Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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In 1993, the world was introduced to the Matthews family: hard-working mother and father, cool older brother (eventually overtaken by unexplained brain damage) Eric, impish/occasionally nonexistent younger sister Morgan, and middle son Cory Matthews, whose misadventures with friends, relatives, and faculty members were the life force of the now classic Boy Meets World. Although we bade farewell to Matthews — played, of course, by Ben Savage —when the show came to a close, we will be meeting up with the BMW hero once more in the forthcoming sequel series Girl Meets World. An adult Cory (played again by Savage) and his wife Topanga (the character’s original portrayer Danielle Fishel) will star on Boy creator Michael Jacobs’ new show, hopefully instilling the same heart and soul into their daughter Riley that we found in the original program. (And for more Boy Meets World nostalgia, be sure to check out Matt Patches' oral history of "And Then There Was Shawn," in which BMW cast and crew talk about the series' infamous 1998 Halloween episode.)
While many of us can now rest happily, dreaming of an imminent reunion with Cory and Topanga, some BMW super fans still wonder: what happened to everyone else on that show? Savage and Fishel will be recharging their careers on the new Disney series, but what are the other cast members up to these days? What has Minkus been doing? Or Harley? Frankie the Enforcer? And how about Mr. Feeny?
The Hollywood.com staff has lived out its fantasy as a team of private investigators (it’s not as swanky and glamorous as the Bogey movies always made it seem… the Internet kind of ruined that magic) and sought out the post-Boy Meets World career ups and downs of the show’s cast. Want to see where the John Adams High student body is today? Check out what we discovered below.
Name: Lee Norris
Character: Stuart Minkus
Seen In…: 23 episodes, with his last appearance at high school graduation making a joke about how all the characters we hadn’t seen in seasons were just “on the other side” of the school.
You'll Remember Him For: Being an even bigger nerd than early-seasons Topanga.
What He's Up To Now: Two cameos in Dawson’s Creek, “Barefoot at Capefest” and “To Green, With Love,” and playing Marvin “Mouth” McFadden for all nine seasons of One Tree Hill (where he got a six-pack!).
NEXT: What Happened to Morgan Matthews?Name: Lily NicksayCharacter: Morgan Matthews (The Original)Seen In…: 35 episodesYou'll Remember Her For: Playing Cory and Eric’s adorable little sister in the first two seasons. This version of Morgan enjoyed tea parties, playing with dolls, and eating only the marshmallows from boxes of Lucky Charms. She disappeared after only 35 episodes, and was replaced with Lindsay Ridgeway who took over the role with, “That was the longest time-out I've ever had!” What She's Up To Now: Nicksay made appearances in a handful of other TV shows after her Disney debut, including Judging Amy, The Guardian and 8 Simple Rules. She also appeared in Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford's 1996 film Up Close & Personal. Nicksay is now 24-years-old, and she recently attended college at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. NEXT: What Happened to the other Morgan Matthews? Name: Lindsay RidgewayCharacter: Morgan Matthews (The Second)Seen In…: 75 EpisodesYou'll Remember Her For: Ridgeway turned Morgan from adorable youngest daughter to sharp comedic sidekick when she took over for the original Morgan, Lily Nicksay, in 1996.What She's Up to Now: After Boy Meets World ended, Ridgeway went on to do what a majority of teenagers do: She went to college. The actress received a Political Science degree from University of California Riverside in 2007 and a Masters in Counseling University of Redlands in 2010. Aside from a few voiceover parts, Ridgeway doesn't have too many credits to her name, but she continues to pursue her passion for singing (which she showed off in the 1997 animated film Cats Don't Dance). She regularly performs the National Anthem for Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.NEXT: What Happened to Jack Hunter? Name: Matthew LawrenceCharacter: Jack HunterSeen In…: 68 EpisodesYou'll Remember Him For: The middle Lawrence brother joined Boy Meets World in 1997 as Shawn's step-brother Jack, who evolved into a Eric Matthew's partner in crime (and comedy).What He's Up to Now: Lawrence was working steadily as a child actor before Boy and he continued to find work on both the small and big screens afterward. He appeared in 2002's The Hot Chick and 2007's The Comebacks. When we caught up with Lawrence for our Boy Meets World retrospective, he was enthusiastic about acting and his work off-screen: ""Besides auditioning and constantly