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.
In a battle of the actioners, the high-octane Cradle 2 the Grave, the only major release of the weekend, crushed reigning king Daredevil with a one-two punch of $17.1 million*, knocking the comic-book blockbuster off its throne.
The top box office winner for the last two weeks, Daredevil got pushed down to third place with only an $11 million take over the weekend, while the raucous comedy Old School, offering its own brand of flying testosterone, held its No. 2 spot for the second week with $13.9 million.
The romantic comedy How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days came in fourth with $10.1 million and Osca -nominee Chicago added a few more theaters to its belt, rounding out the top five with a respectable $8.1 million.
THE TOP TEN
Warner Bros. R-rated martial arts actioner Cradle 2 the Grave barreled into the weekend competition with an ESTIMATED $17.1 million in 2,625 theaters ($6,520 per theater).
The film follows a Taiwanese government agent and a master thief as they team up to hunt down some rare black diamonds before they land into the wrong hands.
Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, it stars DMX, Jet Li, Gabrielle Union, Anthony Anderson and Tom Arnold.
No strangers to impressive March openings, DMX and Li first starred together for director Bartkowiak in Romeo Must Die, which opened March 16, 2001, with a healthy $18.4 million, while Bartkowiak's Exit Wounds, also starring DMX and Steven Seagal, opened March 22, 2000, with $18 million.
DreamWorks' R-rated comedy Old School stayed at No. 2 for the second week with an ESTIMATED $13.9 million (-20%) in 2,742 theaters (+53 theaters; $5,069 per theater). The film, which revolves around three thirtysomething college buddies who decide to start their own off-campus fraternity, has made approximately $37.2 million so far.
Directed by Todd Phillips, it stars Luke Wilson, Will Farrell and Vince Vaughn.
Losing the dare, 20th Century Fox's PG-13 Daredevil, slipped to third place with an ESTIMATED $11 million (-39%) in 3,234 theaters (-240 theaters; $3,401 per theater). But don't feel too sorry for this superhero; his film is well on the way to hitting the $100 million mark, its cume approximately $84.1 million.
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the live-action comic book adaptation of a blind lawyer who moonlights as a superhero, stars Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell and Michael Clarke Duncan.
Keeping things sweet, Paramount Pictures' PG-13 How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days dropped a spot to No. 4 with an ESTIMATED $10.1 million (-13%) in 2,923 theaters ($3,467 per theater). Now in its fourth week, the romantic comedy about a journalist who has to do all the wrong things to lose a guy for a story has accumulated approximately $77.5 million.
Directed by Donald Petrie, it stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey.
Miramax's PG-13 jazzy musical Chicago held on to fifth place with an ESTIMATED $8.1 million (-1%) in 2,447 theaters (+92 theaters; $3,322 per theater). Expanding once again in its tenth week, the Oscar-nominated film has made approximately $105.1 million, making it the 24th film released in 2002 to hit the $100 million mark--and with director Rob Marshall's recent Directors Guild of America win, it's only going to get better.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
Falling two notches to sixth was Buena Vista's G-rated The Jungle Book 2, offering parents the only true kiddie entertainment for the weekend. It took in an ESTIMATED $6.8 million (-22%) in 2,814 theaters (-1 theaters; $2,416 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.6 million.
Directed by Steven Trenbirth, the continuing adventures of Mowgli the jungle boy features the voices of Haley Joel Osment, John Goodman, Bob Joles and Tony Jay.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Buena Vista's own PG-13 martial arts flick Shanghai Knights stayed in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-26%) in 2,515 theaters (-11 theaters; $1,909 per theater). In its fourth week, its cume is approximately $50.7 million.
Directed by Tom Dey, it stars Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson.
Universal's R-rated death penalty drama The Life of David Gale fell from sixth to eighth place with an ESTIMATED $4.3 million (-38%) in 2,003 theaters (+1 theater; $2,195 per theater). Debuting last weekend, the film about an anti-death penalty philosophy professor who finds himself on death row when his associate in the advocacy group Death Watch is murdered has made $13.4 million so far.
