Thor: Ragnarok — third time the charm?

Thor: Ragnarok poster

Thor: Ragnarok has begun its international run and will debut in the United States next week. So far, critics have given it their seal of approval, far more than the hero’s two previous installments.

The new movie, with Chris Hemsworth returning as the Norse God of Thunder, has a 95 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the website that collects reviews.

That’s up from the 77 percent fresh rating for 2011’s Thor and the 66 percent for 2013’s Thor: The Dark World.

Thor has a reputation for being one of the stuffier of Marvel’s original comic book heroes. He was powerful, but not tortured the way Bruce Banner/Hulk was. Thor didn’t crack wise the way Peter Parker/Spider-Man did.

A common view among reviewers is Thor: Ragnarok has more humor compared with the earlier installments. Regardless, here’s a look at some non-spoiler excerpts from reviews.

RAFER GUZMAN, NEWSDAY: Thor: Ragnarok “turns down the Shakespearean pretensions, cranks up the humor and delivers what is essentially an action-comedy with swords and capes….It’s a close cousin to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ a high-energy lark that occasionally makes time for monsters, battles, bloodletting and spectacular special effects.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE: “Need a quick fix for the bleak dystopian epics flooding the multiplex? Take a hit off the laughing gas rising up out of Thor: Ragnarok, which may be the most fun you’ll ever have at a Marvel movie…As for Hemsworth, who showed his comedy chops in the femcentric Ghostbusters remake, the Australian actor seems liberated by the opportunity to shake off any trace of God-of-Thunder gravitas.”

Thor fights the Thing in a 1968 Fantastic Four comic drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott.

STEPHANIE ZACHAREK, TIME: “Thor: Ragnarok is boyishly eager to reveal Thor’s goofy likability to us, as if it were something we hadn’t yet cottoned to. Directed by the enormously talented New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, it’s well intentioned but ultimately numbing, an instance of fun overkill whose ultimate goal seems to be to put us into a special-effects coma.”

LINDSEY BAHR, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: “The results are pretty decent, though perhaps not the total departure that had been hyped….But it’s a fairly flawed movie on the whole with egregious tonal shifts. Some of the gags go on too long with the Hulk with too little payoff and sometimes it seems as though there’s a mandate that every 25 minutes there will be a big fight no matter what.”

ROE MCDERMOTT, HOT PRESS: “Similarly, the action sequences – though well-executed – are lacking in originality, resulting in an utterly generic offering. You’ll watch, be lightly amused for two hours, and go back to forgetting that Thor exists.”

Nolan’s Dunkirk gets a big thumbs up from critics

Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk, the World War II drama coming out this weekend, obviously isn’t a spy film. But there is continuing fascination (admiration by some fans, disdain by others) with the idea writer-director Christopher Nolan might one day helm a James Bond film.

Also, two of Nolan’s collaborators, director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema and editor Lee Smith, worked on SPECTRE. The latest wave of Nolan mania among Bond fans occurred via a Playboy interview timed to come out shortly before Dunkirk.

So the blog decided to look at Dunkirk’s critical response.

The answer is a huge thumbs up. The Warner Bros. release currently enjoys a 97 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Here are some non-spoiler summaries of some of the reviews.

KATIE WALSH, TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE: “Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have crafted a film that places us in this heightened reality, shooting with IMAX cameras on large format film stock. Everything about ‘Dunkirk’ is bigger, realer, in images that are equally breathtaking in their beauty and in their terror.”

BILL GOODYKOONTZ, ARIZONA REPUBLIC: “Nolan is the best example of the filmmaker who, if you asked him what time it was would tell you how the watch works — and in his case that’s a compliment, because he turns the intricacies and minutiae of time and how it’s used in stories into artistic statements. Certainly he has done that here — ‘Dunkirk’ is a great movie, both an old-time inspirational war epic and at the same time very much a Christopher Nolan movie.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE: “From first frame to last, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a monumental achievement, a World War II epic of staggering visual spectacle (see it in IMAX if you can) that hits you like a shot in the heart. Leave it to a filmmaking virtuoso at the peak of his powers to break both new ground and all the rules – who else would make a triumphant war film about a crushing Allied defeat? And who but Nolan, born in London to a British father and an American mother, would tackle WWII without America in it?”

