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.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Looks like people were ready for more Middle-earth action.
As if anyone is truly surprised, the second installment of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy dominated the box office this weekend with its continuing tale about some good-hearted Hobbits who want to destroy an evil Ring, while a bunch of nasty Middle-earth denizens try and stop them.
Over the three-day weekend, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers took in a whopping $61.5 million*, towering over the number two spot captured by the new Sandra Bullock/Hugh Grant film Two Weeks Notice. The romantic comedy only managed to take in about a quarter of The Two Towers' haul at $14.4 million.
Other openers this week included another epic saga, Gangs of New York, which came in fourth with $9.1 million and the animated The Wild Thornberrys Movie, which opened strong at number six with a respectable $6.1 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers opened with an amazing three-day weekend total, ESTIMATED at $61.5 million at 3,6 22 theaters ($16, 980 per theater) and also taking in almost half of the weekend's box office (46.4 percent). Since its Wednesday, Dec. 18, opening, the film has brought in an ESTIMATED $101.5 million in total over five days.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler.
The middle part to J.R.R. Tolkien's literary fantasy epic clearly surpassed its predecessor by nearly 25 percent. On the same weekend last year, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which also opened on the Wednesday before Christmas, took in $47.2 million in three days. The film went on to pull in $94 million after its first five days, eventually grossing $313 million in North America and about $550 million overseas, according to Variety.
The Two Towers also posted the second highest domestic Wednesday opening ever, with a healthy $26 million, behind 1999's Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace at $28.5 million, according to New Line. Fellowship of the Ring was the previous holder of the December one-day record, opening with $18.2 million.
"We are pleased and astounded," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman told Variety of The Two Towers performance.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice opened in second place with an ESTIMATED $14.4 million at 2,755 theaters ($5, 229 per theater).
Directed by Marc Lawrence, it stars Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant.
This romantic comedy about a corporate lawyer's love/hate relationship with her boss is Bullock's second best opening in the last five films she has made. Her best opening was this summer's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which opened with a strong $16.1 million and went on to gross $69.5 million domestically. Bullock's top film Miss Congeniality opened to the smaller tune of $10 million in December 2000 but grossed $106.8 million domestically, proving the comedic actress has the star power to open films strong--and keep them that way.
The third spot belonged to Sony Pictures' Maid in Manhattan, this season's other romantic comedy, which opened last weekend at number one. Falling 41 percent, it still managed to rake in an ESTIMATED $11 million at 2,866 theaters (+28 theaters; $3,838 per theater). It's cume to date is approximately $35.5 million.
Directed by Wayne Wang, it stars Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes.
Guess a historical period piece about 1860s New York can't beat Hobbits or romance. Miramax's highly anticipated R-rated Gangs of New York opened with a less-than-exciting ESTIMATED $9.1 million at 1,504 theaters ($6,064 per theater). Still, with the film's recent slate of Golden Globe nominations, the momentum should give Gangs a fair amount of shelf life.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz.
20th Century Fox's drum showstopper PG-13 rated Drumline continued to boom at number five with an ESTIMATED $7.6 million (-40%) at 1,837 theaters ($4,137 per theater). The little-film-that-could about an underdog high school band opened at No. 3 last week and has so far gained a respectable $22.8 million.
Directed by Charles Stone, it stars Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana and Orlando Jones.
Another new flick on the block this weekend was Paramount Pictures' PG-rated The Wild Thornberrys Movie, which opened in sixth place with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million at 3,012 theaters ($2,025 per theater).
Based on the hit Nickelodeon TV show, the animated film about a family of wildlife documentary filmmakers, is directed by Cathy Malkasian and Jeff McGrath and includes the vocal talents of Lacey Chabert, Tim Curry, Rupert Everett, Lynn Redgrave and Marisa Tomei.
Chortling in at number seven is Disney's PG-13 rated The Hot Chick, taking in an ESTIMATED $4.5 million at 2,217 theaters ($2,030 per theater). Dropping 39 percent, the body-switching comedy bowed last week in fifth place and has made approximately $13.7 million thus far.
Directed by Tom Brady, it stars Rob Schneider, Anna Faris and Rachel McAdams.
Warner Bros. PG-rated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets dropped a couple of notches to No. 8 with an ESTIMATED $4.45 million (-30%) at 2,750 theaters (-275 theaters; $1,620 per theater). The second movie about our fab boy wizard and his adventures at Hogwarts has managed to eke out approximately $228.9 million in its six weeks at the box office. Not too shabby.
Directed by Chris Columbus, the film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Isaacs, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane and Maggie Smith.
The once-popular franchise seems to have lost its steam. Paramount Pictures PG-13 rated Star Trek: Nemesis continued its disappointing run, slipping from its bow at second place last weekend to ninth with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-76%) at 2,711 theaters ($1,623 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.4 million.
Directed by Stuart Baird, it stars Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden and Marina Sirtis.
Tenth place belongs to Bond, James Bond. MGM's megahit, PG-13 rated Die Another Day, continued reaping the rewards with an ESTIMATED $4 million, dropping 49 percent at 2,075 theaters (-1,302 theaters; $1,928 per theater). One of the highest-grossing Bond films ever, its taken in approximately $138.4 million so far.
Directed by Lee Tamahori, it stars Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Toby Stephens and Rick Yune.
Three of the higher-profile independent films of the season opened in limited theaters this weekend, including Denzel Washington's Antwone Fisher, Spike Lee's 25th Hour and Narc starring Ray Liotta.
Fox Searchlight's PG-13 rated Antwone Fisher opened Thursday in 15 theaters at an ESTIMATED $217,500 ($14,500 per theater). The film, about a man struggles to come to terms with his abusive childhood, is directed by the Oscar-winning Washington, who also stars along with newcomer Derek Luke. Fisher will open wide Jan. 1.
Buena Vista's R-rated 25th Hour also opened Thursday in 5 theaters and took in an ESTIMATED $109,811 ($21, 962 per theater). The intense drama focuses on a drug dealer's last 24 hours before he goes to prison and how he chooses to spend it. Directed by Spike Lee, it stars Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson and Brian Cox. The film opens wide Jan. 10.
Paramount's Narc opened in 6 theaters Friday, making an ESTIMATED $66,000 ($11,000 per theater). The gritty drama stars Ray Liotta and Jason Patric as two undercover narcotics detectives after a cop killer.
The top 12 films this weekend earned $132 million, up 46.4 percent from last weekend.
This time last year, New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was number one at the box office with $47.2 million, while Warner Bros. Ocean's Eleven came in second with $14.7 million and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius third with $13.8 million.
*All estimates as reported by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.