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Paramount // PG-13 // September 13, 2011
List Price: $54.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 11, 2011 | E-mail the Author
Thor doesn't play at all like a traditional origin story, yet that's precisely what it is. Kenneth Branagh's film sidesteps the usual formulas about being unexpectedly imbued with great power, coming to terms
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with the staggering scale of these lifechanging new abilities, and the iconic moment where our newly-minted hero puts on his costume for the first time. Thor is after all, a Norse god, and gods are born, not made. As the film first opens, Thor already has the flowing red cape, is donned in his trademark armor, and wields the hammer Mjolnir, perhaps the most singularly powerful weapon in all the nine realms. Thor is a seasoned warrior, yes, but he's not yet a true hero. That is the origin story that unfolds throughout Thor -- the transformation of an arrogant, impulsive, reckless warhawk into the hero his father had always hoped he would become.

As the film opens, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is moments away from ascending to the throne of Asgard. The coronation is cut short by invading frost giants seeking to reclaim what was once the source of their power. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) -- the omniscient ruler of the Norse gods as well as the father of Thor -- had long ago taken precautions to stave off those sorts of threats, and the small invading force is almost immediately vanquished. Still, Thor is incensed: ancient enemies of the Asgardians having actually stepped foot inside the palace...the untold havoc they could have wrought. The only rational response, to his mind, is to wage war on the frost giants' realm of Jotunheim -- to exterminate those savage beasts once and for all. Thor mistakenly believes a swift, merciless retaliation would be following in his father's footsteps. The difference is that Odin knows all too well the heavy price of war; Thor does not. Despite an express command from Odin, who yet still reigns as king, Thor enlists the help of his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston),
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Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, and Josh Dallas) to strike back. With the unyielding might of Mjolnir at his side, Thor mercilessly slaughters dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of the greatest warriors under the command of King Laufey (Colm Feore). Thor's thirst for vengeance threatens to consume the entire frostbitten realm -- not to mention the lives of his closest allies -- but the battle is cut short. Odin storms in to restore the uneasy peace between Asgard and Jotunheim that, until now, had lasted for millenia. Just as Laufey had suffered heavy losses, so too must Odin. An enchantment is cast upon Mjolnir that only one who is worthy can lift it. Thor is stripped of his armor and his title. Then, Thor too is cast aside, forever exiled to the realm of Midgard...or, as the creatures inhabiting that oversized ball of mud call it, "Earth".

Trapped in an unfamiliar world. Powerless. Alone. Well, "alone" doesn't last all that long. The atmospheric effects of Bifrost -- the opening of the rainbow bridge to Earth -- had already attracted the attention of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who's been doing some post-grad physics research in this sleepy, remote stretch of desert in New Mexico with colleague Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and snarky assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings). With the occasionally reluctant help of his newfound friends, Thor tries to adjust to what he's certain will be a brief derailment on Midgard, and he does what he can to prepare for his return home. Still a seasoned warrior despite a lack of mystical armament, Thor even battles his way through a government stronghold in an attempt to reclaim Mjolnir. Triumph is snatched away from him when Thor discovers the hammer's enchantment has deemed him unworthy, and his sorrow only grows upon receiving a message from his brother Loki...that the toll this ordeal has taken on their father was greater than even the mighty Allfather could bear...that Thor is doomed to live among the mortals forever. Being cutoff from his homeland means that Thor has no idea what sorts of machinations have wrapped their fingers around the throat of Asgard, and the havoc that results soon spills over onto Earth as
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I walked in expecting some sort of overly serious, operatic, Shakespearean melodrama about a royal family of gods torn apart by betrayal and war, and instead, Thor wound up being a hell of a lot of fun. Kenneth Branagh clearly proved to be an inspired choice of director despite never having helmed a film approaching this scale. The sequences in Asgard are reinforced with the appropriate emotional gravitas about family, camaraderie, responsibility, disappointment, and betrayal, and the otherworldly majesty of the production design is a visual spectacle all its own. Branagh ensures that the pacing is so fleet-footed that even when delving into the godly relationships and dense mythology of the nine realms, Thor never loses its sense of forward momentum, constantly roaring ahead. The sense of characterization is impressively rich as well. There are no stock heroes or villains. Unspeakably horrible acts are committed with the very best of intentions. Those who cruelly lash out do so for a reason, feeling as if they're righting one longstanding wrong or another. No one is undeserving of sympathy, shying away from moustache-twirling, one-dimensional comic book villainy. Thor is driven far more by characterization than by plot or action, and though some may take that as code for "boring" -- especially since Thor is powerless for the majority of the film -- that couldn't be more wrong. The battle sequences may be few but are absolutely staggering in scale. The action never settles for empty spectacle either, consistently managing to thrill while also maintaining a
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weight and emotional gravity as well.

