With most of the major Marvel Comics properties already adapted to film in the last fifteen years, there remained a few major, property-defining characters who had yet to hit the screen complete with modern genre sensibilities, special effects, and mega budgets. With Hulk movie after Hulk movie arriving to varying levels of reception, and two films turning Iron Man from a supporting, second tier hero into one of the hottest properties, it was only natural that the two remaining, fan favorite founding members of the supergroup The Avengers would find their way to the big screen. Captain America, one of Marvel's oldest, most historic properties, would be fairly easy to adapt and make relevant, as there are plenty of ways to make the character fit in with the new tone and themes, but what about Thor? There was no doubt in my mind that this hammer wielding Norse God of thunder, who debuted in Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962) would be one of the most difficult properties to pull off, not so much due to effects, nor story possibilities (he's come a long way since he first battled the Stone-Men of Saturn!), but simply due to logistics. How could this character, who differs so greatly in origin from the rest of Marvel's mightiest superheroes, be relatable to modern audiences? How would Asgard, or even just the random armors and weapons, be created without it all looking silly?
Perhaps the answer to that is an intelligent script and a master filmmaker. 'Thor' could have been a disaster, but in the hands of Kenneth Branagh (and a cadre of writers, including Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz, who also paired in penning the script for 'X-Men: First Class'), it's actually a very entertaining, enjoyable journey that eliminates the comic book speech patterns to create a main character who is easy to root for.
The film adaptation of 'Thor' works doubly as an origin story (to help set up his involvement in 'The Avengers' next year) and as a coming of age superhero story, somewhat mirroring the iconic dilemma faced in the early moments of 'Spider-Man.' The cocksure, regal son of the aging Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) seeks the power his father holds as ruler of Asgard, but his arrogance and disobedience lead to the favored son being exiled to Midgard (aka Earth), while Thor's brother, the God of mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) becomes the new heir to the throne. The realm of the Gods is in great turmoil after a series of deceptive machinations, and the one man who could set it all right has no way to return home, stripped of his powers, to live out his days among mortals.
On Earth, a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings) run into Thor (literally), and become entangled in his affairs, while Mjolnir, the iconic hammer that once knew only his grip finds itself guarded and investigated by government spooks under the name SHIELD. Without the mighty strength or thunder powers that made him an unstoppable warrior, or a path back home, Thor must discover what makes him a hero on the inside as dire circumstances draw to a head, threatening entire worlds with total annihilation.
'Thor' is an interesting entry in the Marvel Comics film canon, as it provokes more thought than any film before it, more so than Ang Lee's analytical 'Hulk' or the racism and bigotry parallels found in the 'X-Men' films. The main character may be known for his brawn and penchant for battle, and this film certainly delivers in that particular category, but the manner in which history and mythology mesh cohesively to create a wonderfully immersive backstory is what sells 'Thor.' The ideas of magic and science being one and the same, of rainbow road teleports being nothing more than fancy wormholes, and the idea that the men who created the tales of the Norse Gods actually encountered these powerful beings from another realm, and mistook their abilities for Godliness are clever hooks that bring a completely unrelatable backdrop to the level where even those unaware of mythology can understand and appreciate the attention to detail.
What's even more startling is the fact that this story, which takes place almost equally on Earth as it does on Asgard, doesn't ever feel two-toned or out of place, and that both elements are effective, with neither being the odd duck, the waste of time that viewers can't wait to be done with. The mystery and beauty of Asgard can be breathtaking at times (no matter how sterile and fake establishing shots may be), with some tremendous handmade sets adding realism to the unreal.
The characters, well, this is about as well as I could have ever imagined the majority of them coming across, real or surreal as they are. Hemsworth as Thor is as great a casting job that a comic movie can get, while the character himself is interesting, and within the realm of comprehension, helping viewers endear themselves to his somewhat stupid charm. Hopkins' Odin...well it's better than Kevin Nash Odin, that's for sure. It's also nice to see Odinsleep, a part of the comics that would play a vital role over the years. Loki as a character is realized about as naturally as could be done, as one can't have him being obvious in his deceit from the getgo, though this casting is the one that perturbs me the most. Perhaps I'm used to the comics, and the elongated, somewhat sinister grin that would adorn this character, but I never quite "felt" Hiddleston in the role. The real shocker to me was Idris Elba as Heimdall, as I really couldn't even tell it was the underrated actor until the credits rolled. Impressive, to say the least.
'Thor' is naturally entertaining, even if there are a few moments that stand out as being potential trailer fodder, such as some of Natalie Portman's deliveries. She's hardly at the top of her game here, that much is for certain. The action isn't about fancy set pieces and elaborate camerawork as much as it is brutal face to face ass kicking in the most personal of ways, free from feeling overly choreographed, creating a fun mixture of fantasy action with Mjolnir, and plenty of intense "put up your dukes" brawling. The integration of elements from previous and future Marvel films works quite well, with a Hawkeye cameo that's hard to miss for anyone paying attention (the minute the bow is shown, any fan should know what's up!), and as the film progresses, it's really not that much of a stretch to imagine Thor alongside Iron Man or the Incredible Ruffalo-Hulk.
