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THOR
3-D Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 3-D
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: September 13, 2011

“I have no plans to die today.”

“None do.”

Film ***1/2

I was never big into comic books as a kid, but I have to confess...there was always a warm place in my heart for Thor. Many superhero fans dismissed him...even Roger Ebert dryly summed up his worth in the Marvel universe with, “He wields a hammer.”

But Thor hearkened to my Norwegian heritage, to the myths that rose and flourished in the cold climate of the fjords. To many, Norse mythology might seem only the poor man's version of the much more influential offerings from Greece and Rome, but for me, Odin, Loki, Thor...these were legends that stood every bit as tall as Zeus or Jupiter...and unlike those carbon copies, Odin was a god unto himself.

Well, they weren't gods per se, at least not in the Marvel world of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They were merely advance beings from a world called Asgar in the heart of nine realms that included Earth, and to the primitive Viking culture of old Norway, such beings would indeed be perceived as Gods.

Now, Thor comes as the latest installment in the line of Marvel hero films, and serves as one of the final puzzle pieces for the eagerly-anticipated assembly of The Avengers. It was a film unloved by many, probably by the same people and for the same reasons as why Thor was unloved as a comic book hero. But those are the qualities that make me instinctively embrace it. That, and the film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is easily the most beautiful of all the marvel films, and possibly the most spectacular.

Thor is the son of Odin (Hopkins), and soon to follow in his father's royal footsteps as king, even as his quiet brother Loki (Hiddleston) observes. Once upon a time, the land of Asgar was at war with a race from another realm called Jotenheim. These beings, known as Frost Giants, had a mystical source of power and the ability to not only freeze anything in site, but instantly craft crude but effective weapons out of ice.

Odin battled them to defeat and made off with the source of their power, but a break-in at the palace of Asgar seems to indicate the Frost Giants are ready to resume hostilities. Against the wishes of his father, Thor decides to lead his team to the unwelcome realm for answers.

Nearly starting a war, Odin strips Thor of his power, authority, and banishes him to exile on a hostile, primitive world. We know it better as Earth.

There, he meets up with Jane (Portman) and her scientist friends. Jane has been studying cosmic phenomenon that she believes to be evidence of Einstein's bridge theory, namely wormholes connecting other worlds. She has no idea how right she is.

Thor does not fall alone...his hammer comes with him, but blessed by Odin in such a way that only one worthy of the power of Thor can even lift it. The hammer is inexplicable by humans, but it draws the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D., which sets up a perimeter around it to house and study it.

Meanwhile, back in Agar, Odin falls into near death, and Thor's brother Loki begins to show his true colors. In Norse mythology, he was known as a maker of mischief, but in the Marvel world, he is a true adversary to Thor. He has designs on the kingdom, and partnering with the enemy Frost Giants is just one part of his scheme. Getting rid of Thor for good is another.

Thor has much to learn about being a hero and a leader, and he finds that while stripped of all power and vulnerable, he can still have the courage to do what is right and become the hero all of us, including Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, knew he could be.

This is a vibrant, colorful film blending a classic mythology with all the modern comforts. Kenneth Branagh, known for his superior film adaptations of Shakespeare, was the right choice for the material. Not only did he understand and appreciate the mythological archetypes at play, including the father-son conflict with the kingdom in the balance, but it turns out, he's quite knowledgeable of the Marvel universe as well.

The art direction is first rate, as Agar is fully realized as a classic but modern kingdom with gold halls and bridges made of vibrant energy. And the cast is terrific, too. I only knew Chris Hemsworth from his brief role as Captain Kirk's father in the Star Trek reboot, but he carries a classical air and is believable as both a hot-headed warrior and the selfless hero he eventually becomes.

Of course, in my book, Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard are two of our most distinguished actors, and automatically add credence to any movie simply by their presence. But the real star is Branagh, who has never ventured into full-fledged special effects comic lore before, but proves an instant master, crafted scenes of wonder and awe with an eye equally good for excellent battle scenes.

Thor is a good film, and certainly more than a worthy entry into the Marvel series. I can't wait for The Avengers.

BONUS TRIVIA: If you're a fan of the Marvel films, you already know this, but just in case, make sure you stick around for the end of the credits.

Video ****

As mentioned, Thor is easily the most beautiful of the Marvel films, and this superb high definition transfer captures the vision of Branagh with breathtaking clarity and detail. The 3-D rendering is quite superior; there is a touch of 'ghosting' here and there early on, but it settles into a confident and engrossing vision of a world you will enjoy being in.

Audio ****

As you might expect, this movie offers a lot of thunder (no pun intended) in the audio realm, and this is a reference quality DTS HD offering. It's dynamic, well-balanced, and will keep you centered in the action, be it a battle or the unfolding worlds of the other realms. Dialogue is clear throughout and blends well against the audio effects and Patrick Doyle's solid score.

Features ****

The 3-D disc offers just the movie, but the 2-D Blu-ray disc packs all the features, starting with a generous and enjoyable commentary from Kenneth Branagh, who invites us all to call him “Ken”, as his friends do. There are seven production featurettes, some trailers, 11 deleted scenes and a Marvel-One Shot extra. Perhaps best of all is “The Road to The Avengers”, which is short, but shows the entire cast of heroes assembled at Comi-Con before a rapturous crowd. If I haven't already mentioned I'm pumped for that movie, let me say it again.

The third disc is a DVD version which also includes a digital copy for your portable devices.

Summary:

Thor is a true spectacle of myth and modernism, of folklore and fantasy. Kenneth Branagh's vision is perfect for the under-appreciated Marvel hero, and I personally think this is not a Blu-ray to be missed.

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