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.
Based on acclaimed Portuguese author Jose Saramago’s bestseller a dark fable that saw an epidemic of blindness take over the entire globe the story now has a more linear interpretation on screen. A city is slowly enveloped with a virus that causes white blindness. The early victims are then quarantined in a hellhole that fosters degrading acts and power plays by one group over the other. All rules of society break down as the blind don’t lead the blind--they take advantage of each other including a gang rape perpetrated on the women by a male faction led by Gael Garcia Bernal. There is one woman (Julianne Moore) married to a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who actually is the only one who has still retained her sight but she doesn’t let on to that fact for most in the facility. She puts a small band of people together and proceeds to lead them out of the darkness of the snake pit they have been thrown into and back to life in the ravaged city. Despite the grim nature of the story and the somewhat stereotyped nature of many characters in it Blindness can be thankful to have the luminous presence of Julianne Moore perhaps the gutsiest actress working in film today. There doesn’t seem to be anything she can’t--or won’t--do for the sake of a movie and once again she’s a strong centered heroine trying to rise above the most dire circumstances and help others in distress. She’s also gone blonde for the role of the Doctor’s Wife whose ordered existence is turned upside down when she is suddenly thrust into the most harrowing situation imaginable. Ruffalo does well as the Doctor (none of the characters have been given names just descriptions) and makes his blindness completely credible. So do the other principals including Danny Glover as the Man with the Black Eye Patch and Alicia Braga as the Woman with Dark Glasses. Bernal is properly grimy and despicable as the self titled King of Ward Three. The rape act he leads is disturbing and may be a difficult sit for squeamish members of the audience. It’s easy to see why director Fernando Meirelles (City of God The Constant Gardener) would want to bring Saramago’s work to the screen. It offers opportunity for exploration of human behavior in the best and worst of circumstances and serves as a fable for our troubled planet. Something was lost in the translation though (the screenplay is by actor Don McKellar) and clearly the director has encountered trouble in striking just the right tone to bring the unique flavor of the book to the screen. In fact there have already been two versions. The first which opened the Cannes Film Festival in May featured a lot of whimsical narration by Glover’s character giving it a much different feel but was not well received by critics. Meirelles who rushed to finish the film in time for Cannes went back into the editing room and jettisoned all of Glover’s narration. This version is more straightforward but quite frankly seems to have lost its voice. Whatever the initial version’s faults it was genuinely unique and seemed to capture the flavor of the book which was a very internal read to begin with. Meirelles and his cinematographer Cear Charlone have also lightened the picture from the darker palette shown in Cannes. This is a big improvement but the overall experience is still a tough slog. It all feels like we are locked in a mental ward with these characters and as a captive audience you may feel like escaping early too.
Blade 2 was a slashing success at the box office, opening in first place to a razor sharp $33.1 million.
Ice Age slid into second place with a still solid $31.1 million, melting only 33 percent. E.T.'s 20th anniversary reissue opened in third place, celebrating with $15.1 million. Also helping to drive ticket sales to record setting heights were holdovers Showtime with $8.2 million and Resident Evil with $6.6 million.
For the second consecutive weekend, key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--enjoyed summer sized grosses. Studio estimates put ticket sales at $132.7 million, down less than one percent from last weekend's $133.8 million. Business was up nearly 75 percent from last year's $76 million.
Distribution sources said that when the weekend's final numbers are released Monday they could be lower than today's estimates because of competition from tonight's Oscar telecast. Adult appeal films, in particular, are considered to be the most vulnerable to competition from the Oscars.
For years the industry avoided having a negative impact at the box office by holding the Oscars on Monday night, the weakest night of the weak for ticket sales. Last year, the Oscars were moved to Sunday night. A key reason for the move was to take advantage of there being less traffic in Los Angeles on Sundays so those attending could get to the ceremonies more easily.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's R rated vampire thriller Blade 2 kicked off in first place to a bloody good ESTIMATED $33.1 million at 2,707 theaters ($12,228 per theater).
Blade 2's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, it stars Wesley Snipes.
"It could be heading to $100 million," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning.
"This was just terrific. It's Wesley's biggest opening and it almost doubled the first Blade's opening (of $17.1 million the weekend of Aug. 21-23, 1998)."
Looking at the opening weekend demographics, Tuckerman said exit polls showed were encouraging because they showed the urban appeal film played to a broader audience than expected. Those on hand were 69 percent non-African-American and 31 percent African-American.
