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.
While visiting the set of Pineapple Express, Hollywood.com had the chance to pull up a folding chair alongside James Franco just outside the set for a late night chat about the new pot comedy.
It turns out Franco, who spent the past few years starring in the Spiderman trilogy and attending grad school, was ready to return to his comedic roots. He says even Judd Apatow (Pineapple producer) took notice, telling him, “I miss the funny Franco.”
Now, the wait is almost over as Franco takes his role as Saul the drug dealer to the big screen - long hair, stoner garb and all.
HW: What’s going on with the hair?
James Franco: I guess I haven’t really done much comedy since Freaks and Geeks and this role is very different than anything I’ve done. I think the hair is really a way to push me even farther out of just what people know me for. I don’t really know what people know me for.
HW: So is this your complete wardrobe for the film?
JF: It’s very comfortable if anything. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Guatemalan pants. I have one wardrobe change in the whole movie so we tried a variety of things. Some sweatpants. The idea was to have something that I would wear lounging around the house and then he comes over and I have to leave immediately so I don’t get the chance to change. I don’t know anybody that would wear Guatemalan pants. I hear Woody Harrelson wears them. I don’t love them. But, after the test they were the most interesting. I wanted to wear hotel slippers. You know how people take those from hotels? But, there’s so much action in this that it would have been a hindrance because they would have fallen off.
HW: Can you describe your shirt to our readers?
JF: This is actually a David Gordon Green design. There is a I think it’s supposed to be a Great White shark although it’s a bit shaded so it’s black. There’s a kitten in it that looks serene. It’s almost like it’s sleeping. I think the shark is not eating it, but carrying it to safety. The kitten was left out in the ocean and this shark decided to put it in it’s mouth and carry it to shore.
HW: What was it like working with Seth Rogen again after all of this time?
JF: It’s great. As far as I know, Freaks and Geeks was his first professional job. He was funny on that, but you look back to episodes and they really didn’t give him a ton to do. Off camera he was always cracking us up…I think we’re a great team. Other people have said, ‘Oh this movie kind of reminds me of the action buddy movies that I watched when I was younger like Midnight Run. But, I see it more like an Abbot and Costello kind of thing. I keep telling him that we should take these characters and do other movies like Saul and Dale meet like the equivalent of Frankenstein or maybe like the Saw guy.
HW: Is it true you and Seth actually switched roles?
JF: They had been doing readings of this for years and I think Seth always read Saul. Then they gave it to me and they didn’t tell me what role I was playing. I assumed I was playing Dale. I thought it was really funny, but I thought, ‘Oh man. I really like Saul. He’s got all the funny lines.’ So we met after I read it and then it became clear they wanted me to play Saul, I was surprised but I was like perfect. So that’s the best of both worlds. I think it worked out great. I would say he’s the more feminine role in the relationship.
HW: Aren’t you the one who wants to be his really good friend and he isn’t having it?
JF: Exactly. It’s kind of a love story.
HW: You almost get that kind of homoerotic feeling.
JF: There’s a little bit of that. I’d say a lot of that is David Gordon Green’s influence. It’s definitely about two people coming together. A relationship between a dealer and his client. I don’t know from experience. The last time I bought pot was in high school, but I’ve been told that a lot of times dealers can be weird or it’s kind of a weird relationship. So at the beginning, he doesn’t want anything. He just wants my product and wants to get out of there. I’m kind of a lonely guy. I really like him. We get thrown into this situation together and of course throughout the movie, we become a lot closer.
Check out the rest of our Pineapple Express set visit coverage!
Top Story: Madonna Withdraws Violent Antiwar Video
Madonna has decided to withdraw the antiwar video for her new single "American Life" out of respect for the troops fighting in Iraq, The Associated Press reports. "Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video," the singer said in a statement posted on her Web site Monday. The video, which was filmed before the war started, shows Madonna wearing military garb next to dancers in camouflage on a fashion runway. At one point, a grenade is thrown in the direction of a President Bush look-alike. The video had been scheduled to premiere Friday on VH-l. The single, meanwhile, has just been released to radio.
Grant's Biological Clock Ticking
Hugh Grant tells Vanity Fair magazine he wants to take a break from acting to focus on his personal life because he "hates" acting, despite the wealth that comes along with it. "In fact, I hate it quite a lot," he said. "All acting, but especially movie acting." The About a Boy star also told the magazine that he wants to settle down. "I'm ready, baby. I need to get married and have children," Grant says. But he dismisses the likelihood of rekindling a romance with his ex, actress Elizabeth Hurley. "She's with another guy and, you know, we're good friends," he says. "But no, that train has sailed, as Austin Powers would say."
WB Pulls "Girl" Poster
Warner Bros. Pictures' is changing its print advertisement for the teen comedy What a Girl Wants to avoid making a political statement, the AP reports. The posters originally featured a photograph of star Amanda Bynes wearing an American flag T-shirt and flashing the peace sign with her fingers as she stands between two British royal guards. The new version of the poster features Bynes with her right hand at her side instead, but many of the original posters had already been placed on billboards and buses before the change was made.
Peter Arnett Gets New Job
Reporter Peter Arnett, who was fired by NBC for saying on Iraqi television the U.S.-led war effort had failed, has been hired by Britain's Daily Mirror, the AP reports. The network said it received thousands of e-mails and phone calls protesting his remarks. "I am still in shock and awe at being fired," Arnett wrote for the newspaper. "I report the truth of what is happening here in Baghdad and will not apologize for it." Arnett won a Pulitzer Prize for his work as an AP reporter during the Vietnam War and gained much of his prominence from covering the 1991 Gulf War for CNN.
BET Scores in January Ratings
Following a major programming overhaul, Black Entertainment Television has seen double-digit increases in advertising and subscribers--now at 74 million households, the AP reports. In January, BET netted its highest ever primetime ratings. The network recently canceled three highly regarded public affairs shows--Lead Story, Teen Summit and BET Tonight With Ed Gordon--in an effort to cut costs and make room for more entertainment programming. Its new programs include reruns of UPN's The Parkers and Girlfriends and Showtime's Soul Food.
Role Call: Hudson in "Skeleton," Pfeiffer Returns to Comedy
Kate Hudson is in preliminary negotiations to star in Universal Pictures' Skeleton Key for director Iain Softley. The project, described as The Ring meets The Sixth Sense, is scheduled to begin production this fall ... Michelle Pfeiffer is making a return to comedy. The actress is attached to star in She's Gone, described as a sophisticated romantic comedy about a couple whose marriage is at a crossroads. There is no director yet on board the project ... David Duchovny will star opposite Nia Vardalos and Toni Collette in the female buddy comedy Connie and Carla for director Michael Lembeck. The laffer revolves around two female dinner theater singers who are forced to go undercover in Los Angeles as drag queens.