going out for roles, I work in conservation with animals,"" Lawrence said. ""I'm doing this other TV show, it's somewhat reality based, coming up in January."" The actor recently joined his brother Joey Lawrence on the ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey.NEXT: What Happened to Angela Moore?Name: Trina McGee-DavisCharacter: Angela MooreSeen In…: 60 episodesYou'll Remember Her For: Being Shawn’s first long-term girlfriend who was on-and-off with him throughout the whole series before moving to Europe with her father in “Angela’s Ashes.”What She's Up to Now: A mother of three, McGee-Davis has made a few TV movies, like All of Us and Business Class.NEXT: What Happened to Mr. Feeny?Name: William DanielsCharacter: Mr. FeenySeen In…: 158 episodes, spanning from the first until the very last episodeYou'll Remember Him For: Living next door to Cory and Eric, and being first their teacher, then principal, then professor, and always their friend. He gave the best advice, and was the greatest mentor kids could wish for. And you can’t forget the legendary Feeny call!What He's Up to Now: Most recently, he befriended and taught Dr. Cristina Yang before dying mid-surgery on Grey’s Anatomy (freeing him up to appear on Girl Meets World!). He also appeared on two episodes of The Closer, one of King of Queens, one of Boston Legal, one of Scrubs, played the voice of K.I.T.T. on The Simpsons, and the voice of a robot pilot on Kim Possible with fellow BMW alum Will Friedle.NEXT: What Happened to Jason Marsden? Name: Jason MarsdenCharacter: Jason MarsdenSeen In...: 9 episodes from 1994-1995You'll Remember Him For: Playing a character with his real name, being best friends with Eric.What He's Up to Now: Marsden voiced various characters in DC Warner Bros. animated series like teenage Clark Kent, Firefly, and Danger Duck, and served as the voice of Max Goof in A Goofy Movie and An Extremely Goofy Movie, Mungo the gorilla in Tarzan. Marsden also landed gigs as the head announcer for Toon Disney, part-time announcer for Disney Channel. Of course, he also appeared in the flesh on occasion, with roles in Fun with Dick and Jane — as the cashier at the gas station — episodes of Even Stevens and Will and Grace, and voiced Felix Renton in Kim Possible with fellow BMW alum Will Friedle. He also continues to voice Nermal, Vito, Doctor Bonkers, and others on The Garfield Show.NEXT: What Happened to Eddie Hunter? Name: Maury SterlingCharacter: Eddie HunterSeen In…: Episode 317 (“The Pink Flamingo”)You'll Remember Him For: Being the trailer park thief who turns out to be Shawn’s surprise half-brother… who was never heard from or spoken of again. Ever.What He's Up to Now: He’s Max on Homeland! Max! Virgil’s socially inept surveillance expert brother! Sorry for all the exclamation points, but that’s how we felt when we realized this.NEXT: What Happened to Desiree?Name: Sydney BennettCharacter: DesireeSeen In…: Episode 203 (“Notorious”), Episode 204 (“Me and Mr. Joad”)You'll Remember Her For: Playing Eric like a fool as his Southern Belle girlfriend Desiree, a senior who uses him.What She's Up to Now: The last we heard from Sydney Bennett — not to be confused with the like-named music artist who performs as Syd the Kid — she had a supporting role in the 2009 Juno-starrer Whip It!, upholding her background as an experienced roller derby performer. Bennett earned her Master’s degree at the California-based Emperor’s College of Traditional Oriental Medicine. She was married in 2007 and gave birth to her first child in 2010.NEXT: What Happened to Lauren? Name: Linda CardelliniCharacter: LaurenSeen In...: Episode 514 (""Heartbreak Cory""), Episode 516 (""Torn Between Two Lovers (Feeling Like a Fool)""), Episode 521 (""Honesty Night""), Episode 621 (""The Psychotic Episode"")You'll Remember Her For: Cardellini appeared on Boy Meets World as one of the few girls to catch Corey's attention, even locking lips with the Topanga-obsessed everyman. The two crossed paths during a school ski trip, when a sprained ankle kept Corey holed up in the lodge with Lauren.What She's Up to Now: After her four-episode run as a sitcom temptress, Cardellini nabbed her breakout role on 1999's short-lived Freaks and Geeks. She continued to land roles, including a recurring role on ER in 2000 and parts in the Scooby-Doo movies and the Oscar-nominated Brokeback Mountain. This year, Cardellini was nominated for the Independent Spirit Awards ""Best Leading Female"" for her performance in the war drama Return.NEXT: What Happened to T.K.? Name: Danielle HarrisCharacter: Theresa “T.K.” KeinerSeen In...: Episode 215 (“Sister Theresa”)You'll Remember Her For: A one-time romance with Cory, which hit a snag when her overprotective older brother Harley — Cory’s high school bully — kept diligent tabs on the pair the whole night.What She's Up to Now: Scaring