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.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
G.I. Joe is a top-secret multi-national special forces unit comprised of highly-trained physically attractive military personnel from around the world. Equipped with the latest in superawesome vehicles and weaponry and guided by the tough but fair General Hawk they take on the baddest of the bad guys the kind of terrorists that scoff at conventional organizations. As the General himself so aptly states “When all else fails we don’t.”
That credo is put to the test however when a shadowy terrorist group armed with even awesomer vehicles and weaponry like crazy-ass laser guns and computer-guided zombie troopers infiltrates the Joes’ compound and makes off with a cache of four WMDs each of which is capable of leveling an entire city. Do the men and women of G.I. Joe have what it takes to defeat these menacing new adversaries before they mount their next devastating attack?
WHO’S IN IT?
It takes an elite group of actors to play an elite group of soldiers and the cast of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is stocked with an abundance of Hollywood’s most talented performers all adorned in various types of leather fetish apparel. White Chicks star Marlon Wayans plays Ripcord a flight specialist who can pilot any type of airplane even enemy crafts that respond only to voice commands uttered in Celtic. Channing Tatum star of Step Up and Step Up 2: The Streets plays his best pal Duke a badass infantryman who knows no fear. Preeminent ginger chick Rachel Nichols showcases her fiery crimson locks as Scarlett a shrewd intel expert whose stoic exterior hides a growing attraction to Ripcord. Barking out the orders as General Hawk is Enemy Mine star Dennis Quaid.
On the side of the bad guys is the Baroness played by Factory Girl star Sienna Miller in a push-up bra dirty librarian glasses and a raven-colored dye job. She’s the point woman for McMullen a shady Scottish weapons magnate played by Christopher Eccleston. But McMullen is no ordinary shady Scottish weapons magnate; he’s covertly amassed a huge terrorist empire headquartered beneath the polar ice caps. It’s there that “The Doctor ” a horribly disfigured mad scientist played by (500) Days of Summer star Joseph Gordon-Levitt concocts all sorts of diabolical new weapons and gadgets to unleash on the innocent.
Oh and there are ninjas too. Good guy Snake Eyes played by Ray Park wears sleek black body armor while the evil Storm Shadow played by Byung-hun Lee runs around in a updated version of Elvis Presley’s classic all-white jumpsuit.
Loaded with scene after scene of high-tech action-movie eye candy G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra assaults the senses with such a relentless barrage of over-the-top stunts eye-popping visual effects and stylized fight sequences that only the most coldly cynical of viewers will be able to resist submitting to its visceral charms.
As with most sugary indulgences the sweet dizzying high is followed almost immediately by a painful crash. Feelings of guilt and shame start to simmer as you kick yourself for yielding to such soulless gluttony. The next morning you awake with a throbbing headache and a heart filled with regret. The following day a doctor informs you that you have adult-onset diabetes. So in a nutshell G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the cinematic equivalent of adult-onset diabetes.
The scene where they have the big fight with all the advanced weapons and a whole bunch of stuff blows up. Oh wait that’s EVERY scene.
For the bulk of his performance Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face is obscured by a bulky breathing apparatus and his voice is altered to sound like the computerized movie trailer's narrator. Which makes one wonder why they bothered to hire a name actor for the role in the first place.
Simpson and Lachey report happy marriage; Jessica defends sister Ashlee's recent lip-sync performance
In a recent interview with People magazine, pop star couple Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey claimed they are happily married, despite new tabloid reports that he has threatened to walk out. "Our relationship is better than it's ever been. We are absolutely not breaking up," Simpson said. The couple admits they have arguments like every other couple, but say communication is the key to success. "What married couple doesn't [fight]?" said the 24-year-old singer. "You don't want to marry somebody who's just like you. So there are always going to be conflicts. That's what compromise is all about. It means that we're communicating." The couple, who celebrated their second wedding anniversary on Oct. 26, is keeping busy taping the upcoming season for their hit MTV reality show, Newlyweds, as well as an ABC variety show expecting to air in December. Jessica is also starring as Daisy Duke in the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard movie expected to hit theatres in July of 2005. When asked about younger sister Ashlee Simpson's latest lip-synch fiasco on Saturday Night Live, Jessica said, "Ashlee is an amazingly talented person. She's already sold 3 million records, which is more than I sold in two years. She's proven herself."
