The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Hollywood delivered a one-two box office punch this weekend with big openings targeted to adult and family audiences.
Minority Report reported the majority of moviegoer votes, claiming first place with $36.9 million. Lilo & Stitch, which out-grossed Minority on Friday, wound up second with livelier than expected ticket sales of $35.8 million.
Insiders had projected only an $18-20 million launch for Lilo. Minority fell into the $30-40 million range that Hollywood handicappers had anticipated, although some had gone out on a limb speculating about a $50 million kickoff.
With stiff competition on two key demographic fronts, all three Top Five holdovers suffered big drops. Scooby-Doo slid 55 percent to third place with $24.4 million. The Bourne Identity fell 46 percent to fourth place with $14.8 million. The Sum Of All Fears skidded 41 percent to fifth place with $7.9 million.
Driven mostly by Minority and Lilo, ticket sales were up nearly 16 percent from this weekend last year. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- took in $159.4 million versus last year's $137.7 million.
THE TOP TEN
20th Century Fox's opening of its and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy thriller Minority Report took first place with a hot ESTIMATED $36.9 million at 3,001 theaters ($12,296 per theater).
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Tom Cruise.
Minority's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
"We had terrific results in big cities, urban and suburban (and in) sophisticated (markets)," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "The audience breakdown was 52 percent male, 64 percent 25 and over. (It had) great scores all around, especially from the younger folks even though they weren't there in the bigger numbers. But they actually had the better scores. So that bodes well for the future."
Focusing on the weekend day by day, Snyder noted, "We had a decent bump from Friday to Saturday. It seemed to be a little bit soft in the bump there for all movies. But we were up 13 percent. I've got $11.9 million for Friday and $13.4 million for Saturday -- 13 percent up. And 13 percent down (estimated) for Sunday to $11.6 million."
Minority's reviews, Snyder said, "were spectacular. There's always some negatives in there, but overall across the country it was a really wonderfully reviewed movie."
In Friday's grosses Lilo out performed Minority. "I've got them at $12.5 million on Friday and we were $11.9 million, so they were (ahead)," he said, pointing to the animated hit's strong matinee showings that day. "Lilo & Stitch's average was $4,000 for the matinees on Friday. Our average was $2,325. When they ended up having the same basic average when day was done, what it tells you is that they had the possibility to crank all day long with a much shorter movie. We have a two hour and 22 minute movie and ended up with one main show at night."
Is Minority's length a drag on its grossing potential? "It's a slight one," Snyder replied, "especially with a movie that kind of plays adult. Eventually we will get more and more teens, but (right now) we're not getting those 15 year olds that will be in there at 11 o'clock. So you really get that one main show. And it's a long show, so your eight o'clock show is your main show and that's what you've really got to work off of.
"Saturday you can get two shows, but Friday's a one show (day). I think that's how the grosses end up as they are. They cranked all day long, had a short movie and probably had five great matinees and we were working off really one main show at night."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated family appeal feature Lilo & Stitch arrived to much better numbers than expected, placing second with a colorful ESTIMATED $35.8 million at 3,191 theaters ($11,218 per theater).
Written and directed by Chris Sanders, it was produced by Clark Spencer. Its original score is by Alan Silvestri.
"We are thrilled," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "We never anticipated coming in in first place (but) I truly believe that's where we're at. In our hearts, we truly believe we're number one. We will speak as though we're number one."
Whatever Lilo's ranking for the weekend, Viane said, "The amazement here is that this is the second best opening in June on an animated film we've ever had -- second only to The Lion King (which opened to $40.9 million the weekend of June 24-26, 1994)."
Focusing on Lilo's terrific numbers, Viane said Disney is, "a very happy place. It's great. It's amazing how this one apparently didn't show up on some people's radars. But obviously the public was out there in masses. I was over at the Promenade (multiplex in L.A.) yesterday and I cannot tell you how many kids walked into the theater with those little Stitch cuddly dolls. It'll be an eminently successful film. I think the directors and the animators and everybody (who worked on the picture) did a magnificent job."
