Thor Review
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Summer is a time for big-budget blockbusters—for superheroes and warriors and blowing stuff up. It is not, on the other hand, a time for Shakespeare. That comes later in the year—in the fall, when studios are gearing up for another award season. For that reason, the announcement that Thor, the latest in Marvel’s Avengers adventures, would be directed by Kenneth Branagh, a serious thespian with a solidly Shakespearian background, was met with skepticism and flat-out confusion. But only a director with Shakespearian sensibilities could give Thor such epic battles and grand, mythical drama.

Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor, the vain and arrogant heir to the throne of Asgard. After he defies his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and upsets the precarious truce between Asgard and their rivals, the Frost Giants, Thor is stripped of his power and banished to Earth.

  
 
After landing in the New Mexican desert, Thor is discovered by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist who’s fascinated by the mysterious man and his strange stories. Against the advice of her colleague, Erik (Stellan Skarsgård), Jane tries to help Thor return to Asgard. But while Thor is searching for his magical hammer, his mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is stirring up trouble back home.

The story of an arrogant warrior who’s forced to learn a lesson in humility is age-old—and Thor has plenty of fittingly classic, dramatic touches. At times, in fact, it almost feels like one of the Shakespearian histories that Branagh knows so well. It’s grand and epic, with castles and princes and thrilling battles. But it’s also a strange but fascinating blend of classical mythology and comic book fantasy, with just the right touches of action, humor, and even romance.

Branagh is clearly in his element for the Asgard scenes. Visually and thematically, they’re imposing and extravagant—and the tension and drama would make the Bard himself proud. On Earth, though, it’s a completely different film: a sci-fi comic book adventure. There, Thor is completely out of place—and his strange behavior provides plenty of awkward comic relief. The scenes on Earth are significantly lighter—and, in comparison, they often feel pretty cheesy. But the two balance each other out relatively well.

Meanwhile, whether he’s in the majestic realm of Asgard or the unfamiliar desert of New Mexico, Hemsworth’s Thor makes an irresistibly charming hero. Even when he’s behaving badly—defying his father and stirring up wars—you just can’t hate him. He’s tough and vain and more than a little impulsive, but there’s a playful gleam in his eye that will make you understand why his friends will do anything for him (and why his brother is jealous of him). And as he grows and matures throughout the film, you’ll love him even more.

Thor is just about everything you’d want from a summer superhero epic. It’s bold and action-packed, and it’s a little bit silly, too. With some help from his talented cast, Branagh mixes the grandiose with the lovably hokey to make Thor a (mostly) heavenly addition to the Avengers anthology.


Blu-ray Review:
The Thor Blu-ray release brings the action and drama of Branagh’s superhero epic to the small screen—along with a handful of extras.

The special features menu includes seven making-of featurettes, covering everything from the production design to the cast. Even Thor’s hammer gets its own six-minute feature. Avengers fans, meanwhile, will want to check out the Avengers-themed extras—like Road to the Avengers, a short teaser for 2012’s The Avengers. Though it’s mostly clips from previous Avengers films and some cast shots from 2010’s Comic-Con, you’ll find some original footage in Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant, a short but entertaining scene involving Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark.

The disc also includes some of the old standbys—like 11 deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary, trailers, and an easy-going commentary with director Kenneth Branagh (though most people call him Ken—so, if you feel the need to talk to him during the commentary, he gives you permission to call him that, too). Branagh gives a perfectly natural commentary on the inspiration, the story, and the filmmaking process, making it an enjoyable extra.

All of the special features add a little bit of something to the Thor experience—but I recommend starting with From Asgard to Earth, a 19-minute overview of the sets, costumes, and more. And, for a brief glimpse of Stan Lee, check out A Conversation.

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