In an effort to unify multiple Marvel superhero storylines into one grand "Avengers" film next Summer, Marvel follows up the Iron Man and Hulk franchises with the first new film in the series this year, Thor. Centering around the mythology of the god Odin's son Thor being banished to Earth to learn a valuable lesson, the film tells the origin story of the hero, while continuing to build on the Avengers storyline that has been growing since the post-credits scene at the end of 2008's Iron Man.
Actor/director Kenneth Branagh (you may recognize him as having played the villain in 1999's Wild Wild West or a Major-General in 2008's Valkyrie) helms this major summer film, expertly juggling action and story in a two-hour running time window. As someone who knows absolutely nothing about the superhero Thor, I thought Branagh did an excellent job bringing the character into the real world while telling an effective origin tale. Chris Hemsworth, who got his feature film break playing Capt. Kirk's ill-fated father at the beginning of the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, steps up to the challenge of playing the famous mythical god, bringing a well-rounded performance to the character. At first, it's tough to feel for such an arrogant and stubborn guy like Thor, but once he gets humbled as a mere mortal, the humanity of his character bleeds through. By film's end, we're full-on rooting for the hero. To make a movie like this work, you need a strong cast in addition to good direction and a great script, and Branagh has enlisted some grade A talent to help make Thor as good as it can be. Natalie Portman, who has proven to be inconsistent in her performances -- from the sometimes awful portrayal of Padme in the Star Wars prequels to winning an Oscar for last year's Black Swan -- is good as Jane Foster, but is sometimes a bit shaky in her delivery here. Kat Dennings does okay as a fellow scientist with Jane, and Stellan Skarsgård (who played Bootstrap Bill in the two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels) is good as Jane's mentor and voice of reason, Erik. All of them work well together and with the title character, which makes all of their scenes together fun to watch. It's one of those films where the quality is consistent enough throughout that you're not aching for someone to get off the screen so we can get back to one of the other character plotlines. All of the stories and sub-stories do well to propell the central story forward.
With a film like a superhero story, there are many opportunities for the movie to go in a number of directions. Instead of being all action and no story (basically anything you'd see from director Stephen Sommers) or all story and little action (like Bryan Singer's Superman Returns), Branagh mixes it up real nicely. We spend ample amounts of time both on Earth and in the mythical universe of Asgard, home to Odin, Thor and their followers. So instead of just setting up the story in the clouds to spend the rest of the film on Earth, Branagh does a good job of bouncing back and forth between the two - that is, after he's familiarized us with Asgard for a bit first. There are some interesting plot shifts and twists (nothing too jawdropping of course, though), but it keeps things engaging. The scenes in Asgard are especially effects-heavy, but never feel like it's spectacle for spectacle's sake. I did see the movie on the IMAX in 3D but never felt like there was a moment in the film where it absolutely needed to be seen in 3D. I find the technology rather gimmicky and pretty unnecessary, and the quality of the 3D was wonderfully clear, but it ranged from looking more like a pop-up book to otherwise being effectively three-dimensional. I'm actually eager to see the film again in 2D instead.
The content in Thor was fairly tame comparatively to its peer Iron Man. Language is limited to a few uses of "h*ll," 1 "a" word, 1 "d*mn," and a handful of "Oh my G-d." Sexual content is limited to a brief smooch and a shirtless Thor in one scene. The PG-13 rating is mostly earned by the film's violence. The central villains are a race called the "Frost Giants" and they are these huge, blue, almost demon-looking creatures (picture a more devilish looking Jack Frost) who wield snow and ice like weapons. There are two major battle scenes involving the people of Asgard and the Frost Giants and this is where most of the violence is seen -- from icicle appendages being cracked off to what looks like possible quick decapitations (but nothing especially gruesome... I realize that might sound contradictory).
When all is said and done, Thor is an excellent entry into the superhero genre and a rather memorable one, hopefully kicking off what could be a worthy franchise. It won't be for everyone, but Kenneth Branagh does a great job updating the character for modern times and grounding it in a sense of reality. Bring on The Avengers next summer! (If you see Thor, be sure to stay past the end of the credits to see a short additional scene that ties the film into The Avengers more.)
