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.
After a record-setting Thanksgiving feast, Hollywood got only box office crumbs this weekend as ticket sales plunged 50% from their holiday levels.
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-rated blockbuster comedy adventure "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" continued to top the chart in its third weekend with a still festive estimated $27.11 million (-48%) at 3,138 theaters (+4 theaters; $8,640 per theater). Its cume is approximately $172.0 million, heading for $250 million.
(NOTE: All percentage comparisons today are calculated against the three-day weekend portion of the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period.)
"Grinch" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
"'Grinch is great!" Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "It's satisfying all audiences. In its third weekend 'Grinch' has proved it's the megahit we hoped it would be, having the confidence in the producer (Brian Grazer), the director (Ron Howard) and the star (Jim Carrey). I think it's now proven it's going to be one of the biggest grossing films of all time."
With its cume now at about $172 million, where is "Grinch" going domestically? "Over $250 million," Rocco replied. "We're reasonably certain now that 'Grinch' has proved it will be right up there in $250 million stardom."
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated supernatural thriller "Unbreakable" kept a grip on second place in its second week, holding better than expected with an estimated $15.0 million (-51%) at 2,708 theaters (theater count unchanged; $5,481 per theater). Its cume is approximately $66.7 million.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, "Unbreakable" stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.
Buena Vista/Disney's live-action, G-rated puppies sequel "102 Dalmatians" remained in the third spot in its second week with a less lively estimated $8.2 million (-59%) at 2,704 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,032 per theater). Its cume is approximately $36.5 million.
Directed by Kevin Lima, "Dalmatians" stars Glenn Close and Gerard Depardieu.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' G-rated animated sequel "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie" came in fourth again in its third week with a less happy estimated $6.5 million (-63%) at 2,937 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,213 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.5 million.
"What we're tracking, obviously, is how the first one played," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "The first one for this weekend was off 64%. So it's playing amazingly like the first one. Although it's a little lower level, the percentage drops are basically the same as the first one."
Where is it heading? "This puts it at $80-85 million," Lewellen replied. "You can pretty much predict that because of what the first one did. It did about $105 million." The "Rugrats" sequel has been running about 20% below the original since it opened.
Directed by Stig Bergqvist and Paul Demeyer, it was produced by Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo.
Columbia's PG-13 action adventure comedy "Charlie's Angels" held on to fifth place in its fifth weekend with a less sexy estimated $5.2 million (-49%) at 2,751 theaters (-87 theaters; $1,890 per theater). Its cume is approximately $115.6 million, heading for $140 million in domestic theaters.
"'Charlie' continues its assault on the world with number one openings in Spain and Germany this week," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "We're just about sweeping the board. So far we're up to about 35 number one openings (internationally). We're about half way to $100 million now. 'Charlie' would be our fifth $100 million title internationally this year. We're probably at about $960 million for the year right now, closing in on that $1 billion (international total), as well."
Directed by McG, "Angels" stars Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Bill Murray.
Miramax's PG-13-rated romantic drama "
Written and directed by
Don Roos, "Bounce" stars Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow.
20th Century Fox's R-rated Navy divers drama "Men of Honor" rose one peg to seventh place in its fourth week with a calm estimated $4.19 million (-39%) at 2,190 theaters (+64 theaters; $1,912 per theater). Its cume is approximately $41.2 million.
Directed by George Tillman, Jr., "Honor" stars Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Phoenix Pictures and Columbia's PG-13-rated sci-fi action adventure "The 6th Day" fell one slot to eighth place in its third week with a slow estimated $4.0 million (-47%) at 2,516 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.6 million.
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, "Day" stars Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Universal's PG-13-rated blockbuster comedy "Meet the Parents" held on to ninth place in its ninth week with a still fine estimated $3.78 million (-42%) at 2,317 theaters (+158 theaters; $1,630 per theater). Its cume is approximately $153.2 million, heading for a domestic theatrical gross of $160 million or more.
"Parents'" international release is through DreamWorks Pictures, which co-financed the film and will share equally in its success.
Directed by Jay Roach (director of both "Austin Powers" hits), "Parents" stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.
Rounding out the Top Ten once again was New Line's PG-13-rated Adam Sandler comedy "Little Nicky" in its fourth week with a dull estimated $2.35 million (-50%) at 2,470 theaters (-306 theaters; $950 per theater). Its cume is approximately $36.9 million.
