That’s not so say we’re immune to the charms of a good superhero movie, with Sam Raimi’s original Spiderman and Iron Man 3 coming to mind as good examples of the form. Taika Waititi has made such a good name for himself as the director of Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows, that it seemed inevitable that he would add value to the standard Marvel package, and so it proved with Thor: Ragnorok, a great-looking, funny and consistently amusing package that puts most Marvel entries to shame. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stranded on a distant planet with only the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) for company. It seems like they’re destined to battle it out in the ring as the playthings of Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), but Valkerie (Tessa Thompson) is on hand to help them out and to raise an army to fight the forces of Hela (Cate Blanchett). There’s also well-timed cameos from Matt Damon, Anthony Hopkins, Luke Hemsworth, Sam Neill and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), always the MVP of the Thor franchise. Waititi gets comedy, and the dialogue has plenty of funny moments, but he also conjures up a thunderous score and some real hallucinogenic visuals in the style of 1980’s Flash Gordon. You don’t have to be following the on-going plotlines to enjoy Thor; Ragnorok; it’s a good example of a comic-book movie that’s not just for fanboys.

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Aquaman 2018 ****

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Not much about Aquaman suggested anything good; springing from an appearance with the Justice League in a truly awful film that didn’t inspire confidence. But director James Wan seems to have swagger to burn, and builds a spectacularly goofy and enjoyable romp around the happiest of centres in Jason Momoa. As Arthur Curry, he serves up an endearing performance that feels honest and camp at the same time, right from an outrageous ‘Permission to come onboard!’ introduction that, to coin a phrase used elsewhere, the gayest man on earth might think was over-the-top. A game Nicole Kidman shows just the right kind of style for this in a lengthy prologue about Aquaman’s origins, and the various adventures seem far from the conventional Marvel template. The visuals look like a Meatloaf album cover brought to life, and perennial MVP Willem Dafoe does his usual inimitable job as Aquaman’s mentor. Throw in Dolph Lundgren for giggles and your brainless Saturday night is set; this is a very silly film, but it restores the genre to it’s 1930’s Saturday-morning serial heyday with brisk storytelling and shafts of wit.