There's also an unexpected playfulness at work here. Kat Dennings shoulders a lot of the comic relief, and she manages to connect every single time she steps up to the plate. The fish-out-of-water humor -- a god trapped in a backwater New Mexico town that seems content to live as if it's still 1954 -- is more inspired than usual. There's even a running gag with Jane plowing into Thor with her SUV, and, yeah, the good-ol'-boys in town react to a magical hammer falling from the sky by throwing a big-ass barbecue. It's fun but never dumb or overly cartoonish, and Branagh walks that delicate line flawlessly. Geez, even the obligatory love story that's simmering in the background feels wholly earned.

The usual argument against massively budgeted summer blockbusters is that they opt for style over substance, but Thor is able to deliver no shortage of both without sacrificing much of anything in the process. The film is brilliantly cast from top to bottom, and having an accomplished actor like Kenneth Branagh in the director's chair clearly brought out the best of each of them. Thor explores what heroism is in a way that resonates so much more truly and more deeply that most comic book adaptations. The film delivers the visual spectacle and awe-inspiring action you'd hope to see in a summer tentpole without losing sight of its smartly crafted screenplay or impressively rich characterization. When Thor stormed into theaters this summer, it immediately established itself as the best Marvel adaptation since the first Iron Man three years earlier, and that Captain America just a couple months later managed to be even better makes it all too clear what a banner year it's been for the studio. Very, very Highly Recommended.

Even with as dizzyingly high as my expectations were for a $150 million visual effects spectacle like Thor, this Blu-ray disc still eclipses anything I could have hoped to see. Crispness and clarity are on the brink of being unreal,
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making for perhaps the sharpest and most richly detailed 35mm production I've come across on Blu-ray. The skill and craftsmanship behind Thor's lavish production design and some 1,300 visual effects shots all come through brilliantly. Colors are strikingly vivid when appropriate, with reds standing out as particularly breathtaking. Black levels remain unwaveringly deep and inky throughout as well. Really, no flaws of any sort ever once caught my attention. At no time are compression artifacting, edge enhancement, or undue digital noise reduction any sort of a concern. Thor, simply put, is a reference quality disc...a movie that demands to be experienced on Blu-ray.

The three-disc set reviewed here also includes Thor in 3D. I'll confess to not owning a proper 3DTV, but Thor was converted to 3D after the fact, and few of the comments I've read about how the film played theatrically in 3D have been particularly enthusiastic. Viewers should go in with their expectations tempered. The third disc in this limited edition is an anamorphic widescreen DVD that also features a digital copy of Thor. That digital copy is available for use on both iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices.

Boasting a 7.1, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, this Blu-ray release of Thor sounds every bit as spectacular as it looks. Every last element in this lossless track is dazzlingly clear and distinct, immediately distinguishing itself from anything a traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 track could ever hope to deliver. Every swipe of Mjolnir hits like a slug to the gut. Bass response is deep and resounding, reaching down to frequencies far lower than anything I've experienced on Blu-ray in months. The use of the surrounds is immediately immersive, and considering the sheer amount of havoc wrought throughout the film -- frost giants threatening to usher in a new ice age, the blasts of The Destroyer leveling an entire town, entire miles of the realm of Jotunheim crumbling into ruin -- Thor seizes full advantage of all of the channels at its disposal. I did feel as if portions of the dialogue throughout the third act had somewhat of an edgy quality to it, but that at worst is still a negligibly minor concern and the only thing separating this presentation of Thor from reference quality.