"Non-African-Americans were 55 percent male and 45 percent female, which also is terrific," Tuckerman said. "The African-American audience was equally divided 50-50 (by gender). By age (the overall audience) was equally divided under and over 25."
Looking at New Line's timing in releasing the film now, Tuckerman observed, "One of the reasons I picked this date was because (in terms of upcoming openings) there was only Panic Room, which is not in our demo at all. It looks to me like there's four weeks for it to play without anything to bother it. And it looks like we're going to play for a while."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age fell one slot to second place in its second weekend, holding strongly with an ESTIMATED $31.08 million (-33%) at 3,345 theaters (+29 theaters; $9,291 per theater). Its cume is approximately $88.3 million.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
"You know, if we had opened to this figure we would have been ecstatic," Fox distribution executive vice president and general sales manager Rick Myerson said Sunday morning.
"We have about 12 digital runs in North America. The presentation in digital is phenomenal because this was computer generated digitally. People are waiting for the next digital presentation at some of those theaters. What they're saying is, 'Look, I know there's one in 15 minutes, but I'd rather wait a half-hour and see the (next) digital presentation."
Noting that Ice Age is also playing abroad now, Myerson said, "The international market is unbelievable. (Based on early grosses coming in) they may have done $30 million internationally and they have only opened up the U.K., Germany and one other European country plus Singapore and a few South American (territories) and Mexico. But the numbers are just unbelievable.
"It's mirroring what we're doing. The numbers in Germany, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and (other markets) are bigger than Shrek and Dinosaur combined, which were huge. It seems like the picture is just coming along with us (in paralleling its domestic success). The admissions they had in Mexico in 10 days were unheard of. If you take a bunch of animated pictures and put them together, (Ice Age is) doing better in those first 10 days. It's just phenomenal."
Universal's 20th year anniversary reissue of its PG rated sci-fi fantasy drama E.T. landed in third place with a happy ESTIMATED $15.05 million at 3,007 theaters ($5,005 per theater).
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Dee Wallace Stone, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas.
"We're very pleased with E.T.'s performance," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "The whole idea of the reissue was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a film that we at Universal and at Amblin are all very proud of.
"Its performance is very much like any Disney animated reissue, if you look at the numbers. It ranks number four in all time reissue openings behind the three Star Wars and that's good company to be in. There's every indication that the audiences that did go to see it absolutely adored the film, including the non-parents category."
Among non-family moviegoers, Rocco noted, "ratings were well above average among 25 year olds and over. They were also, of course, incredible for kids and for parents. But I highlight that category because it's interesting. You don't have to be parent or a kid to enjoy the experience of E.T."
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated action comedy Showtime from Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment slipped one peg to fourth place in its second week with an okay ESTIMATED $8.23 million (-45%) at 2,917 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,821 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.9 million.
Directed by Tom Dey, it stars Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy and Rene Russo.
Sony's Screen Gems label launched its R rated thriller Resident Evil from Constantin Film, New Legacy Film and Davis Films dropped three notches to fifth place in its second week with a less scary ESTIMATED $6.6 million (-63%) at 2,528 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,611 per theater). Its cume is approximately $28.8 million.
Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, it stars Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez and Eric Mabius.
Resident Evil, which was made by Constantin for about $30 million, is being released through Sony domestically and in certain international territories, including all of Latin America.
"I think we're headed towards a very profitable $40 million (in domestic theaters)," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "It's the nature of the genre and the world we now live in (in terms of the highly competitive movie marketplace) that things drop a bit more than we'd like--not to mention some pretty strong competition from Blade 2."
Paramount and Icon Productions' R rated Vietnam war drama We Were Soldiers fell one rung to sixth place in its fourth week with a slower ESTIMATED $5.8 million (-32%) at 2,859 theaters (-284 theaters; $2,029 per theater). Its cume is approximately $61.7 million, heading for $80-90 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Randall Wallace, it stars Mel Gibson.
DreamWorks and Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated time travel fantasy drama The Time Machine fell three pegs to seventh place in its third week with a quieter ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-52%) at 2,809 theaters (-149 theaters; $1,851 per theater). Its cume is approximately $48.0 million. The film is being released domestically by DreamWorks and internationally by Warner Bros., which co-financed its production.
Directed by Simon Wells, it stars Guy Pearce.
