“Kids, get your popcorn out. Let me tell you the story of the Space Viking, Thor Odinson.”
Thor: Ragnarok was a vibrant breath of fresh air in the stiffly solemn world of Thor movies. With Taika Waititi returning to direct, Love and Thunder maintains this approach to colourful, fast-paced storytelling (with entire planets apparently ending up on the cutting-room floor). Its themes hew closely to its title, Thor grappling with the idea of Jane taking up the mantle of Mighty Thor serving as a metaphor for navigating friendship with exes (and axes). Natalie Portman was vocal about the misuse of Jane Foster in the early Thor films, but this script provides the character with agency, as well as emotional and comedic range. By contrast the Guardians of the Galaxy play a surprisingly perfunctory role at the start of the film, primarily for Quill to nudge Thor toward finding a family of his own. Like Multiverse of Madness, the film suffers from another single-minded villain, despite the God Butcher’s moving introduction showing the root of his Kratos-like rage. At its strongest, Love and Thunder‘s visual effects take us to some fantastic locations, from the gilded opulence of Omnipotence City to the desaturated Shadow Realm with Sin City splashes of colour, whilst the action is set to a couple of suitably electrifying Guns n’ Roses songs. The result is lightweight family entertainment that underscores the MCU Phase 4’s lack of direction with a half dozen standalone movies and countless hours of Disney+ TV shows not building toward any visible greater purpose.
“We’re all passing for something or other, aren’t we?”
Adapted from a novella by Nella Larsen, Passing is a simple story evocatively elevated by through nuanced parallels and skilful use of cinematic language belying the fact that this is actress Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut. The overt theme is that of racial identity and the ability for lighter-skinned coloured people to “pass” for white, but Passing is also about identity more generally and the way in which it affects our social interactions and contentment. The primary purpose of shooting in black and white is its alteration of how we perceive skin tone, but its corollary effect fits Hall’s description of the film itself “passing” as being from another era, brimming with the style of 1930s and noir cinema including the now-rare Academy ratio, but maintaining its own identity through anachronistic use of anamorphic lenses that provide a wider field of view and pleasing oval bokeh. The best use of the extra frame height is in making the Harlem townhouses loom over figures on the street. Passing‘s reserved and delicate approach (it would meet the era’s Hays Code) dulls its emotional impact, resulting in an exploration of race that is more quietly thoughtful than deeply moving.
“Let me give you a tip. You wanna make some money here? Use your white voice.”
An off-beat comedy about white privilege, worker exploitation and personal greed, Sorry to Bother You is the impressive debut feature from writer/director Boots Riley, and stars the excellent LaKeith Stanfield (of Atlanta fame). Riley’s approach to unsettling the audience through the black perspective of navigating social interaction is reminiscent of Get Out, though he also channels Michel Gondry in his loose approach to realism, overtly referencing the director in a stop-motion animated sequence. It is the absurdist notes — like the fact that the “white voice” which propels Cassius’ career is not simply a posh accent spoken by Stanfield but is very obviously dubbed (by David Cross) — which demonstrate Riley’s unique voice as a film maker but arguably distract from Sorry to Bother You’s core messages.
“As a psychologist, I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction. Almost none of us commit suicide, and almost all of us self-destruct.”
Another thoughtful science fiction story from Alex Garland, Annihilation has much in common with Monsters, featuring a group of humans journeying through the “shimmer”, an area abandoned following an extraterrestrial impact. Garland’s unwillingness to compromise is to be praised, particularly with a female team of scientists filling most of cast, but unfortunately he fails to produce characters of more than sketches. Nevertheless, the narrative has a surprisingly effective payoff and the film offers something to muse regarding the beauty and fragility of DNA.