the hell out of you. The vast majority of movies that a still-active Danielle Harris has filmed have been horrors, and several are currently in production: Night of the Living Dead: Origins, Hatchet III, and The Farm. Harris was also a main player on the animated Nickelodeon series The Wild Thornberries, voicing older sister Debbie Thornberry.NEXT: What Happened to Rachel McGuire?Name: Maitland WardCharacter: Rachel McGuireSeen In…: 45 episodesYou'll Remember Her For: Rachel McGuire was the tall — like, really tall — red-headed girl who magically appeared in Boy Meets World for the purpose of being Eric's and Jack's bombshell roommate (and to cause tension). Of course, the boys begin battling for her love – or at the very least for a date – but in the end they all just remain friends. Though they could never help stare like idiots every time she waltzed around in a towel. (Why'd she do that, anyway?)What She is Up to Now: Rachel — who has blonde roots don't you know? — got married after making appearances in Boston Public, White Chicks, and Rules of Engagement, and is active on Twitter, sharing a lot of cleavage-baring pics, like the time she thought about being Wonder Woman for Halloween. NEXT: What Happened to Corinna? Name: Leisha HaileyCharacter: CorinnaSeen In...: Episode 405 (""Shallow Boy"")You'll Remember Her For: You'd remember Corinna (no last name) for being the super energetic and perky musician who begins dating Eric… for one episode. He's totally into her at first, but then gets turned off by her constant optimism. Instead of working things through, Eric dumps the girl, only to later hear the far-too-familiar song ""Shallow Boy"" on the radio describing their ""relationship"" to a T: I wanna give into my heart / I wanna give up who I am / Cause you trampled on my soul / Cause you don't understand / You're - shal—low / You're - shal—low.What She is Up to Now: Since BMW, Leisha Hailey was most notably on The L Word as Alice Pieszecki and most recently as Victoria on the new show The New Normal. She's also, wouldntchaknow, a real time musician – you can check out her band Uh Huh Her (which was formed in 2007) here. Her band also launched TELUHHVISION, a behind-the-scenes look at making music. She also sparked controversy back in 2011 when she was thrown off a Southwest flight for kissing her girlfriend, Camila Grey.NEXT: What Happened to Harvey? Name: Danny McNultyCharacter: Harvey ""Harley"" KeinerSeen In…: 8 episodesYou'll Remember Him For: Harley Keiner was the meanest, scariest, coolest guy at John Adams High. After failing to recruit Shawn to join his gang, Harley begins to pick on Corey (who he calls ""baboon."") Cory briefly weasels his way into Harley's good graces when he dates Harley's sister, TK, but unfortunately things quickly go sour when Cory decides he and TK are O-V-E-R. Ultimately, Harley gets sent to ""juvenile boot camp,"" at which time a young Adam Scott takes over as John Adams High's biggest bully.What He is Up to Now: According to his Facebook page (he wouldn't accept my friend request for more info), McNulty currently lives in Sedona, Ariz., and spends his time traveling and taking selfies in front of picturesque horizons. He attended the Less Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, but his Boy Meets World stint and one episode of a 1993 show called Street Justice remain his only acting credits. NEXT: What Happened to Frankie?Name: Ethan SupleeCharacter: Frankie ""The Enforcer"" StechinoSeen In...: 19 episodesYou'll Remember Him For: As the man responsible for putting kids in trashcans when Harley told him to, Frankie struck a terrifying figure. However, as we come to learn, Frankie is a sensitive soul who possesses a deep and profound love of poetry.What He is Up to Now: After Boy Meets World, Suplee went on to make quite the name for himself in films and on TV. His credits span the gamut, from the grizzly American History X to family-friendly Remember the Titans. You may remember seeing Suplee in Mallrats, The Butterfly Effect, and My Name is Earl (on which he had a starring role from 2005-2009). Suplee is currently in production on a number of projects, including The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Other fun facts about Suplee include: 1) In 2011, Suplee announced that he lost over 200 pounds by riding his bike. 2) He is a Scientologist. 