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.
Universal's unsinkable "U-571" continued full speed ahead in first place this weekend just as studio tracking data indicated it would.
The PG-13 World War II submarine drama, which had a 19% first-choice tracking going into the weekend, held on to the top spot with a brisk ESTIMATED $12.33 million (-37%) at 2,615 theaters (+32 theaters; $4,715 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.2 million, heading for $60 million-plus in domestic theaters.
"U-571's" per theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, "U-571" stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi.
"Once again, Universal keeps the marketplace afloat," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "With nearly 40% of the market share in a lackluster environment, Universal managed to have three films in the Top Ten."
Rocco sees "U-571" sailing "past $60 million, but a lot depends on what happens next week. There's a very big film that's tracking tremendously well for males called 'Gladiator,' which is 50% owned by Universal (and 50% owned by DreamWorks). 'U-571' could be affected by it. There's no doubt about it. It depends on how much the marketplace can expand. If you take a look at the business, there's not much going on out there. So we're hoping that 'Gladiator' does expand the marketplace enough for 'U-571' to hang in there and for 'Gladiator' to do a ton of business."
Although DreamWorks is distributing "Gladiator" domestically and Universal has it internationally, Rocco pointed out, "We're 50-50 partners. We share equally in the film."
The R rated action adventure "Gladiator," a period piece set during the time of the Roman Empire, is directed by Ridley Scott and stars Russell Crowe.
Universal also owned second place, opening its "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas" to a rock solid ESTIMATED $10.81 million at 3,037 theaters ($3,560 per theater).
"Vegas" is the PG rated prequel to the 1996 "Flintstones" blockbuster that grossed over $350 million worldwide.
Directed by Brian Levant, director of the original "Flintstones," the prequel stars Mark Addy and Stephen Baldwin.
"It's great. There's no (other) family film in the marketplace. Its tracking indicated it would open around $10 million, which is what I expected," Universal's Rocco said.
"We also have a lot of promotional tie-ins this week -- particularly with Burger King -- which should keep it in the marketplace. There's nothing else doing business with the family audience. Obviously, the kids like it, particularly young females."
New Line's opening of its PG-13 rated time travel thriller "Frequency" was a high-powered third with an ESTIMATED $9.125 million at 2,621 theaters ($3,481 per theater).
Directed by Gregory Hoblit, it stars Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel.
"We're just tickled," New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "It was tracking (to open) at $7 million. We had a big rush at the end, which is a New Line specialty. We think this picture's going to be in the marketplace for a long time."
Who is the film's core audience? "You know something," Tuckerman replied, "it's all over (the place). That was one of the problems we had with (marketing) the movie. All sections are, like, tracking equally -- the under-25, the over 25, and both male and female."
20th Century Fox's opening of its PG-13 rated drama "Where the Heart Is" finished fourth with a heartening ESTIMATED $8.3 million at 2,437 theaters ($3,405 per theater).
The $15 million "Heart" is likely to be profitable for Fox, which reportedly picked it up for domestic and English speaking territories for just $9 million.
Directed and produced by Matt Williams, it stars Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and Joan Cusack.
"The picture played extremely well, especially to women," Tom Sherak, 20th Domestic Film Group chairman and senior executive vice president of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said Sunday morning.
"70% of the audience was women. It played in the 80%'s definite recommend and in the 90%'s excellent and very good. So, hopefully, it will have a nice long run. The definite recommend for younger women (under 25) was 82% and for older women was 78%."
Noting "Heart's" low acquisition cost to Fox, Sherak said, "We should do really well on it."
New Line also scored a fifth place victor with "Love & Basketball," down three hoops in its second week with a still lovely ESTIMATED $5.55 million (-32%) at 1,245 theaters (+8 theaters; $4,458 per theater). Its cume is approximately $15.9 million.
The PG-13 rated drama, which reportedly cost under $10 million to make, is targeted to under-25 African-Americans.
Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, it stars Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan.
"I think it's going to do between $35 and $40 million," New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "I think it's profitable now."
Paramount's R rated military trial drama "Rules of Engagement" fell three pegs in its fourth week to sixth place with a quiet ESTIMATED $4.75 million (-41%) at 3,027 theaters (-193 theaters; $1,569 per theater). Its cume is approximately $50.2 million heading for $60-65 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by William Friedkin, it stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy "Keeping the Faith" continued to show good legs in its third week, down two rungs to seventh place with an okay ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-35%) at 2,171 theaters (+13 theaters; $2,150 per theatre). Its cume is approximately $25.7 million.
