Thor
Review by James Harvey

By no means a ground-breaking or revolutionary comic book movie, Thor does manage to be entirely entertaining and enjoyable, if not somewhat predictable and by the numbers. Still, the thrill of seeing one of Marvel’s biggest heroes on the screen, and done proper justice, is hard to ignore.

To quickly sum up the plot, Thor is set to be crowned King of Asgard by his father Odin. However, the proceedings are interrupted by an attack from the Frost Giants. Angered, Thor disobeys his father and insists on bloody retribution. With his actions nearly bringing about a full-scale war, Odin is furious with his son and banishes him to Earth to learn the error of his petulant ways and gain some humility. Stuck on Earth and powerless, Thor falls in with a group of scientists and attracts the attention of SHIELD. With Thor banished from Asgard, Thor’s brother Loki installs himself on the throne and starts to set in motion a devious plan that could destroy countless lives.

As paint-by-numbers as the script may be, Marvel Studios made the right choice both in-front of and behind the camera. Chris Hemsworth absolutely shines as the title character, bringing an attitude and charm to the character that he’s never had (even in the comics) before. Hemsworth keeps the film rolling – through the killer opening, beyond the lame-duck filler middle, all the way through to the fantastic finale. Heíll definitely keep eyes on the screen in a pretty spectacular and fun performance. Behind the camera, Kenneth Branagh, well known for his more Shakespearean pursuits, uses his talents to bring some spark to the proceedings. What could have been a very stale adventure flick is improved upon thanks to Branagh’s use of unique camera angles and Shakespearean influence.

So Hemsworth and Branagh deliver…but what of the rest?

Well, Thor will definitely satisfy its fan base – it stays true to the character while adding some nice flourishes to make him interesting. I’ve always thought that Thor is an incredibly stiff and difficult character to write – one that can just come off as stale and old-fashioned if not handled properly – but this movie thankfully side-steps that with the help of some wit and surprisingly enjoyable ‘fish out of water’ situations for the soon-to-be Mighty Avenger. I just wish the rest could be said for the remainder of the cast.

With the exception of the excellent Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the remaining cast is fairly bland and unspectacular. Natalie Portman is charming as love interest Jane Foster, but the film’s rushed romantic subplot pigeonholes her into a rather thankless role. Her fellow scientists, played by Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings, provide the odd chuckle but little else to the movie. They play their roles and get the story from point A to point B with little pizzazz. Given the script, I’m not sure if the blame falls entirely on them. The film focuses on these three – and an eventually stranded-on-earth Thor – during the film’s rather lethargic second act, plodding along and essentially killing time until Thor regains his hammer for a couple climactic battles.

Also scrunched in is Thor’s emotional journey from spoiled prince to selfless hero…which seems to happen over the span of a weekend and just doesn’t feel entirely convincing. Hemsworth really works it, and does make it feel kind of plausible, but it’s still rather stinted and unnatural. Thor is supposed to have this gigantic self-revelation, one that changes how he’s lived for decades, and it happens…over the length of a couple days? Again, I attribute that to the script. The script does the Thor mythology justice, don’t get me wrong, but I feel it could have been a great movie with a bit more work instead of merely a good one. Perhaps the running time could’ve been lengthened to help draw out some of the characters a little more. Or maybe remove one of two of the cast members, such as the annoying scientist sidekick played by Dennings.

The film slows down considerably when Thor meanders on Earth, but all the Asgard stuff? Very entertaining and incredibly well done. It never feels pompous or campy, never ridiculous. Instead it comes across as….just marvelous. The opening fight scene with the Frost Giants? Spectacular! The grandeur of Asgard? Eye-popping! The great characters? Plentiful!

The Asgardians seem to be better developed characters, even if they seem shortchanged for screen-time, as opposed to the Earth-based characters who come to dominate the film. Hiddleston, again, is just excellent as Loki, and he occasionally comes close to overtaking Thor’s own journey through the film. There are times when it’s hard to hate the guy, especially when some of his motives come across as more grey and sympathetic than merely black and white (though the film disappointingly pegs as a him one-note baddie to wrap things up for the film’s climactic battle).