3) Juliette Lewis is his sister-in-law. He and his wife, Brandy (Juliette's sister) have two children.NEXT: What Happened to Joey the Rat?Name: Blake Sennett (credited as Blake Soper)Character: Joseph ""Joey the Rat"" EpsteinSeen In...: 16 episodesYou'll Remember Him For: Being the smaller, faster-talking half of Harley Keiner's brute squad.What He is Up to Now: Following Boy Meets World, Sennett went on to appear in 6 episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun. He is best known, however, as the guitarist for the indie rock band Rilo Kiley and frontman for the Elected.NEXT: What Happened to Jonathan Turner?Name: Anthony Tyler QuinnCharacter: Jonathan TurnerSeen In...: 52 episodesYou'll Remember Him For: Mr. Turner was the cool English teacher, the one who rode a motorcycle and had an earring, long hair, and a mysterious bachelor lifestyle. Shawn moved in with Mr. Turner in Season 2.What He is Up to Now: Quinn seems to be interested in finding work wherever he can get it these days. He has had guest roles on shows such as Caroline in the City, Passions, and more recently, Dexter, House, and Pretty Little Liars. Oh, and let's not forget, Quinn had a starring role in the 2009 Christian film, which he called ""very near and dear to me,"" No Greater Love.NEXT: What Happened to Wendy?Name: Jessica WessonCharacter: WendySeen In...: Episode 202 (“Pairing Off”), Episode 210 (“Breaking Up Is Really, Really Hard to Do”)You'll Remember Her For: Being the girl who Cory tricked into dating him after his utilization of Eric’s patented scheme for winning over any young lady failed to land him her heart. The eventual romance was brief.What She's Up to Now: Wesson continued acting straight up to 2001, earning a roles in films like Casper, Flipper, and Longshot, and a recurring spot on Judging Amy. Since she turned 19, Wesson has fallen off the radar (this last known shot of her is from 2001)… perhaps she has taken the past decade to recover from a shattered heart with which she was left following the betrayal of one Cory A. Matthews.Reporting by Michael Arbeiter, Anna Brand, Sydney Bucksbaum, Matt Patches, Leanne Aguilera, and Abbey Stone[Photo Credits: ABC (18); The CW; Twitter; Facebook; FOX; Lionsgate; IMDB (4); WENN (2); Fox Searchlight; Showtime (2); CBS]
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D has a lot of things working against it from the get go. It's based on a video game franchise that debuted in 1999 has been milked for sequels ever since (the current total of Silent Hill games is nine) and the movie itself is a sequel to the disappointingly dumb 2006 film directed by Christophe Gans. What's more the bitter aftertaste of Resident Evil: Retribution is still lingering in the mouths of survival horror movie/gamers and although they have entirely different plots and take place in totally different universes that's not necessarily enough to take the edge off for weary viewers.
It would take a dazzling director with a stellar cast and a first-rate script to overcome those sorts of obstacles and Silent Hill doesn't have any of those things. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett is obviously fond of both video games and horror (his previous movies include Solomon Kane and Deathwatch) the cast is decent with some exceptions and the script… well it's better than Resident Evil. If anything we can give Bassett credit for his enthusiasm. You really can't win when you try and make a video game movie no matter how many hours you spent playing Doom as a teen. Whether that's at the hands of the studios or the creative teams themselves isn't clear; it's simply a nut that hasn't been cracked yet.
The good news is that you don't really need a grasp on the video game or previous movie's narrative to follow the Revelation's plot. Harry (Sean Bean) has been lying to his daughter Heather (Adelaide Clemens) for a very long time. He's convinced her that her dreams about a terrible place called Silent Hill are the longstanding effects of a car crash that killed her mother and that they have to move around and take on new identities all the time because he killed a prowler in self-defense. Heather has other problems like the occasional hallucinations about a terrible alternate universe that's populated by monsters and industrial junk and flickering lights. One minute she'll be doing something normal and then suddenly the walls are burning down to the rafters and something with a butt for a face is shambling towards her. It's a raw deal.
Heather's first day at her new school is not that great; she meets a cute guy named Vincent (Kit Harington) who wants to be buddies but she makes it clear she's pretty bad ass and not one to pal around since she'll just be leaving town again anyway. When she comes home from school her dad has disappeared and the living room is a huge mess. If she wasn't clear on what to do next someone used his blood to write "COME TO SILENT HILL" on the wall with a funky sigil next to it which matches this weird object she's had since she was little. Luckily Vincent has a car and more than a few troubling secrets of his own underneath those glossy brown curls. He offers to drive her and off they go. Typical chitchat between them is about the nature of reality and dreams and Vincent's batty grandfather who's locked up in an insane asylum.