Directed by Edward Norton, it stars Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman and Edward Norton.
Columbia's PG-13 rated dramatic comedy "28 Days" slid four notches to eighth place in its third week with a restrained ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-45%) at 2,523 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $28.6 million, heading for $40 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Betty Thomas, "Days" stars Sandra Bullock and Viggo Mortensen.
Universal's "Erin Brockovich" fell three notches to ninth place in its seventh weekend with a less sexy ESTIMATED $3.77 million (-31%) at 2,504 theaters (-652 theaters; $1,505 per theater). Its cume is approximately $113.0 million, heading for $125-130 million in domestic theaters.
The R rated dramatic comedy was co-financed by Universal, which is distributing it domestically, and by Columbia, which is releasing it internationally. The two studios are 50-50 partners in the picture.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it stars Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckart.
Rounding out the Top Ten was New Line's R rated suspense thriller "Final Destination," down one rung and holding solidly in its seventh weekend with a strong ESTIMATED $2.53 million (-10%) at 1,153 theaters (-162 theaters; $2,190 per theater). Its cume is approximately $46.1 million heading for $50 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by James Wong, it stars Devon Sawa.
MGM's PG rated romantic comedy "Return to Me" was nearly tied with "Final," placing 11th, down three slots in its fourth week with an okay ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-37%) at 2,006 theaters (-314 theaters; $1,246 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.2 million.
Directed by Bonnie Hunt, "Return" cost only about $24 million to make. It stars David Duchovny and Minnie Driver.
Last weekend also saw the arrival, via Sony's Screen Gems label, of its R rated digitally shot comedy "Time Code," placing 23rd with an enc uraging ESTIMATED $0.095 million at 7 theaters ($13,571 per theater).
Directed by Mike Figgis, it stars Saffron Burrows and Salma Hayek.
"We're really excited about it," Sony Pictures releasing president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "We really feel like we're on the front end of a real filmmaking revolution here. I think that's always what made the project fun. We got very nice reviews and, I think, great results. The Nuart (in West L.A.) looks like it's going to do over $25,000. Both New York runs look like about $17,000 each. I think there's real interest here. The fact that it's the beginning of something that a lot of people feel is coming - shooting completely in digital from beginning to end -- really makes it kind of exciting.
"This really is the kind of picture we formed Screen Gems to get involved with. I think Valerie Van Galder and her marketing team really did a terrific job on this."
Looking ahead, Blake said, "We're going to add 16 more major markets next Friday and then expand on May 12 in the markets we opened this week."
Lions Gate Films' R rated dark comedy "The Big Kahuna" arrived in New York and Los Angeles, placing 24th with an okay ESTIMATED $0.088 million at 8 theaters ($11,000 per theater).
Directed by John Swanbeck, "Kahuna" stars Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli.
"On May 12 we go into seven additional markets exclusive, and on May 19 it's going to go out to approximately 400 runs," Lions Gate co-president Tom Ortenberg said Sunday morning.
Looking at "Kahuna's" first weekend, Ortenberg said, "I think it's solid. It's an art film. It's going to play like an art film. Our best run in Los Angeles was actually Pasadena, which I think shows the more mature suburban nature of the picture. So I'm not so concerned about opening up to huge numbers out of the gate. On 'The Red Violin,' we had areas where, for example, Palo Alto/Menlo Park was bigger than the city of San Francisco. Deerfield, Illinois, was bigger than the city of Chicago. Boulder was bigger than Denver.
"We weren't looking for huge numbers out of the core runs. We were looking to get the picture on its feet and established in the marketplace and kind of set the groundwork for further expansion. I think that's pretty much what we've done."
Miramax's R rated dark comedy "Committed" opened in New York and L.A., placing 26th with an uncommitted ESTIMATED $0.012 million at 6 theaters (3 in New York and 3 in Los Angeles; $2,000 per theater).
Written and directed by Lisa Krueger, it stars Heather Graham and Casey Affleck.
"It will go to the Top Ten (markets) next week," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning.
