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Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Here’s a non-controversial opinion: The Dark World is the least of the three Thor films. It’s got some memorable moments and good fights, and I like how it gives much more screen time to several of the Asgardian supporting cast than the first movie did, but at the same time it’s a much less involving movie than the original. It’s one of a few projects that Christopher Eccleston took on during his “I’d like one of those big Hollywood paychecks as well, please” phase, and that’s pretty much what this feels like: payday without passion.

Eh, the kid liked it. I guess that’s what matters.

I’d still like to see a Sif and the Warriors Three movie as soon as Jaimie Alexander can take a long break from making Blindspot for NBC. Ah, well. At least Loki’s here. Any movie with Tom Hiddleston as Loki can’t be all bad.

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Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars is rarely far from my mind these days, in part because I have a seven year-old son who yammers about it constantly, and in part because people who call themselves fans can’t go nine straight days without doing something so silly or stupid that most people wish they’d never heard of Star Wars.

For posterity, the most recent attack on common sense has been a coterie of dingbats who scheme to remake The Last Jedi to some different set of specifications. A couple of weeks ago, it was the news that actress Kelly Marie Tran had deleted her Instagram posts after concentrated harassment from bigots and misogynists.

But it’s been that way for years, hasn’t it? At some point around the time that Revenge of the Sith was released, one of the Star Wars novelists rang up Lucasfilm to get a detail for one of her books. As I recall, she wanted to know how many clone troopers were involved in the siege of such-n-such. She was told that it was a million, and fourteen readers rioted because that was too few soldiers. The author was villified; people made little computer animations depicting her as a lizard-alien peddling false statistics.

And all I always think is, why do these movies make people so hateful? I don’t get it. Sometimes they’re stupid, and sometimes the acting is wretched, but if you get disappointed with a movie, as is pretty easy to do with the prequels, just tune it out and watch something different.

I tried working out a Star Wars timeline for my son to follow it. I figure it as about 67 years between The Phantom Menace and The Last Jedi. For him, it’s all one story, all to be explored as one, and he was delighted with it. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have any preconceived notions and he hasn’t formed a bigoted opinion about what skin color the heroes are meant to have. And I kind of enjoyed working it out, whether or not my sums are right.

It’s a fun little universe to think about and play with. It’s inspired at least one really entertaining video game (Shadows of the Empire for the N64) and one thunderously wonderful comic (Death, Lies, and Treachery by John Wagner and Cam Kennedy), plus sixty gajillion cartoons and books I haven’t seen. It’s Star Wars and it’s meant to be fun. Maybe if it stops being fun, its “fans” should go watch something else.

Revenge of the Sith, meanwhile, has the terrific scene where R2-D2 sets a couple of robots on fire. Our son was thrilled to meet General Grievous, and hated seeing Anikin turn to the Dark Side, and didn’t quite understand why there was “all that metal” on the lava planet. He loved it and wants to see the next one. I hope he never does anything so idiotic as harass an actress on Instagram.

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Attack of the Clones (2002)

My wife was saying that Attack of the Clones is the worst of all these movies. I said that’s nonsense. This one has Christopher Lee in it. That automatically makes it a hundred times better than The Phantom Menace. And it is.

It’s still not a very good movie, because it also has all of this nonsense in it:

Attack of the Clones was released in 2002, which was not a very good year for me. 1992 and 2012 were also pretty downright terrible, now that I think about it. I saw this film when it was released, didn’t enjoy it very much, and didn’t think about it much after that. Over the last sixteen years, I forgot pretty much everything about it, beyond it having Christopher Lee, an action scene in a factory, and Samuel L. Jackson getting a purple lightsaber.

Oh yes, and it also has just about the worst romance ever committed to camera, which not even a hundred and sixteen years could erase. Natalie Portman might be a good actress, and I’ve never seen Hayden Christensen outside these two movies so I don’t have a particularly strong opinion of him, but I can’t think of anybody who could make this idiocy shine when the lovestruck male has to deliver lines like “You are in my very soul, tormenting me.”