DANA STEVENS, SLATE: Nolan’s 2010 Inception “will serve as my yearly reminder never to go into a movie with preconceived ideas. The swift-moving, pulse-pounding Dunkirk reveals its filmmaker at his most nimble, supple, and simple—all adjectives that seem strange to use in connection with a movie shot in 65mm IMAX format, using practical effects and real stunts…But Dunkirk’s simplicity inheres not in its production logistics but in its storytelling.”

TODD MCCARTHY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “(T)his is a war film like few others, one that may employ a large and expensive canvas but that conveys the whole through isolated, brilliantly realized, often private moments more than via sheer spectacle, although that is here, too….In Dunkirk, Nolan has gotten everything just right.”

Spider-Man 3.0 gets blessing from critics

Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

Spider-Man: Homecoming had its premiere this week and received a lot of positive reviews, including a score of more than 90 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

This is the third version of biggest character in Marvel Comics. Tom Holland, 21, is taking over from the likes of Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield.

However, this is the first Spidey movie that’s officially part of the Marvel film universe after Marvel and Sony Pictures (which produced five Spider-Man movies from 2002 to 2014) cut a deal. Marvel produced the latest Spidey epic while Sony released it.

Well, here’s a (non-spoiler) sampling of reviews ahead of the official July 7 release.

JONATHAN L. FISCHER, SLATE: “Spider-Man: Homecoming is both a homecoming for the character as well as a movie in which Spider-Man literally goes to homecoming—a fitting re-introduction and an endearingly goofy teen flick.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE: “News Flash: Tom Holland is the best movie Spider-Man ever. He finds the kid inside the famous red onesie and brings out the kid in even the most hardened filmgoer….Spider-Man: Homecoming feels fresh off the drawing board, as if he was a character with the dew still on him.”

SCOTT MENDELSON, FORBES.COM: “(T)he film doesn’t work. Why not?  Because in a desire to highlight his youth and inexperience, the film turns Peter Parker into a dangerously incompetent would-be superhero.”

BRIAN TRUITT, USA TODAY: “(Tom) Holland not only looks the part of a 15-year-old but portrays the needed vulnerability, immaturity and jocularity of his comic-book counterpart that was sorely missed in previous movie incarnations.”

SCOTT MENZEL, WE LOVE FILM: “The attempt to recreate what made John Hughes films so great felt incredibly forced. It was so obvious that the writers were doing it that there was nothing clever about it.”

‘Mr. Warner’ having a bad week (so far) with Suicide Squad

The Joker after reading the Rotten Tomatoes website about Suicide Squad.

The Joker after reading the Rotten Tomatoes website about Suicide Squad.

Mr. Warner (our nickname for Warner Bros.) has been having a bad week as Suicide Squad, the studio’s latest big DC Comics-based movie, is about to debut.

First, there were the reviews. Good news: Suicide Squad scored better than the 27 percent “fresh” rating of March’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Bad news: Not much better. As of Wednesday afternoon, Suicide Squad has a 32 percent “fresh” rating on the same website.

Now bad reviews by themselves don’t necessary translate to financial ruin. Batman v Superman had a global box office of almost $873 million. However, it didn’t match a number of Marvel Studios movies (including two Avengers films) that scored global ticket sales exceeding $1 billion. Also, Batman v Superman had a big opening but fell off quickly.

Until this week, there had been positive buzz about Suicide Squad, about a group of Batman villains forced to work for the government. Beyond the bad reviews, a story today by Kim Masters of The Hollywood Reporter suggests a lot of behind-the-scenes intrigue affected the film, including millions of dollars of reshoots. A sample:

Yet if the villain team-up ultimately works — and it has drawn some harsh early reviews — it will be in spite of the kind of behind-the-scenes drama that is becoming typical for giant franchise movies that now are the main focus of the studio business: a production schedule engineered to meet an ambitious release date; a director, David Ayer (Fury), untested in making tentpole movies; and studio executives, brimming with anxiety, who are ready to intercede forcefully as they attempt to protect a branded asset.

That’s probably not the kind of reading Mr. Warner was looking forward to just ahead of the film’s debut.