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/6/11)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Thor was a real summer 2011 surprise. I saw it first on IMAX 3D and then again on a regular screen in 3D and I was pretty anxious to see the film in 2D on Blu-Ray. I actually did enjoy it more in 2D, but it still worked well as a 3D feature too. The movie comes home in the form of a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack or a 3D Blu-Ray, 2D Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Copy combo. Along with the multiple feature formats, we have a nice array of bonus material.
Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant (3:57) - This is an interesting short film that involves SHIELD's Agent Coulson sitting in a diner talking with another agent about the events that took place in The Incredible Hulk (2008). They refer to General Ross wanting to have the villain Blonsky on The Avengers team, and the two decide that "The Consultant" should annoy Ross into changing his mind. At that point, the film flashes to the scene at the end of The Incredible Hulk where Tony Stark visits Ross in a bar. Afterwards, Coulson and the agent meet again to confirm that their plan worked. It's a cute little video, but it seems slightly lame that they basically used it solely to include that Stark/Ross scene here for anyone who decided to pass entirely on The Incredible Hulk. (1 "H*ll")
Road To The Avengers (2:57) - This is a sort-of promo to get the nerd blood flowing in the veins of anyone jazzed about 2012's The Avengers film. Showing clips from Iron Man 2, Thor, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America, along with interview blips from director Joss Whedon and the cast assembled at 2010 Comic-Con, this brief featurette should fire up just about anyone anticipating next summer's blockbuster!
Deleted Scenes (24:34) - There are eleven extended or deleted scenes with optional commentary from director Kenneth Branagh. The first is a somewhat corny scene that features Thor and Loki chatting before Thor's ceremony. However, it does show Thor tossing a goblet into a fire, asking for another goblet of wine (which is later repeated when he smashes a coffee cup in a diner) and it also establishes Loki as mischievous. There is also some good character interaction between the brothers that we otherwise don't see in the film. The second scene shows Thor's friends preparing for Thor's ceremony. The next is another pre-ceremony scene between Thor and his mother. These scenes definitely give Thor more humanity than the raging egomaniac the finished film sort of paints him as. The fourth is an extended/alternate version of the scene where Thor flips the banquet table. Next is an alternate/extended sequence when Jane takes Thor to the hospital after discovering him. The film's version is much better, however (1 "H*ll used here). The next scene shows Thor's mother rebuking Odin for banishing Thor. The next scene shows Loki talking to his mother after Odin falls into the Odin Sleep. It also shows Loki being handed Odin's staff to take over as interim king. Next, we get a pretty amusing scene that shows Thor and Erik drinking in the bar and just how hammered Erik gets. It's a good scene, but the way it was cut for the finished film worked better. The ninth segment shows some SHIELD agents spying on Jane, Thor and the others. Thor then asks to have one of their mugs and delivers it to the diner where he previously smashed one. It's a really cool gesture and I kind of wish they'd left that in. Afterwards, we see Thor's team arrive and SHIELD reacting to the signal they received by it. It's a slower, extended sequence of the foursome walking the streets on Earth, and an amusing moment where Volstagg knocks out the SHIELD spies and steals their hamburger (1 "H*ll used here). The tenth is a weird moment where everyone is fleeing the town's diner and Darcy gets a passing car to take her dog to safety. Lastly, an explosion causes a piece of glass to impale Erik's chest. Thor then uses a healing stone to heal him.
Featurette: From Asgard To Earth (19:42) - This is the first of a series of featurettes and an absolutely fantastic and thorough one. It talks about the stylistic design of creating Asgard and Thor, adapting the comics for the film. It then transitions into the actual designing of Asgard, the set building, the costumes, and offers lots of excellent b-roll footage and behind-the-scenes interviews with the director and cast. Finally, we get a wonderful glimpse into how the crew built the little New Mexico town from scratch by converting the western town set used in 3:10 To Yuma into the town they end up blowing up in the film. It's a very entertaining and unique behind-the-scenes featurette. (1 "H*ll used in here)
Featurette: Our Fearless Leader (3:18) is dedicated to director Kenneth Branagh and shows the core cast reflecting on his work and his influence on the film and their performances.
