Kenneth Branagh, whose devotion to the works of William Shakespeare resulted in his designation as the modern-day heir to Laurence Olivier, might have seemed an unlikely choice to helm Thor, the latest in the growing line of Marvel Comics adaptations as well as the first blockbuster of the 2011 summer movie season. Yet it's possible that the man who successfully brought (among others) Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing to the big screen took his marching orders directly from the Bard himself. "O that I were a god, to shoot forth thunder," wrote Will in Henry VI, Part 2, a sentiment that Branagh tries to capture in this superhero opus centering on the Norse God of Thunder.
Dividing its time between Asgard (home of Thor the god) and Earth (home of Thor the transplant), the picture finds the titular warrior (played by Chris Hemsworth) ready to be declared king by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). But Thor's recklessness, to say nothing of his oversized ego, convinces the Asgardian ruler to instead strip his offspring of his mighty hammer Mjolnir and banish him to our planet. This allows Odin's other son, the devious Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to usurp the throne for his own nefarious purposes. As for the Thunder God, he's aided in his earthly endeavors by astrophysicist Jane Porter (Natalie Portman) and her team and, later, by his four faithful comrades from Asgard (three of them described by an Earthling onlooker as "Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood").
A perfectly serviceable entry in the cinematic superhero sweepstakes, Thor provides viewers with a good time as long as they're not taking notes and comparing it to other recent Marvel properties. More straight-laced than the Spider-Man films and less exciting than the X-Men oeuvre (the first two, anyway), Thor can't even match the rollicking ride of the original Iron Man, which had the advantage of Robert Downey Jr. to steer it over rough terrain. But that's not to say there isn't much to enjoy here.
The film is gorgeous to behold (the 3-D is used effectively), and the battle sequences are ably handled -- there's a kinetic kick in seeing Thor twirl Mjolnir to batter opponents, a perfect realization of the manner in which it was caught on the printed page. Hemsworth is well-cast as Thor -- he's not as interesting an actor as, say, Downey or Tobey Maguire or Hugh Jackman, but then again, Thor was always a bit of a stiff when compared to Iron Man and Spider-Man and Wolverine -- and while he and Portman don't set off any massive fireworks, they prove to be an affable screen couple (at any rate, Natalie Portman + Chris Hemsworth > Natalie Portman + Danny McBride).
Thor's primary flaw is in the storytelling department. Most Marvel flicks (and DC, for that matter) have managed to relate an origin tale while still allowing room for expansion within the same film -- for example, X-Men showed how Wolverine joined the outfit but also managed to touch upon the global prejudice against mutants and Logan's search for his own roots. Thor suffers from a lack of such vision: All of the expository dots are dutifully connected, but by the time we're ready for the movie to really kick into high gear, it's suddenly over.
I suppose a sequel could handle the overreach, but considering the only planned follow-up is The Avengers, in which Thor will be battling Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye for the spotlight, it's uncertain whether he'll be given the royal treatment that presumably should be accorded a god.
Folks often wish that real life could be more like the movies, but Something Borrowed makes me wish that the movies could be more like real life. In reality, I suspect most of us would cross a crowded highway barefoot and bleeding to avoid any contact whatsoever with the insufferable twits populating this gruesome rom-com.
But moviegoers who don't want to have wasted an exorbitant admission fee (or, in some cases, are professionally paid to suffer through the very last screen credit) will feel bound to remain in their seats, which by the end of the picture will resemble an electric chair more than a plush auditorium rocker.
Based on Emily Giffin's novel, this stars Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson as Rachel and Darcy, lifelong best friends both in love with the same man. That would be Dex (Colin Egglesfield), who had a connection with Rachel six years ago while they both attended law school. But rather than act on their mutual attraction, Dex allowed himself to get swept away by the assertive party girl Darcy while wallflower Rachel merely stood by and grinned. Now, Dex and Darcy are set to be married, but a drunken tryst between Dex and Rachel causes complications.
Should they tell Darcy about their dalliance? Should Dex leave Darcy and shack up with Rachel? Or should Rachel just continue to hold her tongue and allow Darcy to abscond with the only man she's ever loved?
As in most formulaic romantic comedies involving a love triangle, the filmmakers attempt to make things as easy as possible for the audience by presenting one of the players as the "bad guy" -- in this case, it's Hudson's shallow, self-centered ditz. But here's where this ruse backfires on director Luke Greenfield and adapter Jennie Snyder: Practically all of the characters are odious, meaning we don't care about the fates of any of them.
Especially unlikable is Dex, who's presented as practically the most desirable man in all of New York even though he's a hypocritical, indecisive, insensitive and unobservant dullard (Egglesfield's bland performance doesn't help). Rachel's cluelessness is off-putting, and the supporting ranks are populated by the usual mix of unkempt braggart (Steve Howey), psychotic ex-girlfriend (Ashley Williams) and sarcastic best friend (John Krasinski, the film's sole bright spot).
True to its generic, genetic code, Something Borrowed also features a rainstorm during a climactic confession (perhaps Thor was working overtime?) as well as the sight of our leading ladies engaging in a torturous living-room dance of an oldie but goodie. Yet as they gyrated their way through Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It," all I could think was how I wanted to take this movie and shove it.
JUMPING THE BROOM
The opening moments of Jumping the Broom left me cringing, as if I had wandered into the screening for a sequel to Something Borrowed (Something Blue?). Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) has just finished having sex with someone she hopes will be Mr. Right. Instead, he's merely a player -- actually, a caricature of a player -- spending the moments after intercourse admiring himself in the mirror and speaking on his cell phone to another hottie-in-waiting.
At this point, Sabrina swears off premarital sex, fears that she will never find the right guy, and then suddenly runs into him -- literally, as she accidentally smacks him with her car.
So far, so painful. But with the necessary setup out of the way, screenwriters Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs are able to plunge headlong into the real meat of the story: the developments that occur when the families of Sabrina and her fiancé, Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso), finally meet on the weekend of the wedding. Sabrina's family is wealthy, living the high life in a Martha's Vineyard mansion; Jason's family is lower-middle-class and stuck out in Brooklyn. The principal fighters are Sabrina's brittle mother (Angela Bassett), who's used to giving orders and having them obeyed, and Jason's loudmouthed mom (Loretta Devine), a widowed postal worker who eyes the upper classes with suspicion.
Thus, the culture clash isn't merely between rich and poor but between rich blacks and poor blacks ("My family didn't come from a line of slaves; my family used to own slaves," Mrs. Watson unwisely utters during the rehearsal dinner).
Under the auspices of Pastor T.D. Jakes (who produced the film and appears as Reverend James), director Salim Akil and the writers juggle a wide range of characters and subplots, and to their credit, they fumble very few of them. Until Devine's overly protective mom is unfortunately turned into the film's closest thing to a villain during the third act, all of the characters are allowed to be believably flawed, allowing us to see the right and wrong on both sides of each issue being presented. The tension between the mothers is palpable, and there are several relatives and best friends on hand to provide comic relief (Mike Epps is particularly pleasing as Jason's laid-back uncle).
Jumping the Broom is no Soul Food, but as a worthy seriocomedy about African-American family dynamics, it's nourishing enough.