Directed by Alan Parker, the film stars Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 Civil-War melodrama Gods and Generals, which debuted last weekend at No. 8, slipped one spot to No. 9 with an ESTIMATED $2.7 million (-40%) in 1,533 theaters ($1,817 per theater). Its cume is approximately $8.7 million.
Directed by Ron Maxwell, the film is an epic portrayal charting the early years of the Civil War in early 1861 through 1863, climaxing with the famous Battle of Chancellorsville, and stars Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang and Robert Duvall.
Rounding out the top ten list was Buena Vista's PG-13 rated The Recruit with an ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-24%) in 1,508 theaters (-170 theaters; $1,724 per theater). The CIA thriller's cume is approximately $48 million.
Directed by Roger Donaldson, it stars Al Pacino and Colin Farrell.
Gold Circle/IDP's R-rated cue-ball drama Poolhall Junkies hustled up some business, opening in a limited-release with an ESTIMATED $315,318 in 179 theaters ($1,762 per theater). The film follows a pool playin' whiz who tries hard to rise above his loser, hustling past--while still loving the game.
Written and directed by Mars Callahan, it stars Callahan, Christopher Walken, Chazz Palminteri and Alison Eastwood.
This weekend's top 12 films grossed $85.8 million, up 4.58% from last weekend's take of $82 million.
Last year's big winner was Paramount's We Were Soldiers with $20.2 million in 3,143 theaters ($6,431 per theater), followed by Miramax's 40 Days and 40 Nights at $12.2 million in 2,225 theaters ($5,496 per theater) and New Line Cinema's John Q at $8.5 million in 2,456 theaters ($3,466 per theater).
Johnny Doyle (the enviably named Mars Callahan who also wrote and directed) is a pool-playing wunderkind who as his shady mentor Joe (Chazz Palminteri) puts it makes an art out of the hustle not just by conning his victims but making them like it. Johnny's getting tired of the sharking game and his law-student girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood) is putting the press on him to get legit--or get out. When he finds out double-crossing Joe screwed him out of a chance to join the professionals 15 years ago so they could remain hustling partners Johnny dumps Joe in a violent confrontation and tries (unsuccessfully as it turns out) to go straight despite his love of the game the respect he gets from his younger brother and his friends and of course the astounding amount of money he can win. Plus Tara's millionaire uncle Mike (Christopher Walken) can run the table pretty well himself and he's taken a liking to rebel Johnny. Meanwhile Joe vowing to settle the score has taken on top-ranked pro Brad (Rick Schroder) as his new protégé to help him do just that.
Callahan looks a lot like Walken by default or by design--his hair expressions mannerisms could make him Walken's son--but the similarity ends there. Callahan's no weighty actor but his easy delivery and quippy one-liners balance the heft brought in by Walken (who steals the entire shebang with a few choice scenes) and Palminteri (who with his malevolent scowl and loathsome behavior chews up and spits out the scenery as if tasting a spoiled bar burger). Wan and vapid token chick Eastwood has zero presence on-screen and even less chemistry with Callahan. The scenes involving Johnny's young wannabe-grifter brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) and his pals are a hoot but many are unnecessary. Schroder has maybe two lines and gives a good butt-whuppin' but he mostly just does a lot of lip mashing to show his frustration satisfaction confusion…
How newbie director Callahan convinced this exceptional group (in addition to Palminteri and Walken Rod Steiger appears in his final role as an aged streetwise poolhall owner with an old saw for every unfortunate situation) to sign on is anyone's guess--this ain't no Paul Newman pool movie and everyone knows it. Thankfully Callahan's cast is skilled enough to rise above its corny diatribes and some stiff dialogue and the script does have some very funny lines and scenes that give the cast something to work with. However at a breezy 90-some minutes the movie could done away with a few of the scenes in favor of more character development and back story. Way too much time is wasted on a long party scene in which one of Johnny's young buddies tries to get laid more still on his brother's band's performance at some club and even more on the parts with Tara's bitchy friend--yet we never really find out what drives Joe to be such a jerk or why Johnny is such a loser other than a few lines about his neglectful parents.