Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
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.
At the box office this weekend, a mother-daughter comedy was no match for some good old cops-and-robbers action.
In its opening weekend, the bullet-riddled police drama S.W.A.T. infiltrated the box office and took the top spot at $37 million*, easily beating out its kinder,gentler competitor, the Disney family fare Freaky Friday. Despite generating great word-of-mouth since its Wednesday opening, the body-switching remake could only come in second with $22.3 million.
The ribald comedy American Wedding dropped from the top to take third place with $15.1 million, while the whale of a tale Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl remained steady as she goes at No. 4 with $13.1 million. The heartwarming Seabiscuit rounded out the top five with a solid $11.9 million.
Another newcomer, the Frenchified Le Divorce, did a fair job in its limited opening, raking in $533,233 in 34 theaters.
THE TOP TEN
Sony Pictures' PG-13-rated S.W.A.T. busted the box office to take the top spot with an ESTIMATED $37 million in 3,202 theaters. It's $11,555 per theater average was the highest of any film opening wide this week.
Newly trained LAPD S.W.A.T. team members are called in to save the day after an arms dealer makes a televised offer of $100 million to anyone who can break him out of jail--and L.A.'s criminal element comes out in force to do so.
Directed by Clark Johnson, it stars Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez.
Buena Vista's PG-rated Freaky Friday debuted in second place with an ESTIMATED $22.3 million in 2,954 theaters ($7,549 per theater).
On a freaky Friday morning, a busy psychiatrist and her 15-year-old daughter wake up to find they have magically switched bodies. Until they can figure out what to do, they attempt to carry on with each other's daily routines.
Directed by Mark Waters, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Chad Michael Murray and Mark Harmon.
Universal Picture's R-rated comedy American Wedding dropped to No. 3 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $15.1 million (-55%) at 3,175 theaters (+3 theaters; $4,756 per theater). This third installment of the American Pie series, in which Jim and Michelle get married, has garnered a cume of $64.9 million.
Directed by Jesse Dylan, it stars Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Thomas Ian Nicholas.
Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13-rated fantasy actioner Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl fell one spot to fourth place in its fifth week of release with an ESTIMATED $13.1 million (-30%) at 3,170 theaters (-220 theaters; $4,132 per theater). Its cume is approximately $232.8 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Universal Pictures' PG-13-rated drama Seabiscuit fell a notch to No. 5 in its third week, taking in an ESTIMATED $11.9 million (-33%) in 2,428 theaters (+7 theaters; $4,901 per theater). Its cume is approximately $69.5 million.
Directed by Gary Ross, it stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper as three down-and-out men who find fame and fortune in an equally down-and-out racehorse.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Dropping off considerably was Dimension Films' PG-rated Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, which slipped four spots to No. 6 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10.1 million (-48%) in 3,388 theaters (+24 theaters; $2,992 per theater). Its cume is approximately $87.4 million.
Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Sylvester Stallone, Salma Hayek and Ricardo Montalban.
Sony Picture's R-rated buddy actioner Bad Boys II moved down the list two place to take seventh in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $6 million (-53%) at 2,449 theaters (-573 theaters; $2,450 per theater). Its cume is approximately $123 million.
Directed by Michael Bay, it stars Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union and Peter Stormare.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13-rated, action-packed Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life dropped two rungs to eighth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-54 %) in 3,036 theaters (-186 theaters; $1,713 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.6 million.
Directed by Jan De Bont, it stars Angelina Jolie, Gerald Butler, Chris Barrie, Ciaran Hinds and Noah Taylor.
Still a major success story, Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G-rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo dropped two spots to No. 9 in its 11th week with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-35%) at 1,502 theaters (-275 theaters; $1,664 per theater). Its cume is approximately $319.9 million.
Directed and co-written by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, it features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe and Brad Garrett.
Warner Bros.' R-rated sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines finished in tenth place for the second week in a row with an ESTIMATED $1.6 million (-46%) at 1,275 theaters (-635; $1,271 per theater). Now in its sixth week, its cume is approximately $145.9 million.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken.
Fox Searchlight's PG-13-rated Le Divorce opened with a healthy ESTIMATED $533,233 in 34 theaters. It's $15,683 per theater average was actually the highest of any movie playing this week.
Based on the best-selling novel by Diane Johnson, it follows the adventures of two American sisters living in Paris.
Directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, it stars Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Leslie Caron, Sam Waterston, Glenn Close and Stockard Channing.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $ 127.3 million, down 3.68 percent from last year's take of $132.2 million. The Top 12 films were also down 3.29 percent from last weekend when they grossed $131.7 million.
Last year's top three included: Sony's PG-13-rated actioner xXx, which opened in first place with $44.5 million in 3,374 theaters ($13,191 per theater average). Buena Vista's PG-13 rated sci-fi thriller Signs, dropped a spot to take second in its second week with $29.4 million at 3,310 theaters ($8,899 per theater average); Dimension's PG-rated fun fest Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams opened in third place with $16.7 million in 3,307 theaters ($5,053 per theater average).