In theaters November 18.
New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM today announced the official full titles and release dates for both films adapting J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The Peter Jackson directed films are currently in production and it remains to be seen what additional material is being added in order to bridge these two films with Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. For now, though, we have The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey being released on December 14, 2012 and The Hobbit: There and Back Again debuting on December 13, 2013. The 1937 novel is actually called The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, so it stands to reason that one of the films would bear this name. The Unexpected Journey is actually very fitting and suitably Tolkien-esque, so that works as well. Now that those formalities are out of the way, expect the excitement to heighten!
Sometimes things fly under the radar for a good reason. For me, the 2008 film Franklyn is a perfect example of why some things are just best left alone. Added to our Netflix instant queue on a whim because it had an interesting cover (remember, I shop by novelty), Franklyn tells two tales, one set in modern London and the other takes place in the future in a religion ruled place called Meanwhile City. In London, Milo (Sam Riley) is finding life difficult since his most recent break up and finds comfort in a child hood friend. Meanwhile, Emilia (Eva Green) is an artist whose work for her art degree is extremely suicidal in nature. Finally, Peter Esser (Bernard Hill) is a father on the search for his missing son who has disappeared after the death of his sister. The film takes a huge leap in its futuristic setting as Jonathan Preest (Ryan Phillippe) is the only atheist in a city ruled by different religions.
Sound like there’s a lot going on? You’d be right to assume that because ninety percent of the film is so full of different stories and narratives that you spend most of your time trying to figure out how it’s going to all tie together. So while you do that, you’re missing out on plot points and story info that would probably help this crazy story make more sense earlier in the film. It really takes over an hour for the film to start making sense and for things to really pay off. I don’t want to say that “you should avoid Franklyn at all costs”, but the simple truth is that if you’re skimming through a local rental store or want to pick something up at random then you may want to hold off on Franklyn. As I said earlier, it is available on Netflix Instant so if you’re looking for something different and “out there” to watch, you may find Franklyn to be worth your time. It is in no way close to a film like Donnie Darko, which is often strives to be.
On the plus side, the costumes, make up, and sets in the film are extremely well done. For a film I’d never heard of before, I was quite surprised at the level of detail in all the visuals. But at the same time, the entire Preest character has been done before. He’s a weird cross between the Invisible Man, Hollow Man, John Constantine and, of course, Rorschach from Watchmen. Even the character’s personality and what is shown as his fighting style makes you immediately visualize the fight scenes from Watchmen. They’re even shot in a very Zack Snyder-esque way. As I said at the start, maybe it’s best if something stay under the radar because not everything out there is worth the time or the money put into it.
The latest Marvel Comics superhero film, Thor is here and, much like the middle runner on an Olympic-level relay team, it does its job admirably. Much has been made about Marvel Studios ambitious plan to have a running thread through its movies (namely 2008’s Incredible Hulk, both Iron Man films, this one and July’s Captain America: The First Avenger) that leads to next year’s hotly anticipated Joss Whedon directed Avengers team-up film. This actually mimics the comic books they are based on quite nicely. Since Marvel Comics began in 1961 (a re-branding of Atlas Comics, itself previously known as Timely Comics), all of its heroes have existed in a shared universe and routinely crossed paths. While their origins were not necessarily entwined, they would definitely seek each others help from time to time or have shared foes that they might occasionally team up to fight. Having this occur over the course of six films culminating in a seventh is unprecedented to be sure, but for this Marvel Zombie, very, very welcome. You don’t need to have seen any of the previous Marvel films to understand what is happening here and that’s as it should be. Each film stands on its own, but is layered with characters and subplots that carry over.
Thor begins not with the title character, but with three scientists, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), who are in New Mexico studying anomalous atmospheric phenomenon. It’s while pursuing one of these strange occurrences that the nearly run over a big blonde guy in the middle of nowhere. It is then that we get a flashback tale of the Asgardian’s ancient battle to protect eight of the Nine Worlds (Asgard itself, Midgard [Earth], Vanaheim, Svartalfheim, Hel, Alfheim, Muspelheim and Nidavellir) from the ninth, Jotunheim and the Frost Giants that reside there. Once the Asgardians seize the source of the Frost Giants’ power, a sort of truce begins that lasts until the present. The ceremony that is to see King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) step down and make his son, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the new king, Frost Giants unsuccessfully attempt to steal back their power source. Odin is prepared to call no harm, no foul, but not so a prideful Thor. The Thunder God, along with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three, Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), heads to Jotunheim to teach the cold ones a lesson. The group is sent limping back to Asgard, saved only by Odin who then strips Thor of his power and hammer, Mjolnir, and then exiles him to Earth, bringing us back to the beginning.
The rest of the film concerns Thor learning humility amongst those on Earth and seeking to become worthy enough to once again wield his hammer and regain his powers. Along the way there are a few revelations back on the homefront in Asgard, the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D., a budding romance and a few other bits and bobs, especially for those who are fans of the Marvel films series and the comics. Three writers who have scripted Thor’s four color adventures make amusing cameos (one is a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment) and there is a surprise appearance by a character destined for a bigger role in Avengers. The latter cameo was somewhat spoiled in a recent preview clip and turns out to be seen and heard much more than previously thought. S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) from the Iron Man films has a sizable role here and both Bruce Banner and Tony Stark get nods in a couple of lines of dialogue. And, as has been the tradition in all of these connected Marvel movies, don’t rush out when the credits begin, you really want to stick around until the lights go up.
Kenneth Branagh does a magnificent job of capturing the fun, adventure and majesty of both the early Thor comics and some of the more recent ones as well. He does a great job of keeping the movie moving, even through scenes driven by dialogue. There are no wasted moments as everything builds towards later scenes or adds layers to what we’ve already seen. Branagh also has a keen grasp of the characters and has chosen his actors well. The performances ring true and never fall into the realm of melodrama or silliness, with one exception (see the next paragraph). I think Hemsworth does a tremendous job in the title role and believable plays an arrogant Thunder God finding his way amongst us mere mortals. It’s also very fun to see Portman playing a brilliant scientist that also unabashedly becomes a girl with a crush in the presence of Thor. And then there is the always magnificent Idris Elba as Heimdall, guardian of bifrost, the rainbow bridge that is Asgard’s link to the other worlds. Elba’s presence alone elevates Heimdall and makes for a riveting performance.
However, this film does have its flaws. Most are just minor quibbles, but there is one thing in particular that momentarily pulled me out of the film and struck me as very odd. In the big confrontation between Loki and Thor there is a moment where Hiddleston goes way over the top, almost become a cartoonish, mustache-twirling villain. It was so out of place and nearly comical. I find it odd because Loki was done very well in the rest of the film, both before and after. I can only conclude that it was a directorial decision and I’m curious as to why Branagh prompted Hiddleston to play it that way. As Loki will apparently be the catalyst to the Avengers forming into a team, I really hope it is just a case of misdirection. At the very least it will make Thor jarring upon repeat viewings.
Normally I would worry about the critical fate of a superhero action film when “critics” sitting in front of me not only loudly dismiss comic books, but also talk at length about not really liking movies to begin with. The only reason this pair was apparently at a free screener was because they were paid to be. I only regret not finding out their outlet so that I could make a point to never read anything in it ever. I am certain they have given Thor a tremendously negative review and probably babbled on self-importantly about how much they are above silly, childish films. Thankfully, they would be very, very wrong in their assessment of this film.