THIS weekend sees the opening of two movies about humanoids with godlike powers.
Thor: The Dark World is the obvious one. About Time is the more unlikely one. It’s about a young man who learns he has the ability to turn back the clock at will.
That may seem like a relatively insignificant gift, compared to, say, wielding the devastating mystic hammer that is Mjolnir, but in the hands of any Hollywood hack, the talent could make for a formidable hero or villain. One thus gifted could anticipate an opponent’s every move because he had already experienced it.
Richard Curtis doesn’t go there, of course. The writer of Notting Hill, and the writer-director of Love Actually, Curtis tends to look at the world in love-coloured glasses.
Hence, a young lawyer named Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, who played Bill Weasley in the last two Harry Potter movies) doesn’t go for a cape-fitting when he learns about his talent from his eccentric dad (Bill Nighy).
Pop gives him the lowdown on this gift that comes to every male member of the family, and how to go about it: "Go into a dark place, clench your fists, think of the moment you’re going to... and you’ll find yourself there."
Dad warns him off any scheme to use the talent to get rich or do anything, you know... super. As it is, Tim sets his sights low.
"For me, it was always going to be all about love," he narrates.
Yep, with great power comes the possibility of a great hook-up. Thus, Tim sets his sights on Mary (Rachel McAdams, who trod similar turf in the comparatively grim romance The Time Traveler’s Wife), an American gal who sends Tim’s mainspring a-twanging.
And thus comes the most amusing part of the movie. In sequences that borrow from that seminal time-travel comedy Groundhog Day, Tim goes courting Mary by exploiting his temporal advantage: Every time he makes a tactical error in his pursuit, he gets a chance for a replay.
Wedded bliss is not far behind. But at this point, the movie’s romantic resolution a fait accompli, the film begins a more serious exploration of Tim’s power, utilized for the benefit of his own troubled sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and his ailing dad.
Any serious science fiction fan could easily pick holes in the time-travel premise, starting with the fact Tim is told he can’t jump into the future, when in fact he clearly can.
But it’s not intended to be studied too deeply, any more than one could consider Star Wars a serious exploration of space travel. Richard Curtis is here to charm you, and with About Time, he makes a better job of it than his previous two directorial efforts, Love Actually and Pirate Radio, which veered too often into the overly sentimental if not outright cloying. Gleeson is especially helpful here, assuming the role with a bit of necessary cheek.
Between them, Curtis and Gleeson sustain the charm with a minimum of cringeworthy bits, resulting in a sufficiently pleasing romantic fantasy.
But unlike the days of Tim’s life, it’s probably not worth experiencing more than once.