September 26, 2011

Blu-ray Review: Thor (2011)


Over the past bunch of years, Marvel has been enjoying a good deal of success on the movie front. They successfully brought the likes of Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Punisher, and Ghost Rider, among others, to the big screen. No, not all of them have been runaway blockbusters, but they have all entertained a certain level of success. Now that the comic publisher has fully entered the big picture arena, rather than just being a development partner, they have been working on a delivering a complete universe on film. Their projects each have their own flavor, but they do have a similar aesthetic and it would be believable to see a crossover amongst a few characters. Thor is one of the most recent to hit the big screen, and while it may not have been as big as Iron Man, but it does prove to be better than I was expecting.


The character of Thor has never been a particular favorite of mine. I never really looked into his history as I looked at him and was just bored. He was fine as a member of the Avengers, but on his own I generally couldn't be bothered. So, as the movie release approached I was not as excited for it as I was, say, X-Men: First Class; still, the movie was the next step in the build up to the Avengers movie and I was curious to see how it would play out. In particular, I was wondering about the blending of Earth-based scenes and those set in Asgaard. The end result was a satisfying blend of superhero and mythic fantasy.


As the movie opens, we are introduced to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). She is working on a weather study and believes she is seeing some sort of pattern in a series of storms. As she and her partners drive in to investigate the hit a man who appears out of nowhere. Any idea who this may be? That's right, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has appeared out of nowhere and been hit by a car. As Jane and the others race to see if he is still alive, the story flashes back to Asgaard where we learn how Thor came to be on Earth.

We meet his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins, his step-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), along with other brothers in arms. We are also introduced to their sworn enemies, the Frost Giants. We learn of the family dynamic and the truce with the Frost Giants, and that Thor has been chosen to succeed Odin as the ruler of Asgaard. Of course, plans are put on hold when the Frost Giants unexpectedly attack, are chased away, and then confronted by Thor.


At this early time, Thor is presented as angry, vindictive, and thinks with his anger rather than logic. This makes it all too easy for him to be manipulated into attacking the Frost Giants, raising their ire, and then getting himself expelled to Earth, punishment from Odin.

Yes, I know I fast forwarded through some of that stuff, but do you really want me to tell you everything? I am sure if you have seen any number of superhero movies, you can tell where this is going. As enjoyable as it is, it is not the sort of movie ripe with narrative surprise. It is more about the creative team's ability to keep the audience involved combined with the actors' ability to make it all seem somewhat plausible. Sure, there have been some which take it to the next level, but Thor is not one of them.

Once all of the players are in place and the bad guy reveals himself (not that we did not know already) the movie settles down a bit and we get to spend a little time learning motivations and watching Jane figure out who Thor really is as we lead towards a final showdown that has implications on both Earth and Asgaard.


It is a film that does its job. It introduces us to Thor and gets him ready for the Avengers film. Beyond that, it is a fun romp that succeeds where Green Lantern fails. Thor actually makes a film that combines two very different worlds in one film, each with its own inhabitants, problems, and action, into a single film that makes sense.

Thor is not a movie that requires a lot of thought. This is not to say it is dumb, but it is designed to be a fun romp. It is not the best at this, but I did enjoy it, perhaps even more than I was expecting to. Not being the biggest Thor fan, I went in just hoping to like it. I did, and I think many superhero fans will to.

Kenneth Branagh took the helm and brought his unique experience to bear. Best known for his Shakespeare adaptations, he was an interesting choice to direct, but I like what he brought. The movie was not overloaded with action to the expense of the characters, it has enough, but Branagh knows how to space everything to allow for some actual character to shine through.


Now, before we move on I would like to say one more thing that is related to the movie, but is not so much about it as it is a point for thought when watching if you are so inclined. As you watch the movie, especially early on, think of Thor as George W. Bush. I can hear you laughing... trust me, it is actually pretty interesting.

Audio/Video. The 2.35:1 ratio image is delivered in fine fashion from Paramount. Throughout the film there is very nice detail, although some of the darker scenes seem to lose said detail (not too many of these scenes, but they are there). The biggest challenge of the transfer is the shifting locale. There are three primary locations, one is the warm, golden look of Asgaard, the second is the frigid landscape of Jotunheim (land of the Frost Giants), and the bright, crisp, and real realm of New Mexico. Each one has a distinct look and feel, each one with its nice detail, and a nice transition between the three. There is no mistaking the nice, high definition look of any of these three locations.

Audio is presented in the form of a DTS-HD 7.1 track. The sound is really rather strong, demonstrating a wide sonic range with clear, enveloping music that can either play very softly or become amped up for some big action sequence. Dialogue is nicely rendered, always intelligible. It is likely the action sequences where you will most recognize the strong audio where it seems like everything is going on all around you. In particular, I would check the battle Thor has with the Frost Giants, and then later his fight with the Destroyer robot in New Mexico. They are pretty exciting!

Extras.

  • Commentary. This track features director Kenneth Branagh. I found him to be a little to the dry side, but he does offer a lot of good information about the production, cast, and all sorts of other bits around the film.
  • Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant. This is a fun short with Agent Colsen and a fellow agent discussing how to keep the Abomination behind bars. Enter.... aaahhh, not telling. 
  • Featurettes. A series of behind the scenes clips, interviews, and footage about a variety of aspects of the film and its development. There is a good deal of information to be had.
  • Road to the Avengers. Some clips with the cast and director, and what looks like footage from Comic Con.
  • Deleted Scenes. More than 24-minutes worth of cut and extended scenes, with optional commentary from Kenneth Branagh.
  • Trailer.
Bottomline. This is a fun film that should please superhero fans. It does seem to be hampered by a budget well below of what the Iron Man movies have gotten, but they do get a lot out of what they have. The cast does a fine job and Chris Hemsworth does well in his first big test. It does not diminish on multiple viewings and should prove worth revisiting down the road.

Recommended.


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