Warner Bros.' PG rated family comedy Scooby-Doo stumbled two steps to third place in its second week with a still sizable ESTIMATED $24.36 million (-55%) at 3,447 theaters (theater count unchanged; $7,067 per theater). Its cume is approximately $101.2 million.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini and Rowan Atkinson.
"It's the first hundred million dollar movie of the year for us," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "$101.195 million in 10 days. We're very thrilled about it. We've announced a sequel (for 2004). We're going to build a franchise on Mr. Doo. Audiences still love this movie. I'm very pleased with that hold considering the $35.8 million that Disney (grossed with Lilo)."
Universal's PG-13 espionage thriller The Bourne Identity starring Matt Damon slid two pegs to fourth place in its second week -- holding respectably given Minority's strong opening -- with an ESTIMATED $14.76 million (-46%)) at 2,643 theaters (+5 theaters; $5,585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $54.1 million, heading for $85 million.
Paramount's PG-13 rated thriller The Sum Of All Fears dipped one notch to fifth place in its fourth week, holding its own in the face of strong competition from Minority with an ESTIMATED $7.9 million (-41%) at 3,039 theaters (-191 theaters; $2,601 per theater). Its cume is approximately $97.4 million, heading for $120 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and produced by Mace Neufeld, it stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
"I think the biggest (film based on a Tom Clancy book) was $122 million. Whether or not it surpasses that is a question mark at this point," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning, noting that Fears was impacted by both Minority and Bourne. "We're very happy with the hold. Obviously, we would have liked to have held better than the 41 percent, but given the level of the competition it's a good hold."
MGM's R rated World War II drama Windtalkers retreated three trenches to sixth place in its second week with a wounded ESTIMATED $6.7 million (-54%) at 2,898 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,312 per theatre). Its cume is approximately $26.7 million.
Directed by John Woo, it stars Nicolas Cage.
Morgan Creek's MPG-13 rated urban appeal basketball theme comedy Juwanna Mann opened in seventh place via Warner Bros. to an unexciting ESTIMATED $6.0 million at 1,325 theaters ($4,528 per theater).
Directed by Jesse Vaughan, it stars Kevin Pollak, Tommy Davidson, Kim Wayans, Ginuwine and Lil' Kim.
"The picture played (best) predominantly in the urban ethnic markets and did little to cross over (into mainstream situations)," Warners' Dan Fellman said.
Warner Bros. and Gaylord Films' PG-13 rated drama Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood fell two slots in its third week to eighth place with a less divine ESTIMATED $5.69 million (-36%) at 2,310 theaters (-197 theaters; $2,461 per theater). Its cume is approximately $46.4 million.
Directed by Callie Khouri, it stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus Macfadyen and Maggie Smith.
"It had the best hold of any of the wide releases, only down 36 percent," Warners' Dan Fellman said. "And with the strong mid-weeks that this picture's getting we'll be past $50 million by the end of the week (and) heading into the $60 millions."
20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm's PG rated franchise installment Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones dropped three rungs to ninth place in its sixth week with a slower ESTIMATED $5.1 million (-46%) at 2,107 theaters (-294 theaters; $2,421 per theater). Its cume is approximately $279.8 million, heading for $300 million in domestic theaters.
Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace took in $431.1 million in domestic theaters. Its worldwide total (domestic plus international) was $923 million.
Directed by George Lucas, it stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Columbia's PG-13 sci-fi fantasy blockbuster Spider-Man, down three pegs in its eighth week with a less energetic ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-41%) at 2,278 theaters (-424 theaters; $1,932 per theater). Its cume is approximately $390.2 million heading for $400 million-plus in domestic theaters.
Directed by Sam Raimi, it stars Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Sony Pictures Classics' PG-13 drama Sunshine State to a sunny ESTIMATED $92,000 at 10 theaters ($9,202 per theater).
