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There was a time when I decided that as much as I wanted Thor to be Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet with hammers, the most I could look forward to was a fish-out-water Masters of the Universe. I envisioned a scene where Thor walks into a room and says, “Verily, what are these wonderful morsels?!” as he shares a box of Krispy Kremes with Kat Dennings. Then the trailer hit where he smashes a cup of coffee and demands another. "Oh no," I thought, "I was right." But then something truly strange happened: Thor was somehow both of these things. As much as I wouldn’t want to bog down Kenneth Branagh with a trite connection to Shakespeare, Thor follows the tradition of his plays in that it’s a marriage of slapstick and drama. This film for the masses is now on Blu-ray. Let’s see if it’s immortal.
The story of Thor begins with a lackluster scene on Earth which is followed by a succinct, expository cheat sheet to this corner of the Marvel Universe. As opposed to most super-hero films, which use their entire length to set up an origin, this one hits the ground running and we actually get to see a Thor movie.
The scenes in Asgard are striking. The acting is as bold as the set designs. One look at their vision of the Rainbow Bridge speaks to the sensibilities and restraint that color the rest of the film. Even the costumes are remarkable interpretations of the source material, and this all serves to present the audience with a world in which all the magic and technology of the universe can be mastered by a bearded Norseman. This is man is Odin, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, who plays the role with such a combination of deliberate ferocity and empathy that every line hits with resounding effect. Chris Hemsworth, who with a single scene as George Kirk in J.J. Abram’s Star Trek pulled the entire film to a new level, takes the feathered helm of Thor and makes a fantastic character believable. Tom Hiddleston rounds out the major three Asgardians as Loki, and he does so with a controlled performance that allows you to see the king of chicanery working his plots from word to word.
The scenes on Earth are something I’ve wrestled with quite a bit since they introduce the film’s sillier scenes. Butts are syringed and drunken scientists black out, all for the sake of comic relief. With actors like the great Stellan Skarsgard, who had the ability to make a seaweed-covered pirate seem empathetic in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, you’d think there would be potential for more restrained humor. Thor was also among Natalie Portman’s first roles after Black Swan, and if you watch her closely you actually do see a subtle but fitting performance. Between her and Skarsgard it’d have been great if they delved deeper into the plotline of questioning whether or not this man who calls himself a god is actually crazy, but they do what they can with the time allotted.
A final note on the film itself, or more specifically its scope. Whereas the Iron Man movies seem narrow in their hero’s exploits, Thor does a great job in showing a character who lives in a world of adventure. There are three significant villains peppering the space and you never know which one is going to be in the final fight. It also avoids the Iron Man problem of having a villain with the same look and powers as the hero. And we’re talking about a movie where they’re supposed to be brothers. This speaks to what’s great about this movie: it’s rich.
The disc is one of my favorites in a long time. The menu is simple and treats the screen-saver prone to the mighty hammer Mjölnir flying through the rainbow galaxy on loop. The special features are vast and take you inside the fun, behind-the-scenes world that fans love to see. Besting them all is the commentary with director Kenneth Branagh. He guides you through Thor in a way that is both insightful and welcoming. He even allows you the courtesy of calling him “Ken” for the duration of the track. He makes it very clear that, although everyone wants to credit Shakespeare for his decisions, if anything, his main inspiration for this film was the comic book.
One of the other great additions is in actual narrative content. The deleted scenes are fully mastered and play out more like a bonus short as opposed to scraps of movie strewn together. In large part this is due to the fact that most of these scenes relate to each other, chiefly dealing with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. In the core film, there is brilliant restraint in exposition and you are allowed to read into the backstory of the characters. These additions take the opposite approach and fairly heavy handedly lay out who everyone is and what their unique character traits are. It’s great that the film chose to delete these and let their interactions speak to these characteristics less directly. The other content serves to ramp you up for The Avengers with a Comic-Con focused teaser, as well as “The Consultant,” an original short featuring Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) that feels a bit like filler but reminds you of The Hulk’s involvement. While it’s not a selling point, it’s fun that Marvel is trying to make this upcoming crossover movie as seamless as possible.
As far as the presentation itself, the image is sharp and never too dark. The audio is also crisp and well balanced so that the dialogue is always as resonant as Patrick Doyle’s score behind it. In a time when buying Blu-Rays seems rarer than ever, Thor is one to own and enjoy.
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