Directed by Steven Brill, "Nicky" stars Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette and Harvey Keitel.
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of Miramax's G-rated reissue of The Beatles' classic "A Hard Day's Night" in New York and L.A., placing 20th with a solid estimated $0.054 million at 2 theaters ($26,985 per theater).
Directed by Richard Lester, it stars The Beatles.
SNEAK PREVIEWS Warner Bros. held sneak previews Saturday night of its R-rated thriller "Proof of Life" at theaters showing "Red Planet."
"There were 503 sneaks and they were 85% capacity, which is sensational," Warner Bros. Distribution's Jeff Goldstein said Sunday morning. "We don't have the formal reactions back from our research company (yet), but just from talking with a dozen or so exhibitors, the reactions were excellent. They just really liked it.
"We went out last night with a new trailer of 'A.I.,' Steven Spielberg's summer film, so I checked a bunch of theaters. Number one, they loved the teaser trailer and, number two, the audience really enjoyed the movie ('Proof of Life'), which is great.
"Last night, we actually showed two trailers with our sneaks of 'Proof of Life.' The first one was the 'A.I.' teaser that had never been shown before, which we got a very positive response to. And the second one, which they just went wild over, was the 'Miss Congeniality' trailer. We open up in two weeks, so it's nice to get that kind of feedback. That will open at about 2,500 locations. We have a sneak going on Saturday, Dec. 16. We'll have about 700 sneaks on that date."
Directed by Taylor Hackford, "Life" stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe.
Directed by Donald Petrie, "Congeniality" stars Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson and John DiResta.
EXPANSIONS There was no significant activity on the expansion front this weekend.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500, 00 for the weekend -- took in approximately $85.59 million, up about 14.46 from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $74.78 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 50.32% from last weekend when key films took in $172.3 million for three days.
Last year, Buena Vista's third week of "Toy Story 2" was first with $27.76 million at 3,238 theaters ($8,573 per theater); and MGM's third week of "The World Is Not Enough" was second with $10.65 million at 3,163 theaters ($3,367 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $38.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $42.1 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 three films ("Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Meet the Parents" and "Billy Elliot"), grossing an estimated $32.28 million or 37.7% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney and Touchstone) was second with three films ("Unbreakable," "102 Dalmatians" and "Remember the Titans"), grossing an estimated $24.2 million or 28.3% of the market.
Sony Pictures Entertainment was third with two films ("Charlie's Angels" and "The 6th Day"), grossing an estimated $9.2 million or 10.7% of the market.
Paramount (Paramount and Paramount Classics) was fourth with one film ("Rugrats in Paris: The Movie"), grossing an estimated $6.5 million or 7.6% of the market.
Miramax was fifth with one film ("Bounce"), grossing an estimated $4.4 million or 5.1% of the market.
20th Century Fox was sixth with one film ("Men Of Honor"), grossing an estimated $4.19 million or 4.9% of the market.
ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)Billy Elliot/Universal Focus: Theaters: 510 (+16) Gross: $1.39 million (-31%) Average per theater: $2,725 Cume: $13.3 million
(12)The Legend of Bagger Vance/DreamWorks Theaters: 1,535 (-342) Gross: $1.0 million (-47%) (tie) Average per theater: $665 Cume: $29.7 million
(12)Remember the Titans/BV: Theaters: 1,191 (+17) Gross: $1.0 million (-50%)(tie) Average per theater: $840 Cume: $111.6 million
(14)Red Planet/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,453 (-601) Gross: $0.93 million (-19%) Average per theater: $640 Cume: $16.9 million
(15)Best in Show/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 350 (0) Gross: $0.53 million (-38%) Average per theater: $1,580 Cume: $15.8 million
(16)You Can Count On Me/Paramount Classics: Theaters: 53 (0) Gross: $0.4 million (-20%) Average per theater: $7,770 Cume: $1.7 million
(17)QUILLS/Fox Searchlight: Theaters: 9 (0) Gross: $0.21 million (-16%) Average per theater: $23,281 Cume: $0.6 million
(18)Bring It On/Universal: Theaters: 250 (-25) Gross: $0.13 million (-35%) Average per theater: $500 Cume: $67.9 million
(19)Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 129 (-13) Gross: $0.055 million (-38%) Average per theater: $425 Cume: $123.2 million
(20)A HARD DAY'S NIGHT/Miramax (see OTHER OPENINGS above)