Also included are an audio descriptive service track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Subtitles are offered in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

  • Audio Commentary: Director Kenneth Branagh readily shoulders this two hour commentary track on his own. Free of any lulls in the conversation, Branagh's comments about the construction of Thor's story, its visual spectacle, characters, and
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    playful yet dramatic tone are inspired and thoughtful throughout. It's a rewarding listen for anyone buying or renting this Blu-ray disc. Among a few of the many highlights are Branagh explaining precisely why Thor was converted to 3D in post-production, breaking convention at times by shooting closeups first and moving the camera further and further out from there, how he as a director embraced the scale of a movie like this that he'd never approached before, and dismissing the Shakespearean label that quite a number of writers decided to associate with Thor seemingly just because Branagh was attached. As a gifted actor himself, it comes as little surprise that Branagh pays particular attention to the performances throughout his commentary. Insightful and engaging, Branagh's audio commentary is everything I'd hoped to hear and then some.

  • Deleted Scenes (25 min.; HD): Thor features nearly a half hour of deleted and extended scenes, spread across eleven different sequences. It's kind of fascinating to see what was originally envisioned and how less effective Thor would've been as a result, such as the clumsier introductions to many of the Asgardians. Loki's ascension to the throne is cast in a very different light with these deleted scenes as well. There's more of Thor and his allies as they prepare to mount an attack on Jotunheim as well as a much lengthier version of Sif and the Warriors 3 arriving on Midgard. Rene Russo's role as Frigga -- wife of Odin and mother to Thor and Loki -- is extended here. It's also great to see Stellan Skarsgård score some additional screentime, belting out a Norwegian drinking song with Thor and also being saved from the clutches of death with the healing stones that are mentioned offhand earlier in the film.

    Kenneth Branagh offers optional commentary for these deleted scenes as well, although he prefers to briefly introduce what each scene is meant to accomplish and note why it was ultimately removed from the film. He rarely speaks for the entire length of a scene.

  • Featurettes (44 min.; HD): The centerpiece of this Blu-ray disc's onslaught of behind-the-scenes featurettes is "From Asgard to Earth" (20 min.), an extensive look at shaping the look of Thor all the way from concept to completion. Among the topics explored here are
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    crafting distinctive looks for each of the realms showcased in the film, drawing visual inspiration from Norse mythology, modern architecture, and hundreds of issues of comic books, converting a Western backlot into a sleepy little New Mexico town, and a very detailed discussion about costume design. Bifrost -- the rainbow bridge -- is lavished with a surprising amount of attention as well.

    As for the other six featurettes in this gallery, "Our Fearless Leader" is a three minute pat-on-the-back to director Kenneth Branagh, while "Assembling the Troupe" (5 min.) aims the spotlight in the other direction to showcase the actors' mighty talents. "Hammer Time" (6 min.) and "Creating Laufey" (6 min.) delve into the design and craftsmanship behind Mjolnir and the king of the frost giants, respectively. "Music of the Gods"(2 min.), as you likely guessed from the title, briefly touches on composing the score for Thor. The last of the featurettes captures some comments from Stan Lee and J. Michael Straczynski as they filmed their cameos in the searing desert heat.

  • Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant (3 min.; HD): "The Consultant" seemed to be touted as an original short featuring Agent Coulson, the S.H.I.E.L.D. suit who serves as one of the common threads connecting the Marvel movie universe. Instead, it's basically framing the post-credits coda from The Incredible Hulk with Coulson and another agent sitting at a booth in some random diner. Completely disposable.

  • Road to the Avengers (3 min.; HD): This
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    teaser for next summer's Avengers film splices together clips from other Marvel movies, interviews with some of the talent involved, and quite a bit of footage from Hall H at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con.

  • Trailers (6 min.; HD): The last of the extras is a small gallery of trailers: a teaser, the full theatrical trailer, and a quick plug for the animated Avengers series.

The limited edition of Thor comes packaged in a glossy, embossed cardboard slipcover. This three disc set includes a traditional Blu-ray disc, another presenting the film in 3D, and finally a DVD that also doubles as a digital copy. The two-disc set being released separately does not include the 3D version but presumably is otherwise identical.

The Final Word
Thor defied my expectations in the best ways possible. Rather than the unwaveringly stone-faced melodrama I'd braced myself for, Thor deftly blends its Shakespearean story of family, power, regal responsibility, death, and betrayal with the breezy fun and hyperkinetic action of a summer blockbuster. As remarkable as Marvel's batting average has been with adapting their comics to film, Thor still stands strong among the very best they've hammered out yet. Highly Recommended.
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