Jordan Peele has enjoyed one of the most unexpected second acts in the history of Hollywood; going from being a cult hero in the sketch comedy scene to being arguably the most prominent mainstream auteur to emerge in American cinema in the last 20 years, with Peele presenting himself as a kind of 21st century Rod Serling, telling modern-day parables about our culture through a lens of horror and science fiction. With his latest film, Nope, Peele looks to the skies to create thrills that are on the biggest scale he has done yet as an adaptive alien being terrorizes a Californian ranch run by a pair of disparate siblings, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer). With the help of the Ancient Aliens watching, electronics store employee Angel (Brandon Perea) and the committed cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), the Haywoods set out to capture irrefutable, fame-making proof that aliens exist.
Peele’s other films have generally operated on a smaller scale, with Get Out and Us taking cues from more intimate and character driven horror/thriller movies, and while Nope does feature at least some of the more unsettling images to be seen in any major release in recent years, Peele appears to be more interested in creating a full blown blockbuster with his latest effort. With this film, it seems that Peele has taken a page from the early work of Steven Spielberg—with a hint of Close Encounters and a whole lot of Jaws being in Nope’s DNA. Once again, Peele has shown how adept he is at directing actors—a skill that was undoubtedly honed during his years of experience as a working actor—drawing great, and often very funny, performances from his talented cast. Palmer is given her biggest stage yet to show why she is such a highly regarded young talent from her time working on Nickelodeon and Broadway, and she doesn’t disappoint. She is excellent as the free-spirited Emerald and clashes well with the steelier and work-oriented OJ. For a while now, Kaluuya has been one of the best actors of his generation, having been on a strong run giving compelling performances in several interesting films. After his breakout performance in Peele’s revered debut Get Out, Kaluuya has gone from strength to strength as an actor; appearing in Black Panther, starring in the acclaimed drama Queen and Slim and stealing the show in Steve McQueen’s ensemble crime thriller Widows—which was no mean feat, considering it starred Viola Davis and featured a host of excellent performers such as Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell and Liam Neeson (among many others) in its sprawling cast. But Kaluuya’s success crescendoed with an Oscar win in 2021 for his captivating performance as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, and he returns to the big screen to give another great performance that is unique from what he has already demonstrated. While not as showy or dialogue driven as Palmer’s performance, Kaluuya’s is just as finely calibrated. We always know what OJ is thinking and feeling through Kaluuya’s on-screen presence, he is gifted at bringing the character to life with his physicality. It would be in the best interests of both Kaluuya and Peele to continue their fruitful creative collaboration for years to come. Meanwhile, Brandon Perea is a terrific find in what is only his second credited performance following Netflix’s series The OA: As Angel he brings a lot of the film’s humor out and gives a unique take on a well-worn character type. And Steven Yeun, who may be best known for his part in the long-running zombie show The Walking Dead gives a memorable supporting performance as a traumatized former child actor, who is now the owner of a small amusement park that neighbors the Haywoods’ ranch.
Nope stands as another triumph for Jordan Peele and shows that the scope of his filmmaking ability has yet to reach its limit. In a marketplace that is overloaded with reboots, sequels and superheroes, it is nothing short of a Hollywood miracle that a filmmaker as creative and serendipitously minded as Peele is given the resources to tell his original story to audiences in a multiplex. In theaters now.
Thor: Love and Thunder
This newest adventure for Marvel’s God of Thunder has the unfortunate task of following up one of the most widely beloved MCU films to date in Thor: Ragnarok and also coming out at a time where overexposure to Marvel stories may have reached its breaking point with six movies and seven TV series set in the universe being released in 18 months. As a result, Thor: Love and Thunder has been met with a critical lambasting that it may not entirely deserve on the merits of the film itself.
Love and Thunder is a relatively middling entry to the MCU with there being both more memorable and more forgettable films to come out of the franchise (not to mention within the Thor series itself). Taika Waititi, who recently won an Oscar for his film Jojo Rabbit, brings his patented 10-jokes-a-minute style of humor to the film, which Chris Hemsworth deftly performs. Since the success of Ragnarok, Hemsworth really found his voice in the part of Thor after struggling to make the character his own as quickly as many of his colleagues managed to do, making Love and Thunder a good vehicle for him to show off his charm in the role. The film is also notable for bringing back Natalie Portman as Jane, Thor’s long-lost love interest who hasn’t appeared in an MCU project since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. Portman gives a reliably strong and surprisingly heartfelt performance.
The film isn’t without its merits and is consistently entertaining even if all the jokes don’t land and the visuals are subpar for a movie of this scale; it just feels as though the Marvel machine is beginning to run on fumes and isn’t able to surprise anyone anymore or recapture its former glories. The next stop for Marvel is Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which is saddled with the tragic weight of continuing that saga following the passing of Black Panther’s original star Chadwick Boseman, and it remains to be seen whether the studio’s grip on the industry is beginning to loosen.
In theaters now.