Now, as the Masters story notes, there are estimates that Suicide Squad could have an opening weekend of $140 million. Still, Mr. Warner has a lot riding on DC Comics-based films, as it tries to match rival Marvel Studios and its owner, Walt Disney Co. So Suicide Squad is going to get even more scrutiny than the average big-budget movie.

We’ll see how it turns out for Mr. Warner in short order. If that big Suicide Squad opening materializes — and Suicide Squad doesn’t fade as quickly as Batman v Superman did — the bad buzz will fade quickly.

Jason Bourne gets a mix of raves and pans from critics

Jason Bourne poster

Jason Bourne poster

Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is back after nine years and he’s getting mixed marks — more positive than negative — from critics.

This year’s major spy movie currently has a 68 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes, or more than two raves for every pan.

Put another way, it’s comparable to 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (67 percent) and SPECTRE (65 percent), the most recent 007 film.

What follows is a non-spoiler sampling of reviews that have come in so far.

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “Mostly, the project marks a return to what worked about the franchise — namely, Damon — suggesting the relief of watching Sean Connery step back into Bond’s shoes after producers tried to replace him with a suave male model in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Meanwhile, audiences are expected to forget both “The Bourne Legacy,” 2012’s disappointing attempt to carry on the name by casting Jeremy Renner in a superficially similar capacity, and “Green Zone,” the gritty (and virtually unseen) Iraq War thriller in which Damon and Greengrass tried to get serious. Now, the real Bourne has resurfaced, and both director and star are committed to making the most of it.”

SCOTT MENDSELSON, FORBES.COM: “You’ve seen this movie before. You saw it in 2004 when it was calledThe Bourne Supremacy, and you saw it in 2007 when it was called The Bourne Ultimatum. As is now apparently custom for Paul Greengrass-directed Bourne sequels, the filmmaker steals wholesale from his previous movies to the point where it feels not like a formula but a glorified remake.”

KATIE WALSH, TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE: “It’s a breath of fresh air to see Damon back in this role, one that draws on his innate strengths. His All-American star persona allows us to understand that though Bourne is a lone ranger who doesn’t hesitate to use violence, we innately trust his moral compass. That’s because we know Bourne, but also because of the patriotic, good guy qualities that Damon effortlessly expresses.”

BILGE EBIRI, THE VILLAGE VOICE: “A  more appropriate title for Jason Bourne might be Walking: The Motion Picture. …(I)t’s about people walking. Walking down corridors, through hotels, through streets, through backrooms. Always briskly, always with apparent purpose, often with phones or earpieces or tracking devices so they can talk to someone else who is also walking and who is usually telling them where yet another person might be walking. Occasionally they break into a run or get in a car and plow through traffic. But mostly, they just walk. Is the CIA now owned by Fitbit?”

TODD MCCARTHY: THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “Jason Bourne is an engrossing reimmersion in the violent and mysterious world of Matt Damon’s shadowy secret op. With director Paul Greengrass compulsively cutting the almost incessant action to the absolute bone in his trademark fashion and some solid new characters stirred in, Universal’s franchise refresher should have no problem being re-embraced by longtime series fans.”

BvS brushes off bad reviews, has $166M opening

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

UPDATE III (March 28): Actual U.S.-Canada weekend figures came in on Monday, March 28 for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The haul was a few million less but still large, at $166 million, according to Exhibitor Relations.

That means the movie was the seventh-best opening weekend of all time and No. 2 Warner Bros. opening, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II retaining the crown at $169.2 million.

ORIGINAL POST (March 27): For Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, all the bad reviews were like bullets bouncing off Superman’s chest. The superhero movie had an estimated opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada of $170.1 million.

It was the sixth-best opening weekend of all time, unadjusted for inflation, entertainment research and data company Exhibitor Relations said in a post on Twitter.  It was also the biggest Warner Bros. opening ever, Exhibitor Relations said.

The development was a welcome piece of good news for Warner Bros. The studio had a terrible 2015 at the box office, so having any hit would be a relief. However, Batman v Superman also represents the studio’s attempt to catch up to rival Marvel Studios and its extended fictional universe of superhero films.

Batman v Superman specifically sets up a Justice League movie scheduled to go into production next month for a November 2017 release.

