Director : Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay : Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne (story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich; based on the comic book series created by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Stellan Skarsgård (Erik Selvig), Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Feore (King Laufey), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun), Josh Dallas (Fandral), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Rene Russo (Frigga), Adriana Barraza (Isabel Alvarez), Maximiliano Hernández (Agent Sitwell)
With Marvel Studios digging deeper and deeper into their roster of superheroic characters to fill out the summer movie schedule, it was only a matter of time before they gave the big-screen treatment to Thor, who was first introduced in 1962 by the team of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby, who also (and not incidentally) created Iron Man a year later. Never one of the most popular of superheroes, perhaps because his crisis as a Norse god banished to Earth was a bit less relatable than the teen angst of Spider-Man or even industrialist Tony Stark’s ethical dilemmas, Thor is nevertheless an essential entry in the Marvel pantheon, if only because he is a member of the Avengers, who are set to invade movie theaters next summer.
In a canny bit of behind-the-scenes casting, the director’s chair is filled by Kenneth Branagh, still best known for his bold and critically well-received cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henry V (1989) and Hamlet (1996), and the biggest surprise is that the film works best where you would least expect it. One would think that Branagh would excel with the film’s more serious and mystical elements and perhaps struggle with its more comical elements, but it is exactly the reverse.
Roughly half the story takes place in Asgard, one of the nine “realms” in the universe, which is ruled over by the wise King Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor (played by Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth) is Odin’s eldest son and is thus in line for the throne, but he is brash and arrogant and impulsive, which is why he leads a team of warriors on a pre-emptive strike against Asgard’s enemies, the Frost Giants, who inhabit a different realm. For this, Odin strips Thor of his strength, which comes from his mystical hammer Mjolnir, and banishes him to Earth, where he is taken in by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, in her third decidedly non-artsy screen role since winning the Oscar for Black Swan), an astrophysicist who is in the early stages of theorizing the very wormhole through which Thor just came.
Not sure exactly who he is, Jane suspects that Thor might not be of this world, although her partner, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), is doubtful since all the words and names that Thor uses are familiar to him from his Scandinavian upbringing. Nevertheless, they end up helping him in his quest to retrieve Mjolnir, even though the super-secret government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (led by Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, a familiar face from the Iron Man movies) has found it first. Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Thor’s younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who at first appeared to be a voice of reason, is conniving behind Thor’s back to ensure that his banishment is permanent and he inherits the throne.
Given Branagh’s background in Shakespeare and literary adaptations (his 1994 version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, while undeniably flawed, is still highly underrated), one would think that the royal and familial intrigue on Asgard would be the film’s high points, but these sequences are actually quite rote, if not sometimes a bit turgid (perhaps it is because of all the digital sets and backgrounds, which are beautifully realized, but never feel entirely physical). Rather, Branagh brings the film to life in the scenes on Earth, which display a light and humorous touch that never detracts from the larger dramatic issues. The first half hour of Thor is actually a bit of a slog because it feels too self-serious, but once Thor finds himself in the deserts of New Mexico and realizes (quite comically) that he is no longer as powerful as he once was, his lessons in humility and reason take on a genuine emotional depth. Hemsworth is not the most expressive of actors, possibly because he is weighted down with the need to speak in some kind of pseudo-medieval English (“I need sustenance!” he declares at a small-town diner, just before smashing his coffee cup on the floor), although the dialogue in Asgard is sometimes strangely modern (one woman, upon seeing Thor’s egotistic displays of power, rolls her eyes and actually mouths, “Oh, please”). Uneven though it may be, Thor works as a whole, establishing the character and his mythology while also achieving the most important goal of all: making us want to see more.
|Thor Blu-Ray 3D + Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish, Portuguese|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||September 6, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|This three-disc set includes the film on two separate Blu-Ray discs, one in 2-D and one in 3-D. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfers replicate the theatrical experience very well, with bold, crisp images that highlight the detail of the impressive production design. The scenes in Asgard are appropriately regal and golden, while the scenes that take place in the New Mexico desert convey all the sharp, sun-drenched detail of a small, off-the-road town. Some of the darker sequences, particularly the opening scene and all the scenes that take place in the realm of the Frost Giants, seem a bit too dark, making it hard to pick out much detail, which is how I remember the film looking in theaters. The 3-D disc looks as good as any home 3-D presentation I have seen, although the inherent darkening of the image really constrains the aforementioned sequences. It is also readily apparent that this was a post-production 3-D transfer, which was obvious in theatrical screenings, as well. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel soundtrack packs a mighty wallop, with the precisely engineered mix giving the battle sequences a real sense of weight and depth while keeping dialogue clear and clean. The low end sees plenty of action throughout the film, and Patrick Doyle’s magisterial score is given lots of room to soar at the appropriate moments.|
|Not surprisingly, the audio commentary by director Kenneth Branagh is a more thoughtful than usual affair, with the director ruminating on both the film’s production and what he sees as its deeper themes and meanings. While it isn’t always obvious in the final product, it is clear from the commentary that Branagh took his work very seriously (one complaint is that the commentary only appears on the 2-D disc, so you can’t listen to the commentary while watching the film in 3-D). Also on the disc are seven featurettes about the film’s production. “From Asgard to Earth,” which runs around 20 minutes and focuses on the film’s production design, is the only one that has any real substance or information value. The other six run between two and five minutes in length are of the more publicity-fluff variety, with cast and crew gushing with accolades about each other (the featurette “Hammer Time” about the various prop hammers is fairly interesting, though). Marvel One-Shot: “The Consultant” is a self-contained short film that helps fill in the gaps between all the recent Marvel superhero films and the upcoming Avengers film, which is highlighted in the “Road to The Avengers” featurette, which includes footage of the entire cast and director J.J. Abrams taking the stage at Comic-Con. Also on the disc are 11 deleted scenes and extended scenes (totaling about 24 minutes) with optional commentary by Branagh and a teaser and theatrical trailer.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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