Thor is a great time for both the casual moviegoer and the die-hard comic book fan. While the film may falter as the Thunder God traipses on Earth through the film’s meandering second act, the film absolutely comes alive Ė both in script and on screen Ė whenever we get to visit the mighty one’s home world of Asgard. Add a healthy dose of action and a very charming lead, Thor is one of the more successful entries of the comic book movie genre. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for Marvel Studios after that unfortunate misstep with Iron Man 2.

Moving on to the Blu-ray, I couldn’t help but get a sense of deja vu when going through the extras. Much like the film, the assortment of bonus features here feel…predictable.

To look at the positives first, the audio and video on this Thor Blu-ray release is close to perfection. The video is nearly flawless, and each unique world in Thor looks rich and crisp. Asgard looks golden, Jotunheim looks cold and bleak, and New Mexico bright and at times blinding. The characters that inhabit each world also look natural and detailed, be it Thorís deep red cape, the Frost Giants dark blue complexion, or Janeís soft complexion. Itís a great video transfer through and through. The only downside, and this goes for nearly every special effects-heavy movie, is how the overall fake-ness of the CGI really sticks out. The audio is on par, perhaps slightly better, than the video transfer thanks to a full DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless track. Battles, specifically the chilling Frost Giants opener or the metallic clang of the Destroyer ripping through a small town, sound as epic and massive as they should. Whether quiet dialogue scenes or thunderous battles, the audio track never slips up.

Moving on to the bonus material, I canít help but be let down by how standard and paint-by-numbers it all feels. Paramount Home Entertainment did a great job with the bonus content for the first two Iron Man Blu-ray releases, but here? It just seems average.

The audio commentary featuring Director Kenneth Branagh is enjoyable and definitely fills in movie fans on all aspects of production. Itís a really informative, fast-paced track that is easily the best extra on the Thor Blu-ray release. Definitely a wealth of information thatís worth a listen.

From there…things fall by the books for the remaining bonus content, save for one movie which Iíll get to later. The majority of the remaining content is made up of 45-ish minutes worth of featurettes tackling different production aspects of the film, including stuff like set design, casting, a closer look at Thorís hammer, the score, and the filmís comic book roots. The featurettes seem to provide just enough details to be worth a watch, but they never offer anything really interesting, nor do they feel engaging or passionate. The featurettes are just…there.

The deleted scenes, nearly 25 minutes worth, are up next. Most of the axed scenes should rightfully remain as such, deleted and never to be seen again, but the Loki-focused snippets should have stayed in to add to the characterís already enjoyable story-arc.

Also included on the Thor Blu-ray is the four-minute movie short Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant. The short film, spotlighting a very familiar S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, works to tie together the different Marvel Studios films. This short focuses on the underrated The Incredible Hulk and provides context for the filmís Tony Stark cameo. Itís an enjoyable four-minute clip that fans will like, but doesnít leave any type of worthwhile impression.

Also of note is the nearly three-minute Road to the Avengers featurette, which is essentially an extended plug for next summerís live-action The Avengers movie. No footage from the actual film is shown, just a mix of clips from previous Marvel movies, talking heads and Comic-Con 2010 footage.

The release is wrapped up with trailers Ė including an excellent trailer for the second season of the great The Avengers: Earthís Mightiest Heroes cartoon Ė and both a digital and DVD copy of Thor.

Thor makes for fine entertainment, though it never really rises above average. A great director, a perfectly cast leading man, and an excellent Ďvillain (which is debatable)í definitely save what could have been a stale adventure. By no means is the film original, but there are aspects to the film that give it an extra bit of pep. That being said, donít go in expecting the next Iron Man, but merely a film worth killing a couple hours on. And much like the main feature, the bonus content is pretty standard. Outside of an engaging commentary and a couple worthwhile extras, the package is pretty standard and surprisingly dry. Despite that, the film is still a solid tribute to the Thor comic mythos and deserves at least a rental.

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