Thor Review

Of all the heroes in the Avengers none faced as many obstacles in coming to life as a coherent action hero as Thor, whose origin feature had no choice but to embrace both the fantasy and realism of its source material. Iron Man is about a billionaire with expensive, robotic toys. Captain America went from a 90-pound weakling to a strapping super soldier only to be frozen and then unfrozen. Bruce Banner got dosed with radiation and now transforms into an ill-tempered, nigh unstoppable behemoth. Yet, all of those stories have just enough realism that they’re palatable. Their central characters resemble and speak like you or I, and, perhaps most importantly, their stories start and end on Earth. And yet, it turns out that by tapping Kenneth Branagh, an actor and director firmly rooted in classical theater, Marvel got more than it could have ever hoped for from a Thor film: a feature that gives audiences a firm grasp of where the hero comes from, acclimates them to how he talks, and then fleshes out both its hero and villain so both can stand firmly when taken outside of their establishing franchise.

The story of Thor takes place in two worlds linked by a technology that falls somewhere in between the realms of magic and astrophysics. It’s a film that combines the story of a race of “gods” with that of ordinary humans, taking their two worlds and giving the best explanation it can for how the two could possibly coexist. From every conceivable angle, structurally, thematically, visually, etc., it’s a film of dualism, a story of two natures that aren’t necessarily competing for attention but attempting to prop one another up in such a way that you believe that everything that happens in the film could, somehow, all work in the same reality. Consequently, in a quality that can be seen as both the film’s strength and its crux, the duality of Thor divides the film into very clear acts, and unfortunately all are not created equal.

The film starts with a brief scene on earth, the initial meeting of scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and a groggy, disoriented Thor (Chris Hemsworth). ‘Where did he come from?’ Jane and her mentor (Stellan Skarsgard) wonder. Enter Act I. Giving the audience a quick tutorial on the mythology of Asgard and the different realms connected by a rainbow bridge, the first act illustrates the complicated relationship of a father, the king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his two sons with polemic dispositions: Thor, the warrior, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) the meticulous planner of cunning. Just as Odin is about to name Thor his successor, an age-old enemy rears its head and prompts a swift retaliation from Thor, all in defiance of his father. As a consequence, Thor is remanded to earth minus all of his godly abilities and his hammer is discarded nearby just in case he learns his lesson (as if there’s a chance he might not).

From there, the second and third act examine his adjustment to a mortal life as he attempts to make Jane believe that his tales of realms and kingdoms just might hold some truth. Meanwhile, Loki ascends to the throne and conspires to keep his brother in exile forever. A plot that would have succeeded were it not for those meddling Sif and the warriors three.

Watching Thor, it’s hard to figure out whether we should be more impressed with Chris Hemsworth for being a strikingly solid embodiment of the god of thunder, or Tom Hiddleston for managing to create in Loki a villain that isn’t just twirling his moustache and laughing over mischievous music. The former actor had a challenge to make his character a formidable future co-star for the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, and the latter had to become more than just a basic archetype. For both the script helped them develop as characters, but they had to create the bluster and emotional depth. Hiddleston deserves credit for having to take his character to further extremes, but were it not for that, the two would be equally deserving of having made Thor palatable in the face of Shakespearean dialogue and good old-fashioned father-son spats.

Thor is a triumph not only in the vein of brilliantly adapting source material fans considered too obtuse for film, but in the field of world-making. The set design of Asgard is of the scope necessary to make a believable realm that exists outside of human belief, and it feels every bit as large and grand as was necessary to make it work. It’s a testament to Branagh’s dedication to instilling the larger than life backstory of Thor with the necessary physicality to ground it in reality, because it would be all too easy to imagine a version of Thor in another director’s hands where the entire setting of Asgard was just a fake looking green screen foray against which the actors desperately scrambled to pretend they knew what the final product would look like. The sets Branagh and his team assembled, both for Asgard and the small New Mexico town where the earth-based portion takes place, are elaborate and obscenely large. But then, so is the basic concept of Thor. Branagh rose to the challenge posed by adapting a larger-than-life hero and in doing so gave us one of the best superhero films in the Marvel roster.

Of course, Thor isn't without its share of issues. Most problematically, it seems the writers didn't fully grasp the inherent comedy that Thor being on earth brought with it, and thus felt it necessary to throw in Kat Dennings's character, the intern to Portman and Skarsgard, to help simplify things and restate the obvious. Additionally, in a point that could be argued as both a problem or a strength, the film slows down substantially into its second act and relies heavily on a relationship between Thor and Jane that never really pans out. The deepest moments seem rushed up to, and then when they're there seem to last only an instant. It doesn't help that Thor's time on earth is poorly defined as far as days or weeks, and so it becomes difficult to buy that Thor and Jane have anything more than a physical attraction - yet it's that relationship that supposedly gives Thor's heroic actions at the end some air of sacrifice.

The 3D Blu-ray combo set includes a copy of the film on normal Blu-ray, DVD, as a digital copy, and, of course, on 3D Blu-ray. Sadly, the original issues that existed with the post-rendering 3D treatment of Thor couldn’t be repaired when bringing the film to home video, and so the biggest drawback prevails: the 3D looks flat. Instead of providing the terrific depth of field that proper 3D would have given to Asgard (and part of me wishes it had been filmed in proper 3D just for those sweeping takes of the realm’s floating isles), the 3D makes the film look like a series of paper cutouts layered upon one another with slight gaps in between. It’s not a great 3D presentation by any means, but it doesn’t ruin the viewing experience, it just doesn’t does little to set it apart from watching it in normal 2D HD.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

All of the extras, save for the digital copy, are found on the non-3D Blu-ray disc. Before you start digesting the rather thorough set of featurettes, you should quickly knock off “The Consultant”, the short film dedicated to Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of S.H.I.E.L.D. which provides a soft link between Thor, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk. The featurettes include a number of very standard pieces, but if you’re a fan of the film, they’re actually quite dense in the amount of stuff they pack in to the seven featurettes. The subjects include the creation of the Asgardian and Earth sets, a cast-wide applause of Kenneth Branagh (deservedly so), the casting process, the design and conception of Mjolnir, the creation of Colm Feore’s costume as King Laufey of the Ice Giants, the film’s score, and a quick little video where Stan Lee questions the crew on what they think sets Thor apart from other comic book films.

After that, you have the very typical option of watching deleted scenes, and although there is a surprising number of them, it’s never all that hard to understand why they were cut. Some of the scenes are interesting to watch for the small amount they add to the Thor and Loki relationship, but when you consider how tightly edited Thor is, it would have felt quite bloated with any of the fat left untrimmed.

"Thor" is on sale September 13, 2011 and is rated PG13. Action, Drama, Fantasy. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Written by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich (story), Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne (screenplay). Starring Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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