Every note of their courtship is tonally terrible. This is supposed to be the love that dooms Anikin into a life of pure evil and devotion to the Dark Side, so it’s not a love anybody’s supposed to cheer, but shouldn’t it have a feeling of, I dunno, seduction? Passion that’s forbidden because it’s morally wrong, and not just violating some rules of Coruscant senate protocol and an order of karate monks? Why does it play like flowering, sweet tenderness in a lush paradise between a practical woman and her teenage stalker? If this were the hero getting the girl to love him, it would be one kind of wretched. But this is the villain’s fall. Shouldn’t it have played out, you know, villainously?

Here’s the thing: nothing about The Phantom Menace worked, but if you hacked out all of Portman and Christensen making goo-goo eyes at each other, there’s a pretty good movie in here. I think that it’s by miles the most colorful Star Wars movie. It still looks lived-in, but it also looks like a world where people actually want to live. Coruscant actually looks like a pretty swell place to visit this time. The hidden rain planet of Kamino was especially interesting to me this morning, in part because I genuinely and sincerely forgot that subplot entirely. It’s still flawed, but all the other actors are good and the action scenes entertaining.

Our son was in heaven again. He loved meeting Jango Fett, and the action scenes were as wild as he’s ever seen. The mayhem on the conveyor belts in the factory had him so overstimulated that he was off the sofa and halfway up the staircase. R2-D2 and C-3PO were reliably ridiculous, and the movie had plenty of shocks and surprises.

He has received sets of Micro Machines and Lego Star Wars from relatives for Christmas and his birthday. He absolutely loves it when he spots a starfighter that he’s been using in bedroom floor battles for weeks.

Because the toys are part of the fabric of his life, I decided to rearrange the movie schedule so he can see them all and get them absorbed and, of course, rewatch them again and again sooner than I originally planned. So we’ll look at Sith next month instead of at the end of the summer, and probably watch the next three before the end of the year. He was pretty happy about that, and has been pestering his mom to come join him in the floor with Rose, Finn, BB-8, and some Lego contraption as soon as she’s free.

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Thor (2011)

There’s a general feeling that the Marvel movies just keep getting better and bigger, but I have a soft spot for the first Thor film, which has a sense of whimsy and fun and a deliberately smaller scale. Our son agrees that it’s the best of the first four movies. It’ll get surpassed, but Kenneth Branagh was such a good choice to direct this. He makes the human stuff and the epic stuff seem so vibrant and entertaining.

Well, I say it’s a smaller scale despite Loki’s plan to destroy the Frost Giants’ home realm of Jotunheim. We’ve not seen a planet really threatened with extinction in these movies yet. But it’s all focused on a small town in New Mexico which is so visually appealing that I wish it was a real place I could visit. Natalie Portman’s character and her scientist buddies have moved into what looks like an old car dealership or garage or something. I just love the look of the place.

The one unavoidable thing in these movies, since they try to look like the recognizable world, is that the government is represented by fun-killing agents in black suits who ruin everything. The town of Puente Antiguo is so colorful and bright, and then they swoop in and confiscate all the lovable scientists’ equipment and data. Clark Gregg can accomplish a lot with the twinkle in his eye and his smile, but mainly what he makes me want to do in that scene is punch him in the nose. SHIELD remains the one note in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I dislike. They were never so awful in the comics when I was a reader.

Asgard is another beautiful location, a lovely triumph of gold and rainbows. I like Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and I really like Idris Elba as Heimdall. Our son couldn’t quite describe the look and feel of Asgard, and called it “a future city.” After the movie was over, he bugged his eyes out to demonstrate how “I went WOW when I saw Asgard!”