Featurette: Assembling The Troupe (4:44) is a unique look into the casting of Thor, Odin and Jane, primarily. The coolest moment is when the cast reflect on the casting of Anthony Hopkins as Odin and we see parts of an alternate take of his speech to Thor during his banishment where Branagh had asked him to deliver his lines as if his heart was breaking. Chris Hemsworth's recounting of the moment is priceless.
Featurette: Hammer Time (6:14), as you can imagine, is dedicated to the hammer of Thor. Here, they go above and beyond in delving into the film's hammer's design, Hemsworth's interaction with it, testing with it, and the different versions of the prop that were used in the film.
Featurette: Creating Laufey (5:33) - Colm Feore embodied the head Frost Giant, Laufey, and here we hear from Feore and Branagh about the character, as well as from the art department about the character's design. We then see lots of on-set footage as well as Feore in the make-up chair getting the prosthetics applied.
Featurette: Music of the Gods (2:05) is dedicated to composer Patrick Doyle's score for the film. We hear a little from Doyle on his perspective of creating the score.
Featurette: A Conversation (2:23) - This is a real treat as we get to hear a lot more from co-comic book creator Stan Lee than we usually do. We hear him inquiring as to details about the film and it's neat to hear his perspective. We also very briefly hear from comic book writer J. Michael Straczynski, who makes a cameo in the film as the first person who tries to pick up Thor's hammer on earth.
Overall, the special speatures are pretty great and the film is a fun superhero adventure that shouldn't be missed. Branagh's entry into the Marvel universe merely ups the ante for next year's Avengers!
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/12/11)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Aside from seeing Thor without his shirt on in low rise jeans (to which Darcy marvels at), there is none.
4 "h*ll," 1 "a" word, 1 "d*mn," 7 "G-d"
Thor and Erik share drinks in a bar and we see them chugging boiler makers. In the next scene, Thor carries Erik over his shoulder, who's clearly drunk; A group of towns people gather around Thor's hammer which is stuck in the ground and each have their turn at trying to free it. Man of them are seen chugging beers or are even drunk; There may be additional miscellaneous drinking in the movie
Blood/Gore: After a large battle in the film's opening, Odin has a blood around his right eye and blackness where his eye should be. We later see this again in another flashback (For the rest of the movie, he has a patch over his eye); Volstagg has a burn on his forearm after a Frost Giant grabs him there; We see a hole in the back of a creature's head through its mouth agape (it's not gory) after Thor ran through it; Through many of the fights with the Frost Giants, we see quick cuts of ice-form arms being sliced off or even very brief shots of what looks like some decapitations; There is blood on a large spear after it stabs Fandral; Thor has two bloody slices through his shirt and some abrasions on his face after being hit by a monster
Violence: Jane accidentally hits Thor with her van (we see this again later); There is an epic and violent battle in the opening scenes where the people of Asgard fight the Frost Giants; We see a huge metallic monster that shoots fire from its face obliterate a couple Frost Giants; Thor fights a horde of Frost Giants and impales a huge beast. Fandral is run through with a large blade (we see it sticking out his back), but he lives; A man slips into a coma after a heated argument; Jane accidentally backs her vehicle into Thor, knocking him down; Thor throws a large number of hospital workers around as he tries to escape (we then see him in restraints); Thor infiltrates a quarantined location and beats up, throws, and pummels many of those who oppose him; The large metallic monster blows up several SHIELD cars and tears up a small town, incinerating buildings and tossing Thor and his friends around; In a quick shot, it appears that Heimdall decapitates a Frost Giant and stabs another; There is a battle between Thor and the villain that sees the two beating each other up pretty good
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.