God of Thunder a strong epic, The Phantom full of charm

Thunder a strong MCU entry

Hobbled by a broken heart as well as an existential crisis, the God of Thunder is at the crossroads in Taika Waititi's Thor: Love and Thunder, one of the better entries in the Marvel Films universe. However, upon visiting New Asgard, a purpose presents itself as he sets out to rescue the city's children, all kidnapped by Gorr the God Killer (Christian Bale), who's intent on slaying every deity that crosses his path. Complicating matters is our hero's ex, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Seems that she's been deemed worthy enough to heft the hammer Mjolnir and has assumed the mantel of Thor. She's intent on accompanying him on his mission of mercy. Needless to say, our hero has mixed emotions regarding all of this.

Initially sporting the same tongue-in-cheek humor that made the previous entry Ragnarok such a fan-favorite, the film has more than its share of laughs during its first act before shifting into a more serious tone. Bale's Gorr is a genuinely frightening and formidable foe, one that logically pushes the heroes to their limits yet elicits the audience's sense of sympathy as well. His presence helps make this one of the stand-out features in the Marvel Films canon.

As does the introduction of Jane Foster's Thor, one that, for a change, gives the actress a worthy role. The reason behind the character's new guise is compelling and poignant, while adding a degree of emotional weight so many of these films have been lacking. As for Hewsworth, he gets to run the gamut here from buffoonish to conflicted to heroic, each of these firmly in the actor's wheelhouse. The end result proves to be a major surprise from Waititi, who tends to favor irony over poignancy, and that he would allow the latter to creep in and drive this superhero epic makes Love and Thunder one of the most surprising and satisfying films of the summer. In theaters.

Phantom long on charm

A celebration of those who march to the beat of their own drummer, Craig Roberts' The Phantom of the Open leans heavily on the performance of Mark Rylance as eccentric Maurice Flitcroft, a shipyard crane operator who, one day on a whim, decides to enter the British Open, one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world. That he'd never picked up a golf club before wasn't going to dissuade him. That he might be able to earn a buck or two and it sounded like fun was all he needed to hit the links.

Of course, not everyone looked upon this as a harmless lark. The upper-crust members of the local club where he goes to practice look at him in disdain while Keith McKenzie (Rhys Ifans), the official in charge of entrants in the Open, is at his wits end trying to prevent Flitcroft from playing. It's all about maintaining the high standards of the tournament and the sport, you know...

While this is all good fun, the script by Simon Farnaby grounds the film by delving into Flitcroft's marriage to his patient, faithful wife Jean (Sally Hawkins), whose positivity buoys him throughout, and his relationships with his three sons, all fraught with their own degree of difficulty. This approach helps humanize the character and has us rooting for him, much like members of Britain's working class that crowded the pubs in 1976 to cheer Flitcroft on in his quixotic quest. Phantom is the very definition of a crowd-pleaser that speaks to anyone following their own impossible dream. Available through Video-on-Demand.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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