As for the leads, Chris Hemsworth probably won’t go down in the books as an actor with a lot of range, but what he does within them is consistently entertaining. I really like him as Thor, and I loved his character in Ghostbusters, because he does fish-out-of-water extremely well. He’s great with Portman, and with Stellan Skarsgård in a too-short scene in a bar, but this is the first of the Marvel movies to let the villain run away with the picture. I know a couple of women who melt over Tom Hiddleston, which is amusing because butter wouldn’t melt in Loki’s mouth. There was a rumor going around a couple of years ago that Hiddleston would take over from Daniel Craig as James Bond. I wouldn’t stop going to see them.

Actually, there was another rumor going around a couple of years ago that Idris Elba would be the next Bond. That could also be great.

Speaking of comics, the movies have never done right by the Warriors Three. The original Thor comics are some of my favorites from the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby days, and you should swing by a comic book store in your town and pick up the first four of those great big inexpensive Essentials reprints. Most of the issues were split between the main Thor feature and a backup called Tales of Asgard, where Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg take center stage, and they’re probably the most downright fun comics that Marvel has ever published. The movie’s right to add the Lady Sif to their group, and Jaimie Alexander is very good in the limits of her role, but I figure the studio should plan a proper Sif and the Warriors Three feature as soon as possible, with some epic realm-hopping quest set in the glorious past of Asgard.

Well, I’m also not completely satisfied that Volstagg is played by anybody other than BRIAN BLESSED, who was born for the part, but Ray Stevenson acquitted himself just fine.

One little forgettable bit of this movie is that it’s Jeremy Renner’s first appearance as Hawkeye. It’s not quite a blink and you’ll miss it scene, but it’s very short and he’s just called “Agent Barton,” and so our son didn’t realize who the character was. Poor Hawkeye doesn’t have the same amount of merchandising as the other Marvel heroes, does he? Well, they can’t all be on the marquee, I suppose.

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The Phantom Menace (1999)

You said it, Jar Jar.


Okay, so we do have a few subscribers who might actually want more than five words about this berry berry bad movie, and it’s possible that one day our son might want to revisit this blog and see what we watched together. For posterity’s sake, then, this was one of the longest chores I’ve sat through. Somehow, though, when I was younger and more prone to want to see big movies on the big screen, I paid for this turkey three damn times.

One of those times was around early June, 1999. It was my oldest son’s first movie in a theater. He lasted thirty minutes, got bored, and walked to the exit. Admittedly he was really young – too young for a theater trip – but I’d been persuaded that he might enjoy the bragging rights to saying that a Star Wars movie was his first movie in a theater. Eh, it was only twenty bucks or so.

This kid, however, didn’t walk out, although the agonizing talk of trade negotiations, senate procedure, and votes of no confidence certainly left him almost as bored as the grown-ups. He really enjoyed the pod race, and the appearance of favorite characters from the original movie, and the big climactic space battle. The best scene of all was when Anakin fired “those two bullets to start everything blowing up.”

It is – I’m sure it must be – the thrill of something brand new, but our favorite six year-old critic says that enjoyed this film more than the other three, and he liked Jar Jar Binks a whole lot. But that’s always been the case. Kids have always liked Jar Jar, because he’s a character for children. (And incidentally, I was quite taken with actor Ahmed Best’s defense of his performance for Entertainment Weekly. It’s worth a read.)

And these are, as much as some snarling “adults” wish for them to be otherwise, movies for the whole family.

Binks is the reason for the subtitle in the picture up top. Our son enjoyed Binks, but he complained that he couldn’t understand what he was saying. So we watched the movie with subtitles, and I’m very pleased that he’s reading so well that it helped him follow it.

As for me, no, but it’s nice to look at. The costumes and landscapes are interesting. None of the actors do a particularly standout job, though I remember enjoying Ewan McGregor much more in the next two movies. Oliver Ford Davies, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Liam Neeson, Ray Park, Natalie Portman, Terence Stamp, and BRIAN BLESSED have all done better work in other films. At least I think Neeson has. Like Prentis Hancock, he’s one of those actors I just never enjoy. I guess in retrospect it’s kind of amusing that they cast Stamp, of all people, as a man without a backbone. That’s all I have. It’s a berry berry bad movie.

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