P. Diddy plans his 35th birthday bash
Rapper turned actor Sean "P. Diddy" Combs is planning to end his busy year with an outrageous 35th birthday bash tonight, the AP reports. The "Royal Birthday Ball" will be held at downtown Los Angeles' Cipriani's restaurant. This ultra-exclusive, A-list-only celebrity guest list includes Mariah Carey, Vivica A. Fox, Spike Lee, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Rock and Stevie Wonder. P. Diddy admits that he will not officially be able to rest until tonight when the party's over. "In this one year, I've run a marathon, I did Broadway, signed on to do Carlito's Way: The Beginning, won the "men's designer of the year" award, opened up a store on Fifth Avenue, got the youth vote out--and now it's my birthday," Combs said. "It's been a great year but it's been hard work. I'm gonna lay down for a week, watch TV, eat a turkey sandwich ... (and) watch old reruns of Good Times."
Shatner's The Transformed Man album to be re-released
Actor William Shatner is working with Geffen records to re-release his 1968 album The Transformed Man, Reuters reports. Best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, Shatner's album featured the former Captain reading poetry over the music of contemporary classics like Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." Although the original album never reached the Billboard top 200 list, Geffen records is hoping that re-mastering the album will encourage more people to buy it when it is released on Dec. 7.
Hollywood studios cracking down on bootleggers
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA) is planning to sue individuals who are caught distributing copyrighted works without permission on the Internet. MPAA president and CEO Dan Glickman is already concerned about the $3.5 billion in loses from piracy alone, not including the Internet. The MPAA is not alone in their fight to stop illegal activity in the entertainment industry. The Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA), which represents the major U.S. labels, has already sued over 3,000 people for making music available on the Internet. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recently vowed that he would use the Justice Department and the FBI to prosecute those offenders who are illegally sharing files in the United States and abroad. The MPAA has not stated when and how they will begin their crackdown.
Jeopardy! champ wins the most game show money ever
During his 66th consecutive appearance on Jeopardy!, quiz-show champ Ken Jennings won $2,197,000, breaking all records to become the new top TV game show winner. According to the Associated Press, the 30-year-old software engineer from Utah began his 75-game streak in June, which lasted until September. Former top game show winner Kevin Olmstead won $2,180,000 dollars on ABC's Who Wants to be a Millionaire? back in 2001. With nine more shows still to air, ABC admits the Jeopardy! champ finally loses on the 75th show.
Elton John to appear in upcoming TV comedy
At age 57, musician Elton John is planning to make his television debut in an upcoming show about aging rock musicians, reports Daily Variety magazine. John explains that the show will not be based on himself, but on the lives of fellow aging pop icons like Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie. "It's not about me, but about everybody we've encountered over the past 30 years," said John. "We've met every star and seen every misbehavior. And it's about the people around the star, who have to put up with them." John and his business manager, Bob Halley, came up with the concept of the comedy show about three years ago. John has already written a song for the project titled, "Him and Us," which will appear on his 43rd album "Peachtree Road," due in stores on Tuesday.
CBS narrows search for The Late Late Show replacement
The producers of the CBS late night talk show, The Late Late Show have narrowed the talk show host search down to four contenders, Reuters reports. Former ABC sitcom stars D.L. Hughley and Craig Ferguson, comic Michael Ian Black and MTV's Total Request Live host Damien Fahey have all been welcomed back for more guest appearances on the talk show. Former The Late Late Show host, Craig Kilborn left the show in September and CBS and the Worldwide Pants Inc., have been searching for a replacement since his departure. CBS and the show's producers promise that the permanent host "will be announced shortly."
Saturday Night Live to join reality TV buzz
Landing a spot as a Saturday Night Live comic will soon be the coveted prize of an upcoming reality show, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Contestants will go head-to-head in competitions that are meant to test their inner comedian. The idea of an SNL reality show was fronted by Saturday Night Live's creator/executive producer, Lorne Michaels, after NBC's track record of turning up successful comics in The Last Comic Standing turned into a success.