Thor: Love and Thunder (12A 119 min)
Verdict: now to marvel
Brian and Charles (PG 90 mins)
Verdict: Restless odd comedy
Now that the surviving members of the gang are old men, no longer making movies together, no one really uses the adjective “Pythonesque” anymore. However, this is the word that came to mind during the new Marvel blockbuster, Thor: Love And Thunder.
Whether anyone wants to remember Monty Python while watching a superhero movie is a moot point, maybe even a Thor point. Many did, judging by the laughs and cheers at Tuesday night’s gala screening at the Odeon Leicester Square. Heaven (and Valhalla) knows, I’ve seen enough superhero movies over the years that have taken themselves at least as seriously as Newsnight. So I’m generally inclined to applaud those who don’t.
That said, director and co-writer Taika Waititi, who struck the right balance in his previous Marvel outing, 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, is leaning too much towards zaniness this time around. Her image positively creaks in pursuit of laughs, sometimes getting them, but when the comedy falls flat, she does it with a super kick.
Unholy: Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Love And Thunder
Still, there is no fault in the cast list. Christian Bale, somewhat recognizable under a Voldemort makeover, plays a mortal whose possession of the ill-enchanted “necrosword” allows him to turn his disillusionment with the gods into a murderous rampage. He becomes Gorr the Butcher God and, like a Pied Piper, steals all the children from the kingdom of Asgard, terrorizing them in his lair.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) swears to get them back, visiting Mount Olympus hoping to raise an army, but getting no support from Zeus (Russell Crowe, amusingly playing the King of the Gods as some sort of prissy, rather camp owner of a Greek Cypriot chip shop). Zeus isn’t impressed with the Norse god of thunder (“Isn’t thunder just the sound of lightning?” he sneers), but the same can’t be said of his female sidekicks when Thor finds himself stripped of his bare necessities. This scene caused quite a stir at the Odéon.
Leaving “Omnipotence City” without the army of immortals he hoped for, Thor must instead rely on the help of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the warrior Korg (voiced by Waititi), and his human ex-girlfriend, the physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who suffers from a terrible debilitating disease but has been helpfully given superpowers by her old hammer.
This would all be as silly as it sounds, even without Portman’s character being mistakenly called Jane Fonda and then Jodie Foster – twin examples of this storyline looking for cheap laughs. In all honesty, gags that work, work well. Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Melissa McCarthy have some silly but enjoyable cameos as the amateur Asgardian theater troupe, and there are other scattered pleasures, but the fact that the kidnapped Asgardian offspring includes Waititi’s own children, as well as those of Hemsworth, Portman and Bale, really tells you everything you need to know about a film that too often plays like a huge joke from which we, the audience, are excluded.
That, I hasten to add, is not why I attached the adjective Pythonesque. I’m as big a fan of the Python masterpiece Life Of Brian (1979) as anyone – though I have to say I don’t see what’s considered inherently funny about Brian’s noble name.
Obviously, I’m in the minority, because the hero of Brian And Charles, delightfully played by the film’s co-writer David Earl, is an archetype of British comics – an endearing social misfit who lives alone, dreaming up crazy inventions.
Brian and Charles
It has a lot of antecedents in popular culture. When I was a kid it was a funny old cove called Professor Branestawm. Anyway, lavishly bearded and sporting a pair of Deirdre Barlow specs, Brian lives in a chaotic cottage in the Welsh countryside, kindly spoiled by the locals. He spends his days perfecting indispensable objects like the flying cuckoo clock. But a homemade robot is the scratch he always “wanted to scratch.”
Finally, he makes one, using discarded bits and bobs, including an old washing machine. To our astonishment, if not his, he finds that it works and talks (and that he has a penchant for cabbages). This is Charles (Chris Hayward), and he becomes Brian’s faithful, if increasingly cheeky companion, a mixture of servant and surrogate child.
Jim Archer’s feature debut is an odd-couple comedy with a firm focus on the odd, which takes a dark turn when Charles is robbed by the village bully. Unfortunately, there’s a distinct sag in the middle, when it starts to look like an undergraduate sketch stretched beyond its natural life. Nonetheless, at its best it plays with plenty of charm and wit, and at a reasonable 90 minutes it never quite overstays its welcome.
After a limited theatrical release, The Sea Beast (PG, 115 mins, ****) is now coming to Netflix and that’s great too. As was written on the board games of my youth, it’s fun for kids of all ages, from eight to 88.
Superbly animated, it’s set I guess in the 18th century, a time of galleons and cannons, though the maritime threat comes not from pirates or enemy fleets but from ferocious sea monsters, such as the mighty ‘Red Bluster’.
New Zealand actor Karl Urban gives voice to Jacob, a handsome swordsman who was found shipwrecked as a child and taken in by the brave Captain Crow (Jared Harris), skipper of the Inevitable.
Jacob’s background explains his bond with a young stowaway, Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), as together they attempt to capture “Red”, intending to present him as booty to the King (voiced, unequivocally , by Jim Carter of Downton Abbey).
Adventure: Jacob and Maisie
Kathy Burke and another Downton alum, Dan Stevens, are also credited in the voice cast.
Another movie available to watch at home, but probably not in front of the kids, is How To Please A Woman (No Cert, 107 mins, ***). This flawed but likeable comedy stars Sally Phillips, perhaps better known as “Shazza” in the Bridget Jones films, as an uptight and arrogant Australian wife who, unbeknownst to her arrogant husband, creates an all-male cleaning business, sending men to clean women’s homes, but also offering, uh, a few optional extras.
It’s not what you might call obscene, though. Vaguely reminiscent of Britcoms such as The Full Monty and Calendar Girls, it’s written and performed with a certain panache, and Phillips does a very plausible Aussie.
The Beast from the Sea is on Netflix. How to Please a Woman is on Sky Cinema.