chris maestro

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The Movie Maestro’s Reviews: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) dir. James Gunn

While the rest of the MCU is primarily concerned with overarching stories and large-scale world building, Guardians 2 is happily unaffected by this main Marvel mandate, giving James Gunn room to breathe in ways even Joss Whedon wasn’t afforded. Setting the story a mere three months after the first, Gunn finally answers the biggest questions leftover from that film, introducing Star Lord’s father, the living planet Ego. Kurt Russell’s performance is just one of many actor highlights of the feature, and the crazy visual style enters Jodorowsky-esque, space age mythology. If you’re wondering whether or not anything could top the original Guardians, quit wondering and just go watch this movie already. Just stay through the credits; it’s a Marvel movie, for Ego’s sake.

Read the full review at themoviemaestroblog.wordpress.com

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The Movie Maestro’s Reviews: Thor (2011) dir. Kenneth Branagh

The riskiest venture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase One still turns out to be its finest hour. Led by one of the two best directors of the first six films, Kenneth Branagh, Thor is quite the dynamic visual treat, effortlessly shifting between the dusty down-home vistas of New Mexico and the disparate fantastic worlds of Asgard and Jotunheim. Marvel’s perfect casting streak continues, giving us not only the hunky Hemsworth and the great Hopkins as the Allfather himself, but Tom Hiddleston in a career-making role as Loki, a character originally depicted as nothing more than a common trickster, now played with terrible heartbreak by Hiddleston.

More than anything, Thor brings to the table an incredible moral sense to the MCU. Thor’s journey from a prideful, foolish warrior into a man worthy to be king is convincingly written, and should strike a cord with today’s audiences, considering how much in the first act he sounds like a certain new world leader. The finale, which sees Thor and Loki stripped of their brotherhood and cast against each other as enemies, is especially poignant and topical, as Thor is forced to sacrifice so much to defend those who he was raised to consider enemies.

Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that Thor is still my favorite of the single-hero Phase One entries.

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The Movie Maestro’s Reviews: Thor: Ragnarok (2017) dir. Taika Waititi

For some reason, this film is being hailed by some as the best Thor film, and even the best MCU film as yet released. AFter finally seeing it, I’m inclined to believe that those people are not actual movie-lovers or even casual goers, probably only finding themselves exposed to a film once or twice a year. Ragnarok, while certainly more fun and exciting than the dour Dark World, doesn’t come close to matching the emotional richness of even the original Thor or all-out spectacle of The Avengers.

First, the good: as mentioned before, Ragnarok is Hela fun (forgive the pun). When Chris Hemsworth is not slaying enemies to Immigrant Song, he is ironically stumbling through vast and colorful Kirby-esque worlds like a cosmic Jack Burton. While I believe the film’s humor doesn’t jive well the stakes of the narrative, Hemsworth is the only actor to actually make it work at moments, and for that he deserves mighty praise. The way the script integrates numerous storylines from several different Marvel comics flows quite naturally, and should please any comics nerd like me.

Unfortunately, I cannot deny the reality of Thor :Ragnarok, and that is that the film is incredibly shallow. As I briefly touched upon above, the humor is plentiful but out-of-place a large amount of the time. Scenes that could have made a lasting impression on a more dramatic tone fall from memory once one leaves the theater, transformed to score cheap laughs. And despite the smart adaptations present in the screenplay, much of the film still barrels along at a pace much too fast to enjoy. And sadly, Cate Blanchett is nothing more than a sexy body as Hela. A great villain with an interesting twist reduced to a one-dimensional adversary.

Don’t read this as too harsh; Ragnarok is still the pulpish, fun time that many proclaim it to be, and is still a more worthy comic book movie than approximately 50% of the DCEU so far. I guess I was just primed to expect more from Thor’s distant debut, and in that regard, this one did not deliver.

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The Movie Maestro’s Reviews: The Avengers (2012) dir. Joss Whedon

The ultimate film of Marvel’s great experiment now known as Phase One, The Avengers still has it in spades.

It’s not an easy thing to get one superhero right, let alone six in a single film, but hiring Joss Whedon as writer/director has to be as monumentous a decision of Marvel Studios’ as any of the perfect casting choices they made along the way to this film. Whedon injects his personal formula into the mix, casting several of the Avengers into his tried-and-true character archetypes before throwing them into excellently blocked action sequences, many of which seamlessly integrate the director’s flair for honest humor. Each actor has a great chance to shine, some more than once, to the point where I can’t pick out any single performance that stands above the rest. Even the at-first jarring change from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner quickly gets forgotten in this fun romp.

Avengers does still receive flack for it’s more simplistic nature and basic cinematography, and I admit that these aspects exist. But faults they are not: the camerawork and post-production do err on the side of safety, but it is done so competently that I fail to find fault with it. In fact, Whedon’s decision to go for a 1.78:1 ratio lends the film so uniqueness, as does the happy-go-lucky feeling inherent in the tone. After all, Avengers was released during the height of the Dark Knight Trilogy, when superhero films we’re all about darkness and brooding. Why not make them fun again?