Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of 'Thor.'
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of 'Thor.'
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
The "Limited 3D Edition" of 'Thor' comes to Blu-ray from Paramount on a three disc set, with the same two discs found in the 2D release, as well as a Blu-ray 3D disc. Both Blu-rays are BD50, sans region coding. There are no pre-menu annoyances on the 3D disc, and no special features tab, with the 2D release bearing all of the supplements, including the audio commentary, which is a bizarre exclusion considering the dub tracks that remain available. The menu itself changes slightly from the 2D to 3D release, with a full 3D menu that excludes the Anthony Hopkins sequence that immediately precedes the journey through space loop.
Considering that Paramount called the original DVD release of 'Saving Private Ryan' from 1999 a special limited edition, and it's still in print, I highly doubt this talk of "limited" has much of a basis. It may just be a "go buy this the week of release!" gimmick to scare consumers into thinking it will only be available for a limited time. Of course, like the 2D only release of 'Thor,' this 3D combo pack has an even further inflated MSRP, meaning it won't be found for cheap in stores anytime soon.
2D playback on the 3D disc is disabled.
There were a fair share of complaints about 'Thor' and its 3D conversion (done in post production) when the film was playing in theaters. It's only fitting that there be a fair share of complaints when the title bows on Blu-ray 3D. Presented in 1080p, 'Thor' may not quite be 'The Last Airbender' ugly, but it's really an underwhelming experience.
It doesn't help that the opening of the film features a dark scene, followed by a dark scene, followed by a lengthy dark scene soon after. Let's just say that when the picture isn't bright, the picture is barely visible, a murky, ugly black that absorbs detail, providing no depth whatsoever. That isn't an exaggeration, sadly. It's painful. The entire Jotunheim sequence in the first act, which isn't excessively long but is our first real action in the film, is borderline unwatchable, as you can't see a damn thing. The blue of the frost giants can't be scene, and one can barely make out the outlines of the beasts, so it looks like little human people are fighting imaginary characters, flailing wildly. But dark sequences aren't the only problem with 'Thor' and its 3D transfer. Even in well lit shots, dark colors become a blob. Dennings and Portman's hair have no texture, no definition, day or night. The slightest shadowy corner eats away at detail. It's beyond frustrating. The sheer loss of discernible information on screen is too damn much after a very short while.
The shots that aren't a disaster aren't spectacular, even if they're a step up. Depth is very hit or miss, and there are a number of scenes with little to no depth to be found; slide your glasses up and you may not notice much of a difference in a number of scenes. That isn't to say there isn't some pop, some subtleties, but as a whole, there isn't a whole lot going on. Deeper backgrounds sometimes are difficult to see finer definition in, while pans and zooms can bring on some jagged edges on character outlines due to their armor (and let's not even talk about the circles around the bifrost creating transport device, as that shot looks like a zoomed in series of bitmap circles, it's that bad).
Crosstalk isn't horrendous, but can be a little annoying, with fire always creating an odd ghost, while even the pivotal circling shot descending towards the SHIELD controlled Mjolnir creates a double image of the weapon. Ghosting is also a problem in the darker shots, making them all the more awful. As if they needed help... There is still plenty of finer definition to be found, and colors in day shots are still quite gorgeous, but there's too much distraction to really give these positives much notice, as viewing this film in 3D becomes an easter egg hunt to see what will look horrible next.
It would have been nice to be able to see the frost giants, to understand their anatomy, their ability to create weapons out of moisture, or their battle tactics. It just isn't fair, nor good, that it's so hard to differentiate these pivotal characters/creatures from their backgrounds. It's not right that rarely does a shot go by without some sort of technical error. There are good Blu-ray 3D conversion titles, and then there's this. This feels rushed, halfway finished (if even that), and just plain ugly. It's a good thing the only way to get this disc is to buy it in the combo edition with the 2D disc, otherwise it would be a horrible waste of money.
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.
All of the supplements in this package are found on the 2D disc.
'Thor' rocked my socks and kept me entertained the entire ride through with its great mix of action, mythology, intelligence and humor. The 2D release wowed me with its amazing visuals. The 3D version, though, was a painful viewing experience. Painful. It's all sorts of wrong, with errors popping up more frequently than is acceptable, leaving me with much lowered anticipation for the 3D release of 'Captain America' next month. 3DTV owners hard up for content should dish out the five to ten dollar surcharge on this edition, since they will still get the vastly superior 2D version of the film. 2D owners who haven't made the leap? Save your money. Even if this is a combo, unless you're jumping in the next one to two months, I don't see this one paying off. Stick with the 2D.
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.