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.
Firing a rather tepid opening salvo in Hollywood’s annual Valentine’s Day rom-com blitz is When in Rome starring Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall TV’s Veronica Mars) and Josh Duhamel (Turistas the Transformers flicks) and directed by Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider Daredevil). You read that correctly: Johnson a guy who gave us two critically-reviled comic book flicks was tapped by Disney to direct a movie entirely devoid of acrobatic fight sequences or computerized visual effects the only filmmaking skills for which he’s received consistent praise. Hmmm ... maybe this is why Dick Cook was fired.
Bell plays Beth a high-strung New York City museum curator whose frustration over her barren love life spills over at her sister’s wedding in Rome where she winds up drunkenly splashing around in the city’s fictional “Fontana D’Amore.” The embarrassing but harmless episode takes a momentous turn however when Beth absentmindedly steals a handful of coins from the fountain unknowingly triggering an ancient Italian curse. Soon she’s romantically besieged by a diverse and highly aggressive group of oddballs played by Danny DeVito Dax Shepard Will Arnett and Jon Heder — the very men whose coins she plucked from the fabled fountain.
The concept isn’t entirely without potential but When in Rome’s script takes the quartet of previously funny actors and comedically castrates them forcing them to survive this creative Dust Bowl on precisely one joke apiece. DeVito playing a sausage magnate emits only meat-related quips; Shepard’s self-obsessed model explores the comic possibilities of his washboard stomach; hapless street artist Arnett plasters the city with nude portraits of his unrequited love; and Heder’s wannabe magician mounts a series of botched magic tricks. (In a gag that might have been funny back in 2004 Efren Ramirez Napoleon Dynamite’s Pedro enjoys a cameo as Heder’s videographer. He’s this week’s winner of the Jeff Zucker “How Does This Guy Have a Job?” Award.)
All of which serves to delay the inevitable coupling of Bell and Duhamel two likable leads who gamely trudge through material so inane so bland — and so safe — that it could fit comfortably in one of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s increasingly soporific family comedies. In fact I’m not even sure if When in Rome made use of the standard PG-13 allotment of one F-word (used in a non-sexual manner of course). Expect to hear it used liberally however by fellow audience members as the credits roll on this middling debacle.
We've trawled through the happenings and the hits, the flops and the fuss to bring you the last 12 months in quiz form.
So, as we ring in 2010, here's your chance to test the old grey matter with 30 posers about the closing year.
Best of luck...
1. Name Kate Hudson's former baseball beau.
a. Alex Rodriguez
b. Derek Jeter
c. Manny Ramirez
2. Who won the 2009 Oscar for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role?
a. Sean Penn
b. Brad Pitt
c. Mickey Rourke
3. And who won Oscar gold in the Actress in a Supporting Role category?
a. Amy Adams
b. Penelope Cruz
c. Viola Davis
4. Name the actress who won damages from U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail after the publication called her "the most irritating actress".
a. Kate Winslet
b. Dame Judi Dench
c. Kate Hudson
5. Name the Russian who gave birth to Mel Gibson's baby in October.
a. Petra Nemcova
b. Oksana Grigorieva
c. Anna Kournikova
6. How many kids does Mel Gibson now have?
7. Which actress fasted for 12 days to highlight the plight of refugees in Darfur?
a. Angelina Jolie
b. Charlize Theron
c. Mia Farrow
8. Which great Brit recovered from a late 2008 coma to start work on his 74th film role this past summer?
a. Christopher Lee
b. Lord Attenborough
c. Sir Ian McKellen
9. Which top TV actress said, "I was named after my great-grandmother. If you look it up it's Greek, but my grandmother was apparently named after an Irish Catholic saint, who had an indiscretion with the Greek god Zeus and was kicked out."
a. Vivica A. Fox
b. Penelope Cruz
c. Calista Flockhart
10. Which movie star quit acting to become a batty rapper?
a. Hugh Grant
b. Joaquin Phoenix
c. Mark Wahlberg
11. Which Irish actor became a dad for the second time this year?
a. Colin Farrell
b. Colin Firth
c. Daniel Day-Lewis
12. She played TV chef Julia Child and Fantastic Mr. Fox's wife in two 2009 films. Name the Oscar winner.
a. Nicole Kidman
b. Julia Roberts
c. Meryl Streep
13. The castmembers of which famous TV sitcom reunited for an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm?
14. Which sexy star inhabited Jennifer's Body?
a. Megan Fox
b. Eva Mendes
c. Kate Beckinsale
15. Which Charlie's Angels star died on the same day as Michael Jackson?
a. Cheryl Ladd
b. Jaclyn Smith
c. Farrah Fawcett
16. Which 2009 movie did George Clooney not appear in?
a. Fantastic Mr. Fox
b. The Men Who Stare At Goats
c. The Blind Side
17. Which funnyman had heart surgery in 2009 to replace a heart valve?
a. Robin Williams
b. Pierce Brosnan
c. Alec Baldwin
18. Which box office smash hit featured balloons, an old man and a boy scout?
c. Monsters Vs. Aliens
19. Jaime Pressly, Claire Danes, Marla Sokoloff and Anna Faris all had what in common in 2009?
a. They got married this year
b. They had a baby this year
c. They spent time in rehab
20. Which actress was unceremoniously ditched from the Twilight franchise?
a. Ashley Greene
b. Dakota Fanning
c. Rachelle Lefevre
21. And which filmmaker's daughter will replace her in Eclipse next year?
a. Bryce Dallas Howard
b. Jessica Capshaw
c. Eva Amurri
22. Which Beatle does Aaron Johnson portray in Sam Taylor-Wood's directorial debut Nowhere Boy?
a. Paul McCartney
b. Ringo Starr
c. John Lennon
23. Which British actress was left "mortified" when Esquire magazine named her the year's Sexiest Woman?
a. Kate Winslet
b. Katie Price
c. Kate Beckinsale
24. Name the director of Inglourious Basterds.
a. Steven Spielberg
b. Ron Howard
c. Quentin Tarantino
25. Which British actor played the roles of Scotty in Star Trek and an adventurous mammal in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs?
a. Hugh Laurie
b. Simon Pegg
c. Colin Firth
26. And which original Star Trek castmember was 'beamed up' for the summer sci-fi epic?
a. Leonard Nimoy
b. William Shatner
c. George Takei
27. Name the apt title of tragic movie star Patrick Swayze's memoirs.
a. The Time of My Life
b. No More Dirty Dancing
c. Next of Kin
28. Who will co-host the Oscars in March?
a. Brad Pitt and George Clooney
b. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman
c. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin
29. Which former heavyweight boxing champion played himself in hit comedy The Hangover?
a. Muhammad Ali
b. Mike Tyson
c. Lennox Lewis
30. And, here's a real toughie to finish on... Name Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick's surrogate, who carried and gave birth to the couple's twins.
a. Kim Cattrall
b. Katherine Ross
c. Michelle Ross