I really never imagined 'Thor' would be this entertaining. It's not the best comic film, as even the pure evil known as Loki comes across as more than a petty double crosser, lacking that heinous, despicable aura that comic villains often take, but it's still a fun way to spend two lazy hours. Best of all, it works both on a "turn off your brain and watch the action" sense and a "ignore the action and pay attention to the ideas being put forth" manner, so there's really something for everyone. The girls can stare at Hemsworth, guys get Portman and Dennings, kids get a noble hero, and longtime fans get nice, accurate depictions of characters they have come to know quite well in the 49 years of Thor comic books. This flick definitely gets a strong passing grade. Branagh does a noble job with a genre he's not well known for, even if there are a few head scratcher moments.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Thor' comes to Blu-ray in two editions, this two disc 2D version, or a 3D edition that is identical, only with an added disc and different box art. This set has a BD50 disc with no region markings, as well as a DVD+Digital Copy combo disc. There are no pre-menu trailers, and the menu loop itself is beyond classy.
The controversial aspect of this release is the MSRP, as Paramount has put an inflated price tag on both 'Thor' releases, higher than what other studios charge for similar content. While some may say this higher price doesn't change store prices, online retailers work on percentage discounts, and stores aren't offering budget prices on week of release for this title due to this unfair little gimmick.
Presented in 1080p in the natural 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the 2D release of 'Thor' is a solid effort, though one that has its minor flaws.
In terms of color clarity, breathtaking detail, and amazing depth, few Blu-rays come close to what is often on display here, as 'Thor' packs a gorgeous visual punch, in the fantastic realm of Asgard, or even the New Mexico desert. Free from artifacting, banding, any digital tampering, or even aliasing, no matter the potential for issue in any moment, this is a joy to experience at home. Sparkling iridescence, positively perfect skin tones, fantastic shadow details, it's hard to complain.
Perhaps the reason why this disc isn't scoring higher may be the fault of the film itself, due to issues with the computer graphics or even changes made for aesthetic purpose. That said, I can't ignore some of the sights I saw. Jotunheim is meant to be a cold, cold place, but did skin need an azure tinge, or the whites of eyes doused with blue food coloring? Probably not. Backgrounds, mostly in Asgard, can be less defined, brooding in softness, while a few mixed shots and creations are completely lacking in definition, as if they were thrown in and not fixed. Asgard should never look blurry. That's my opinion and I'm sticking with it.
'Thor' is a solid release, a very fine looking disc, but this high definition transfer brings to light issues that become difficult to ignore with their repeated visits. No matter the cause, it's enough to prevent me from dishing out a higher score that may mislead some consumers. Who knows, maybe these issues won't bother some, and they'll be pleased, if not startled, with how this release looks. I'd rather see that than see disappointment that this isn't a demo worthy release (even if there are moments that are pure eye candy).
I don't mind a soundtrack that is so powerful that it knocks over items on nearby shelving units; in fact, that's usually a good little measure on how much sheer power is being packed. I do mind when I have to worry if the audio on a Blu-ray disc is so powerful that it threatens to knock down the entire shelving unit.
'Thor' arrives on Blu-ray with an almighty lossless 7.1 track that is among the most dominating, brutally (borderline excessively) powerful discs on the format. What it lacks in precision, it makes up for with unadulterated strength, so readily on display. This is a good/bad thing. Dialogue is never an issue, no matter how loud or thunderous a scene may get, but there is a point where it becomes just too much, where volume control versus the desire to get the cops called on you becomes a lose-lose battle. I absolutely loved the range on display, the gorgeous dynamics, the intense effects and megaton LFE bursting at the seams, but I would have loved a little bit more pinpoint accuracy rather than brute strength. I would have loved to have not had to adjust volume on multiple occasions.
Will this disc be used as demo material? More than likely, as it really can show off the capabilities of a system quite handily, but that does not make it the best of the best. An entertaining listen, but one that will more than likely require some adjustments as the film carries on and grows in intensity.
This 2D edition of 'Thor' contains a bonus DVD/Digital Copy combo disc, for added awesomeness. Awesomeness achieved. This set may not have an insane number of extras, but there's such high quality, and nothing but HD on the Blu-ray, so it earns high, high praise, indeed!
'Thor' isn't the top dog in the Marvel filmography, but it's certainly a respectable entry that should age nicely. There's something for just about everyone in this highly entertaining action blockbuster with brains galore. Really, the best part is the pitch perfect casting of the titular character, which will certainly go down as a career defining role. Paramount's 2D release of 'Thor' is awesome, with plenty to keep one busy, and so much LFE that you better make sure your cabinets are securely fastened, as falling objects are likely to occur during playback. This release comes highly recommended!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.