“Once, mankind accepted a simple truth: that they were not alone in this universe. Some worlds man believed home to their Gods. Others they knew to fear.”
Marvel has rolled out some rather ambitious plans for the next two years. Of course, it has all been leading to the huge Avengers film coming summer of 2012. If you’ve been watching the scenes after the credits of both Iron Man films, you’ve already seen the groundwork has been laid. Now comes Thor, and we’re talking more than just groundwork here. This is the first in a series of films that lead directly to The Avengers.
“From around the cold and darkness came the Frost Giants, threatening to plunge the mortal world into a new ice age. But humanity would not face this threat alone. Our armies drove the Frost Giants back into the heart of their own world. The cost was great. In the end, their king fell, and the source of their power was taken from them.”
Thor (Hemsworth) is one of two sons of Odin (Hopkins), the other being his younger brother Loki (Hiddleston). There has been quite a reign of peace on their world, Asgard, of late. Thor is about to be crowned the new King of Asgard. What should be the beginning of a great time in his life leads to a rather long string of unfortunate events. Just as the crown is to be put on his head an alarm sounds. The Ice Giants have broken into a secure chamber to steal the source of their power. That vessel has been kept under constant guard since the day it was taken at the conclusion of a bloody war between the worlds. Now after years of quiet they have returned to break the peace. Not yet King, Thor wishes to attack the world for the attempt, but Odin has forbidden any action to be taken. Thor believes he must act to protect his world and journeys to their planet to confront the race. It ends badly, and the warriors are whisked home just as they are to be killed. For his disobedience, Thor is banished to Earth without the ability to use his mighty hammer.
On Earth, things aren’t getting off to a good start for the now-mortal Thor. He’s hit by a van driven by scientist Jane Foster (Portman) … twice. He’s tasered and locked down in a mental ward. But as Foster and her team continue to investigate their encounter with Thor, they uncover evidence of a wormhole, which serves as the bridge between the worlds. Together they end up fighting a threat to Earth caused by the devious intrigue of brother Loki. Thor must find a way to save both worlds.
“With the last great war ended, we withdrew from the other worlds and returned home at the Realm Eternal, Asgard. And here we remain as the beacon of hope, shining out across the stars. And though we have fallen into man’s myths and legends, it was Asgard and its warriors that brought peace to the universe.”
I was always a bit wary of this movie. Unlike the other Marvel comic heroes, Thor has a mythical background that doesn’t always fit quite so neatly in our “real” world setting. I was unsure how they were going to be able to tie these worlds together and keep the whole thing believable. Give director Kenneth Branagh some serious credit for making the transition between the worlds as seamless as he has done here. They coexist in the same universe with such a natural balance that I bought it all almost instantly. It was by far the biggest obstacle facing the movie, and it has become, perhaps, its biggest asset. The world of Asgard looks wonderfully mythic yet otherworldly, just as it should. It was a great stroke to cast Anthony Hopkins as Odin. The actor brings a more down-to-earth substance to the place, and the characters are all strong enough to keep it all grounded in some semblance of reality.
The rest of the cast is absolutely wonderful. You could not have asked for a better Thor than Chris Hemsworth. He brings a sense of humanity to the character that stands out. He’s the most natural casting for a hero since Downey filled the suit of Iron Man. His voice rings just as I would have imagined the hero from the days of my childhood reading the Jack Kirby comics. He’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Rome fans will love seeing Pullo himself Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, one of Thor’s friends and fellow warriors. Jaimie Alexander is really a smart choice in the underused part of Sif. She’s another of Thor’s Asgard team and could handle a film of her own, I believe.
More down to earth, Natalie Portman is not bad at all as Jane Foster. I have to admit I’ve never been that impressed with her acting chops, and she’s not going to steal any scenes here, but there is a charm to her character that I haven’t seen before. Kat Dennings plays her sister-like helper Darcy. She’s the comic relief here, but not overtly so. Foster’s team is rounded out by a strong performance by Stellan Skarsgard as her mentor and friend Professor Erik Selvig. He’s the anchor of that team.
Let’s talk about the 3DBD version: This isn’t a gimmick 3D film. Don’t look for sight gags and the like. It comes off natural enough, and I don’t know that you’ll lose a ton if you have to catch it in just the Blu-ray version.
Thor is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. There are a lot of extras, so the bit-rate isn’t quite what I would like here. With that said this is still a very impressive high-definition image presentation. In fact I enjoyed the 2D version much better than the 3D. It was brighter and so much better at the finer details. This is a film of wonderful contrast. The production design does a great job of bringing these two distinct worlds alive with different textures and colors. Black levels are fantastic, allowing those subtle shadowing effects to provide detail even during the very dark battle on the ice planet. This has been one of the best designed images of the Marvel films to date, and the Blu-ray delivers quite nicely. It is no exaggeration to say that this might well be in the top 5 video images I’ve seen since Blu-ray started.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is just as vibrant and alive as the image. Subs are quite impressive, causing waves of dynamic fullness to the sound field. Dialog never gets lost, and the unique score by Patrick Doyle is about as immersive as it gets. The surrounds are quite aggressive, and you will live in these worlds through the audio as well as the image. This is a show-off presentation for your system. Invite the entire gang over and wow them.
There is an impressive Audio Commentary by director Kenneth Branagh. He delivers a ton of information on the style choices and makes us feel like we’re in the room with his conversational tone. He even invites us to call him Ken.
Marvel One-Shot – The Consultant: (3:57) This is a rather nice stand-alone extension of The Incredible Hulk, bringing that film into the path to The Avengers.
Making Of Features: The following 7 features cover the behind-the-scenes duty for the release.
From Asgard To Earth: (19:42) This is the real meat of the collection of features. It focuses on the look of the film from early conceptual designs to set construction. There are the costumes and the locations to look at here as well.
Our Fearless Leader: (3:18) A Kenneth Branagh love-fest with the cast telling us how great a guy he is.
Assembling The Troupe: (4:44) This feature looks at the casting of Hopkins and Hemsworth.
Hammer Time: (6:14): Of course we have to get a look at the crucial prop.
Creating Lafey: (5:33) Another cast member who deserves some mention is Colm Feore as the Ice Giant King. He gets the deserved attention here as well as the makeup and creature design conceptual art.
Music Of The Gods: (2:05) Go into the recording studio with Doyle and the orchestra.
A Conversation: (2:33) Stan Lee’s time on the set includes him asking some questions of the crew.
Road To Avengers: (2:57) Joss Whedon provides a sneak peak at the highly anticipated Avengers film.
Deleted Scenes: (24:34) There are 11 mostly extended scenes with a play-all ability and optional commentary.
It’s going to be quite a year as we await the main event next summer season. The films that are leading us there are doing a good job of keeping the anticipation level incredibly high. I worry that it might be impossible for our expectations to ever be met. Thor really kicks it off. Yes, I know the Iron Man films really started the mythology, but we’re getting deeper into the plot and bad guys of the film now. This was a breathtaking beginning that will be hard to top. Branagh likes to shrug off the whole Shakespearean label that’s been given to the film, but I don’t think he understands what a compliment it truly is. There is something epic and truly special here. It’s a shame he’s leaving the Marvel universe, including the next Thor film. Next stop The Avengers, May 4th, 2012: “Wait for it”.