By: Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing Charlotte
Suddenly, everyone’s a comedian.
Marvel movies have always plopped heaping servings of humor on top of the expected action and mythmaking, but Thor: Ragnarok dials up the laugh track to heretofore untested decibel levels. This is Asgard by way of The Comedy Zone, an approach inspired not so much by previous Avengers-related entries but by Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy. Those saucy superhero outings earned praise for their irreverence and go-for-broke jokes, so it’s not surprising that one of the more traditional franchise threads has opted to similarly amplify the nyuks. To that end, the studio suits even hired a comedian — What We Do in the Shadows’ Taika Waititi — to serve as the director. The result is a rollicking adventure yarn sure to delight the faithful, and the picture emerges as arguably the most satisfying of the Thor trilogy.
At the same time, the perpetual need to go for joke means that there’s not much of a dramatic center to the project. Certainly, there’s nothing comparable to the sober moment in 2012’s The Avengers when a Holocaust survivor stands up to the fascistic Loki (Tom Hiddleston), or the heartbreaking scene in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) tenderly tends to an elderly Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Even the actors have been instructed to tackle the enterprise as a lark. Only Idris Elba, as Asgardian guardian Heimdall, provides any semblance of gravitas; everyone else appears to be auditioning for a spot on the next season of Saturday Night Live.
Picking up story strands from previous entries, this finds Thor (Chris Hemsworth) still contending with the mischievous antics of his half-brother Loki. Both, however, are confronted with a new threat in the form of the sister they never knew they had: Hela (Cate Blanchett), a fearsome goddess who’s laying waste to Asgard. Their initial effort to stop her ends in failure, and the pair finds themselves stranded on a planet where the so-called Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) holds gladiatorial bouts between powerful beings. Cue the appearance by everyone’s favorite not-so-jolly green giant, the Incredible Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo and CGI).
Familiar faces appear throughout the picture — the appearance by Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange ranks as a highlight — but there are several notable newcomers as well. Chief among them is Tessa Thompson, who scores as the fearless Valkyrie, and Goldblum, a hoot as the easily excitable Grandmaster. Blanchett cuts a striking figure in her riot grrrl gear, but Hela ends up being a rather one-note villain.
Hemsworth has already displayed his comic chops in past pictures — he was especially hilarious as the dim-witted Kevin in the engaging Ghostbusters remake — so he has no problem turning the God of Thunder into an occasional god of blunder. Between the actor’s puppy-dog demeanor and his character’s farcical bewilderment, Hemsworth and Thor are, naturally enough, the primary reasons that Ragnarok rocks.
GREEK WRITER-DIRECTOR Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2010 import Dogtooth earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film while his 2016 effort The Lobster nabbed an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, co-written (like his previous pictures) with Efthymis Filippou, will likely come up short in this year’s Oscar race, but no matter. Call it a minority report, but I find it to be the most consistently mesmerizing of the trio, and a stronger ending might have vaulted it into “10 Best” consideration.
A creepy combo of The Twilight Zone and Sophie’s Choice, the film stars Lobster star Colin Farrell as Steven Murphy, a surgeon who has befriended a teenage boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). The exact nature of their relationship isn’t clear, but Steven seems to be spending almost as much time with the lad as he does with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and son Bob (Sunny Suljic). Steven eventually elects to introduce Martin to his family, and it’s here when matters take a particularly dark turn.
To reveal more would be to deny viewers the opportunity to get blindsided by the directions the film ultimately takes, but suffice to say The Killing of a Sacred Deer is decidedly not for moviegoers who prefer their options on the “feel-good” end of the spectrum. This is a deeply disturbing film, with its eeriness accentuated by the delivery of the dialogue (everyone speaks in carefully enunciated, drawn-out sentences, as if the characters were all trapped in an etiquette class), the sterility of many of Lanthimos’ shot selections, and the moral monstrousness of many of the main characters. Farrell and Kidman are both excellent, and there’s an unexpected appearance by no less than former Clueless star Alicia Silverstone as Martin’s mom. (On a side note, it’s impossible not to think of Rabbit Hole while viewing this, with the presence of Kidman as a tortured mom and even the casting of Keoghan, who looks a bit like the previous film’s Miles Teller.)
A final twist could have elevated this to giddy heights — as it stands, the film flatlines at the very end. Nevertheless, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is one of the more unique pictures now playing, and it should serve as the perfect antidote for those annoyed that the seasonal cheer is already being foisted upon us.