Written, directed and edited by John Sayles, it stars Jane Alexander, Angela Bassett, Gordon Clapp, Edie Falco, Miguel Ferrer, Timothy Hutton, James McDaniel and Mary Steenburgen.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend IFC Films' PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding added a few more theaters in its 10th week with a still impressive ESTIMATED $1.7 million (-1%) at 459 theaters (+4 theaters; $3,785 per theater). Its cume is approximately $16.3 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Miramax's PG rated comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest expanded in its fifth week to an uninteresting ESTIMATED $0.5 million (-18%) at 201 theaters (+21 theaters; $2,487 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.2 million.
Directed by Oliver Parker, it stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.
Think Film's R rated dark comedy The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys went wider in its second week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $0.2 million at 76 theaters (+67 theaters; $2,510 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Peter Care, it stars Kieran Culkin.
Miramax's R rated classic drama Cinema Paradiso: The New Version added theaters quietly in its second week with an ESTIMATED $28,000 at 7 theaters (+4 theaters; $4,000 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67,000.
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, it stars Philippe Noiret.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $159.42 million, up 15.74 percent from last year when they totaled $137.74 million.
Key films were down about 1.00 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $161.01 million.
Last year, Universal's opening week of The Fast and the Furious was first with $40.09 million at 2,628 theaters ($15,255 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's opening week of Dr. Dolittle 2 was second with $25.04 million at 3,049 theaters ($8,212 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $65.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $72.7 million.
As the opening song belts out fast cars champagne and caviar are what professional basketball player Jamal Jeffries (played by Miguel A. Nunez Jr.) is all about. In fact Jeffries is so taken by his own success that he doesn't sign autographs but uses a stamp. His Dennis Rodman-style antics however reach a breaking point when he strips during a game in front of millions of fans and flings his jock strap into the seats. The stunt gets him thrown out of the league and before he can say "slam-dunk " Jeffries loses his house his cars and his girlfriend. Desperate to work again at the one thing he does best Jeffries comes up with the mother of all schemes: He shaves his legs dabs on mascara and tries out for the women's league--and it works. But as he builds friendships and gains the trust of the women on his team he feels torn between his obligation to his team the Banshees and his need to return to a normal life. If you've seen the 1982 comedy Tootsie you know exactly how this film plays out. Surprisingly Juwanna Mann is not crammed with bad slapstick humor but is an entertaining twist on an old classic with a delightfully sweet storyline.
Nunez (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) not only pulls off the Jamal/Juwanna character with ease but he pretty much steals the show here. His character comes off as endearing rather than obnoxious because he takes his role as a woman seriously and is never condescending about playing in the women's league. Nunez also delivers some great one-liners the best being when he is fighting off advances from the gold-toothed Puff Smokey Smoke. Vivica A. Fox (Two Can Play That Game) plays Michelle a fellow player whom Jeffries develops feelings for. Although it's hard to buy the sweet and almost delicate Fox in such an athletic role she pulls it off--but there is not all that much chemistry between her and Nunez. As Jeffries' crass sports agent Lorne Daniels Kevin Pollak (3000 Miles to Graceland) is seedy with just the right touch of humanity so his character is not completely despicable. The most cartoonish and unlikable character is Tommy Davidson's (Bamboozled) Puff Smokey Smoke. He has some funny lines but is too far-fetched to be believable.
Jesse Vaughan who directed a season of In Living Color makes his directorial debut with Juwanna Mann. Judging from the trailer I thought the film would be a low-brow comedy with a lot of overdone men-in-heels humor. I was instead pleasantly surprised by the film's storyline which--although it is a complete take on Tootsie--is short sweet and non-offensive. While some characters like Puff Smokey Smoke are a bit over the top Nunez's Jamal/Juwanna character is never clownish and well developed enough that you can't help but feel for his/her predicament. Some scenes appear to have a Klumps influence like the scene in which Jeffries is playing cards with his aunt and a gang of her senior friends but the overall effect is a moderately funny film peppered with some slightly funnier moments. Newcomer Bradley Allenstein had the sense to deliver a sweet comedy screenplay that was short enough and knew when to quit.