This is where things get really convoluted. Silent Hill is indeed a terrible place where ash falls from the sky during the day and horrible things come out to menace any townsperson dumb enough to be out at night. It's an eerie world that comes close to the truly terrifying Silent Hill games on occasion. After a while though it's mostly just Heather and occasionally Vincent running around in what seems like mazes of rusty bloody walls with the occasional gruesome monster popping out to halfheartedly menace them.
There's a dash of The Wicker Man here with the requisite creepy sacrificial cult and some Hellraiser-esque torture thrown in but it stops short of being a full-blown Clive Barker nightmare. There is some gore and disturbing images but the choice to use practical effects for almost all of the monsters is far more impressive in theory. Those monsters look okay from afar but rubbery up close whereas the only CGI monster is an impressive spidery thing made up of doll parts. The use of strobe lights and other effects is absolutely maddening especially in conjunction with the 3D which is mostly used for cheap gimmicks like splashing blood at the viewer.
There's something oddly satisfying about the way that the movie follows the trajectory of a video game; it's even laid out like a video game universe with different goals and bosses at each location. The problem is that what is believable or acceptable in a video game doesn't necessarily translate to a movie — in a game you're busy solving puzzles and killing monsters and it's easier to overlook kitchen-sink plots. Even though the movie doesn't completely hew to the game's story it's got the same mentality that more is better when it's really just more. And the more that's piled on the more ridiculous it gets. When everything is at a fever pitch that kind of weirdness becomes a baseline and nothing is shocking. Unlike in the games there's just one ending no matter how you play it.
"Sorry if my snoring bothered you."
Those are not the first words I'd expect out of the mouth of someone who got up on a Friday morning to catch the 10:30 AM screening of a new movie but that is more or less what the fellow who'd been sitting behind me said as I passed him on my way out. I'd heard him snoring over the constant rat-a-tat-tat of bullets and butt-kicking being doled out by Milla Jovovich et al in this latest iteration of the never-ending Resident Evil series (this time in IMAX 3D) but I figured maybe I was hearing things. Nope he was asleep.
I used to play Resident Evil on my ancient PlayStation when it first came out. It scared the crap out of me. I enjoyed the first two movies — hey they included the skinless zombie dogs! — but I lost interest soon after that. How many times can you make the zombie apocalypse exciting? How many different skintight outfits can Jovovich wear while killing grotesque creatures who shoot evil grasping tentacles out of their mouths? Why should we care about all the blood and guts when we know the people we're supposed to be emotionally invested in will never die? We don't.
Try as he might there are only so many ways for writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson to give the Resident Evil series fresh new layers for each new movie. The Umbrella Corporation is the big bad. They were playing with biological weapons and somehow there was an accident that let one of the viruses loose... and boom you've got a zombie apocalypse on your hands. Our heroine is Alice played by Milla Jovovich and there is a rotating cast of characters who help her fight the good fight against the hordes of brain-eaters and whatever is left of the Umbrella Corporation that's now after her. There are some parallels to the video game series but Paul W.S. Anderson (a gamer himself) has taken lots of liberties with the basic plot over the years. While Anderson's flashy style is especially suited to these types of movies there's not enough plot to make it work.
We don't go to video game movies for plot of course but there has to be something to hold onto; otherwise why would we care if our protagonist were in danger? Anderson tries some neat tricks to snap us back to attention like bringing back characters that were killed in previous movies and throwing in a cloning subplot that calls into question some of the characters' true identities but it's still hard to get worked up about anything onscreen. However it ultimately sidesteps any deeper ideas that might take our attention away from all the guns. And there are so many guns and explosions and elegant butt-kickings doled out by Milla and her pals (or former pals in the case of Michelle Rodriguez's character Rain) that they blend together.
It is especially difficult to work up any interest in the story because it's a franchise and no matter how many times the stars or director might say they're not that interested in doing another everyone is just waiting to see how much money this will make before deciding to go forward. There is no question how franchise movies will end; there will be no derring-do on the part of the writer or director to actually kill off a beloved character permanently. At one point it seemed like Anderson was going to pull the old "And then she woke up!" trick which would have been bold both because it's such a hackneyed idea that it would make writing professors' heads explode all over the world but also because it would have required Anderson to play in a different universe and expand his repertoire a bit. Alas like Alice and Anderson himself we just can't seem to escape this rabbit hole.
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.