The Justice League of America is DC Comics equivalent to Marvel’s Avengers super hero group. (The JLA was first and was a revamp of an even earlier group, the Justice Society of America.) Marvel has produced its own movies since 2008, including Avengers films in 2012 and 2015.

Batman v Superman, besides its title characters, includes Wonder Woman as well as cameo appearances by other characters who’ll be part of the Justice League.

The movie had some setbacks. It originally was set to come out in July 2015. Warners pushed it back to May 2016 but retreated after Marvel announced it was going to have the third Captain America movie in the same date.

That film ended up being Captain America: Civil War, which is almost like another Avengers film and will bring Spider-Man into Marvel’s film universe for the first time.

Then, came the reviews. Batman v Superman received so many pans, it has a 29 percent rating (as of this morning) on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

Variety has estimated Batman v Superman will need worldwide ticket sales of $800 million to break even. Given all the hype, it probably needs a $1 billion box office to be seen as a success. People likely be watching carefully how much next weekend’s box office falls off for BvS.

Regardless, after all the setbacks, Warner Bros. executives presumably are breathing easier about the expensive movie.

UPDATE: Batman v Superman’s estimated worldwide box office currently is $424.1 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

UPDATE II (7:50 p.m., New York time): Warner Bros. executives took a victory lap later Sunday, including a quote about there’s “a disconnect between critics and audiences,” according to ComicBookMovie.com.

BvS: Dark and somber, but what’d you expect?

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

One vague spoiler awaits. There will be a warning.

Well, nobody should have been surprised.

Throughout the production of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the makers talked about how their story was real. Very real. And very serious. If you ever wanted to know what the real world would be like with superheroes, this movie would let you know.

Director Zack Snyder, a disciple of Christopher Nolan and his somber style of film making, even did some trashing talking of Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man, an escapist superhero film that was a decent hit in the summer of 2015.

After two changes in its release date, Batman v Superman is out. This time, movie critics were doing the trash talking, causing Snyder’s film to have a “fresh” rating of only 30 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes website. You have to have a lot of pans to get a score that low.

A recurring criticism is the movie is dour and dark. The San Francisco Examiner’s reviewer says “everything is shrouded in a kind of black sludge.”

Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Snyder directed 2013’s Man of Steel (with Nolan co-producing and co-plotting) where the costume of Superman (Henry Cavill) has such dark shades of blue, red and yellow it looks as if the uniform actually is dirty.

Vague spoiler follows.

To give Man of Steel more intellectual heft, there is some religious imagery. (Filmmakers often look to the Bible and Shakespeare to add gravitas to their efforts.)

Snyder continues that in Batman v Superman to the point it seems like opening on Easter weekend was planned all along, even though it wasn’t.

The thing is, the movie isn’t as bad as some of the reviews suggest. Not the biggest endorsement, admittedly but it’s the best we can do.

Ben Affleck is good as Batman, even if this version shows signs of finally going off his rocker for good. Ditto for Jeremy Irons as Alfred. The blog’s favorite moment is when Alfred reminds his employer that it was Bruce Wayne, acting almost like a spy, who got a key piece of information rather than Batman punching out a lot of guys.

Cavill is fine in what’s an almost thankless role because this seems more like a Batman film with Superman as a supporting player rather than co-leading character.

The filmmakers did experiment with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), making him much younger than previous incarnations. Think an evil Mark Zuckerberg (played by Eisenberg in The Social Network). The results are uneven but it was an attempt on a different take. I thought the Gal Gadot version of Wonder Woman was a plus, but again it’s definitely a supporting character. Overall, at 151 minutes, it’s too long but better superhero movies have the same fault.

Warner Bros. has a lot riding on the movie as it tries to get competitive with Marvel in superhero films. Despite the reviews, Batman v Superman generated $27.7 million in Thursday night showings in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website.

Batman v Superman needs a $1 billion global box office to be seen as a success, so Warner executives had to be pleased with the results despite the baby seal treatment by the critics.

UPDATE: It turns out Snyder did, well, pee on one key part of the Superman mythos. The Spy Commander missed it, but New York magazine’s Vulture website caught it. If you want to see what, or who, it was click on the link.