USA Films' R rated dark comedy "The Idiots" opened in New York, placing 27th with a calm ESTIMATED $0.007 million at 2 theaters ($3,642 per theater).
Directed by Lars von Trier, it stars Brodil Jorgensen.
Sony Pictures Classics kicked off its R rated romantic comedy "Bossa Nova" at two theaters in New York. No estimates were available Sunday morning since SPC does not track its openings.
Directed by Bruno Barreto, it stars Amy Irving and Antonio Fagundes.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, Miramax's R rated comedy "East Is East" went wider in its third week, placing 21st with an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.27 million at 39 theaters (+21 theaters; $6,100 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.6 million.
Produced by Leslee Udwin and directed by Damien O'Donnell, "East" stars Om Puri and Linda Bassett.
Paramount Classics' R rated drama about teen suicide, "The Virgin Suicides," expanded in its second week, placing 22nd with a less sexy ESTIMATED $0.17 million (-29%) at 29 theaters (+11 theaters; $5,765 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.5 million.
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett.
USA Films went wider with its R rated drama "Joe Gould's Secret," placing 25th in its fourth week with a dull ESTIMATED $0.064 million at 32 theaters (+3 theaters; $2,013 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Stanley Tucci, it stars Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $76.97 million, up about 42.47% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $54.02 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 9.80% from this year's previous weekend, when key films grossed $85.33 million.
Last year, 20th Century Fox's opening week of "Entrapment" was first with $20.15 million at 2,815 theaters ($7,157 per theater); and Warner Bros.' fifth week of "The Matrix" was second with $8.72 million at 2,903 theaters ($3,002 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $28.8 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $23.1 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend's top six distributors were:
Universal was first with four films ("U-571," "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas," "Erin Brockovich" and "The Skulls"), grossing an ESTIMATED $28.22 million or 36.6% of the market.
New Line was second with three films ("Frequency," "Love & Basketball" and "Final Destination"), grossing an ESTIMATED $17.2 million or 22.3% of the market.
20th Century Fox was third with one film ("Where the Heart Is"), grossing an ESTIMATED $8.3 million or 10.8% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney, Touchstone)was fourth with three films ("Keeping the Faith," "High Fidelity" and "Fantasia 2000"), grossing an ESTIMATED $7.9 million or 10.3% of the market.
Paramount was fifth with one film ("Rules of Engagement"), grossing an ESTIMATED $4.75 million or 6.2% of the market.
Sony Pictures Releasing (Columbia, TriStar, Screen Gems) was sixth with one film ("28 Days"), grossing an ESTIMATED $4.0 million or 5.2% of the market.
(12)The Road to El Dorado/DreamWorks: Theaters: 2,247 (-923) Gross: $2.2 million (-58%) Average per theater: $979 Cume: $46.6 million
(13)Fantasia 2000/BV/Disney: Theaters: 53 (0) (all IMAX) Gross: $2.0 million (+11%) Average per theater: $38,056 Cume: $49.7 million (domestic)
(14) American Psycho/Lions Gate: Theaters: 1,012 (-230) Gross: $1.35 million (-50%) Average per theater: $1,334 Cume: $12.1 million
(15)The Skulls/Universal: Theaters: 1,340 (-707) Gross: $1.31 million (-52%) Average per theater: $975 Cume: $32.6 million
(16)High Fidelity/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 806 (-425) Gross: $1.3 million (-40%) Average per theater: $1,635 Cume: $22.2 million
(17)Gossip/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,525 (0) Gross: $0.98 million (-58%) Average per theater: $645 Cume: $4.2 million
(18)Romeo Must Die/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 709 (-730) Gross: $0.84 million (-46%) Average per theater: $1,180 Cume: $53.7 million
(19)American Beauty/DreamWorks: Theaters: 791 (-339) Gross: $0.73 million (-46%) Average per theater: $923 Cume: $128.2 million
(20)Where the Money Is/USA Films: Theaters: 456 (-1,079) Gross: $0.3 million (-76%) Average per theater: $650 Cume: $5.4 million
(21)East Is East/Miramax: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(22)The Virgin Suicides/Paramount Classics: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(23)TIME CODE/Sony/Screen Gems: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(24)THE BIG KAHUNA/Lions Gate: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(25)Joe Gould's Secret/USA Films: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(26)COMMITTED/Miramax: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(27)THE IDIOTS/USA Films: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)