Universal, DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama A Beautiful Mind--which has eight Oscar nominations including best picture--rose one notch to eighth place in its 14th week, still holding very well with an ESTIMATED $4.26 million (+26%) at 1,455 theaters (-78 theaters; $2,930 per theater). Its cume is approximately $154.9 million. How far it goes from here will depend on how well it does in tonight's Oscar race.
Directed by Ron Howard, the Brian Grazer production stars Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's R rated youth comedy Sorority Boys opened in a virtual tie for eighth place with an unfunny ESTIMATED $4.2 million at 1,801 theaters ($2,317 per theater).
Directed by Wally Wolodarsky, it stars Barry Watson.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Miramax and Universal's R rated romantic comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights, down three slots in its fourth week with a dull ESTIMATED $2.72 million (-38%) at 1,831 theaters (-481 theaters; $1,487 per theater). Its cume is approximately $34.2 million.
Directed by Michael Lehmann, it stars Josh Hartnett, Shannyn Sossamon and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Miramax's PG rated drama Stolen Summer--famous for having been featured in HBO's Project Greenlight series--to a slow ESTIMATED $0.062 million at 13 theaters ($4,769 per theater).
Written and directed by Pete Jones, it stars Aidan Quinn, Bonnie Hunt, Kevin Pollak and Brian Dennehy.
Sony Pictures Classics' R rated comedy Son of the Bride opened to a hopeful ESTIMATED $0.037 million at 6 theaters ($6,098 per theater).
Directed by Joan Jose Campanella, the film is Argentina's official entry in the Oscars and a nominee for best foreign language film.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its fifth week with a still festive ESTIMATED $0.81 million (+4%) at 128 theaters (+30 theaters; $6,310 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.3 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein expanded in its second week to a still sexy ESTIMATED $0.55 million at 66 theaters (+40 theaters; $8,300 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.1 million.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
"This Friday we're adding another 19 cities and we'll go up to over 30 theaters," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning.
Focusing on Kissing Jessica Stein's performance this weekend, Gilula said, "It's terrific. The holdover theaters declined less than 10 percent and we continued to move into more regional cities where the film is performing extremely well. So we're seeing evidence of very, very strong word of mouth in a wide range of cities and theaters. It's crossing over into a broader and broader audience. So we're quite pleased about that."
IFC Films' unrated erotic drama Y Tu Mama Tambien went wider in its second week with a still hot ESTIMATED $0.46 million at 52 theaters (+10 theaters; $8,785 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.1 million.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it stars Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
Universal's international division reported Sunday that Ali G Inda House, its latest film from Working Title, opened in first place in the U.K. to a terrific $2.9 million for two days on 394 playdates. Ali G Inda House is 69 percent ahead of the second place Ice Age and has 32 percent of the marketplace.
Spy Game in its second weekend in Germany grossed $0.82 million on 634 playdates, ranking third behind the openings of Ice Age and Resident Evil. A Beautiful Mind was sixth with $0.6 million on 350 playdates.
In Austria, Spy Game grossed $0.1 million on 63 playdates in its second weekend, coming in second to the opening of Ice Age. Spy Game's international cume is $71 million.
A Beautiful Mind, a Universal DreamWorks co-production that is being distributed by UIP for DreamWorks, continued to hold very well internationally. In Australia A Beautiful Mind was second with $0.91 million on 220 playdates, down only 18 percent and only behind the opening of Ice Age. In the U.K., A Beautiful Mind grossed $0.5 million on 350 playdates, down 27% and fourth in the marketplace in its fifth week.
In Spain, A Beautiful Mind was fourth in its fifth week, grossing $0.3 million for two days on 200 playdates, down 25%. In Argentina, A Beautiful Mind in its fifth week took over the top spot on the chart again with a weekend gross of $95,000 on 46 playdates, down only 9 percent. In Brazil, A Beautiful Mind finished third in its sixth weekend With $0.22 million on 163 playdates, down only 7 percent. In Mexico A Beautiful Mind was fifth in its fourth week, with $0.34 million on 170 playdates, down only 10 percent. A Beautiful Mind's international cume is $64 million.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $132.66 million, up about 74.74 percent from last year when they totaled $75.92 million. Key films this weekend were down a marginal 0.33 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $133.81 million.
Last year, MGM's opening week of Heartbreakers was first with $11.8 million at 2,750 theaters ($4,291 per theater); and Sony's opening week of The Brothers was second with $10.3 million at 1,378 theaters ($7,477 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $22.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $64.2 million.