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.
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ held on to the No. 1 position for the third week in a row, taking in a robust $31.1 million at the box office this weekend.
The Passion's closest competitor was The Secret Window, which was runner-up with $19 million. The Johnny Depp thriller was the best opening ever for a film based on a work from the master of suspense, Stephen King. It bumped The Green Mile, which took in $18 million when it debuted in December 1999, to second place, and relegated Dreamcatcher, which opened to $15 million in March 2003, to the No. 3 spot.
But Secret Window still proved no match for the monolithic The Passion of the Christ, which could, according to president of Newmarket Films Bob Berney, spark a religious-themed fad.
"It will probably start trends and everything but at the end of the day, the films have to be pretty spectacular," Berney said Saturday during the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. "The audience, no matter what, is pretty discerning."
Berney said The Passion has passed 2002's sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which made $241 million, as the highest-grossing independent film, The Associated Press reports. The Passion's cumulative total to date is $264 million.
"The really interesting thing is that I think this shows that independent production and distribution can be at any level," Berney said. Newmarket's other recent success stories include Monster and Whale Rider.
This week, the Top 12 films grossed an estimated $104.1 million, up 14.59 percent from last week's $90.8 million, but down 20.75 percent from last year's $131.3 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's PG-13 rated comedy Bringing Down the House held on to the No. 1 spot in its second week with $22 million at 2,801 theaters with a $7,874 per theater average; MGM's PG rated teen spy flick Agent Cody Banks kicked off in second place with $14 million in 3,369 theaters with a $4,175 per theater average; and Paramount's R rated thriller The Hunted debuted in third with $13.8 million in 2,516 theaters with a $5,502 per theater average.
BOX OFFICE TOP 10, ESTIMATES (Source: Exhibitor Relations, Inc.)
No. 1: The Passion of the Christ (Newmarket, R)
Gross: $31.6 million (-41%)
Weeks opened: 3
Theaters: 3,221 (+51)
Per-theater average: $9,830
Cume to date: $264 million
No. 2: The Secret Window (Sony, PG-13)
Gross: $19 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $6,296
No. 3: Starsky & Hutch (Warner Bros., PG-13)
Gross: $16 million (-43%)
Weeks opened: 2
Theaters: 3,185 (unchanged)
Per-theater average: $5,027
Cume to date: $51.4 million
No. 4: Hidalgo (Buena Vista, PG-13)
Gross: $11.7 million (-38%)
Weeks opened: 2
Theaters: 3,065 (+2 theaters)
Per-theater average: $3,817
Cume to date: $35.5 million
No. 5: Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London (MGM, PG)
Gross: $8 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $2,691
No. 6: 50 First Dates (20th Century Fox, PG-13)
Gross: $5.3million (-31%)
Weeks opened: 5
Theaters: 2,586 (-454)
Per-theater average: $2,049
Cume to date: $106.5 million
No. 7: Twisted (Paramount Pictures, R)
Gross: $3 million (-40%)
Weeks opened: 3
Theaters: 2,208 (-496)
Per-theater average: $1,393
Cume to date: $21.1 million
No. 8: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (Buena Vista, PG)
Gross: $2.4 million (-41%)
Weeks opened: 4
Theaters: 1,801 (-379)
Per-theater average: $1,333
Cume to date: $24.9 million
No. 9: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (New Line Cinema, PG-13)
Gross: $2 million (-33%)
Weeks opened: 12
Theaters: 1,307 (-596)
Per-theater average: $1,568
Cume to date: $371.1 million
No. 10: Spartan (Warner Bros., R)
Gross: $2 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $2,440
Broken Wings (Sony Picture Classics, R)
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $5,536