Reviews

'Thor': A Slice of Lukewarm Asgard Pie

Thor was never the strongest comic book character in my book, but he's weakened in this adaptation that deviates so far from the original story that any possible storytelling nuances are stripped away.


Thor

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Colm Feore
Distributor: Paramount
Release date: 2011-09-13

I have to admit I was never a big fan of Thor and The Avengers in my younger days, preferring The X-Men in the Marvel universe and Batman over in DC Comics, but I thought I'd give this movie a spin. I like the idea of introducing the various members of The Avengers in their own films before bringing them together for an epic movie.

I hope it's better than this one, though. I've heard that Captain America's solo outing was pretty good, but Thor is a lukewarm effort, even with Kenneth Branagh directing. It has the look down pat, right down to the Jack Kirby-inspired design of Asgard, as Branagh points out in the commentary, and it has nice little nods to the broader Marvel universe, like when SHIELD gets involved in the story, but it just feels bland.

I think the major problem is the film's deviation from the comic book character's origin. While I'm not one to demand slavish adherence to established continuity (for example, I didn't see what all the fuss was about Spider-Man's organic web shooters), Thor's 1962 introduction had him placed in the body of a partially disabled medical student, with no memory of his godhood. That setup offers far more opportunities for interesting storytelling than the basic fish-out-of-water plot we have here, in which Thor ends up stranded on Earth and strides around demanding things as if he's still in Asgard. It gets old quickly.

On top of that, Thor spends much of the film unable to wield his hammer, Mjolnir, until he makes the predictable decision that allows him to become the badass god of thunder once more. It's a simple one-note setup and payoff, although I admit the special effects are dazzling, and it's fun to watch Thor swinging his hammer and kicking butt. Chris Hemsworth has fun chewing up the scenery with his over-the-top acting, which is exactly what the role calls for. As you might expect, Branagh gets that part right; I imagine, though, he might have been hamstrung in other areas, since these days big budget superhero films seem to require a kitchen crammed with cooks.

There's also a convenient plot hole late in the second act, one that stuck out like a sore thumb. I couldn't understand why SHIELD lets Thor out of their custody so easily. On top of it, he's able to simply grab one of Jane Foster's things off a table on his way out. Pretty sloppy security by SHIELD, which is a shame because it would have been a lot more interesting if Thor was still in their custody when the bad guys arrived on Earth.

In the end, I think Thor will be a much more interesting character in The Avengers movie. I never found him an exciting comic book character to begin with, and this version of him is weakened, from a storytelling perspective.

Unfortunately, this DVD is a pretty lukewarm effort, too. The Road to The Avengers featurette runs a grand total of three minutes and consists of director Joss Whedon talking about how great it will be, interspersed with some footage of the cast's introduction at Comic-Con. The disc also includes six and 1/2 minutes of deleted scenes, which have optional commentary by Branagh. He doesn't talk over the entirety of each scene, but he does a good job of explaining the scene's intent and why it was cut; I agreed with his reasoning for all four of them.

Branagh also recorded a commentary for the entire film, and he does a solid job with it. He comes across prepared, unlike some commentary participants who seem to show up and just talk about whatever comes to mind. Thankfully, no one else is on the track with him, so he can remain focused on what he has to say without an actor butting in to say something like "Oh, man, that was a tough day of shooting for that scene." I'm not a big fan of group commentaries.

And, yes, Branagh's commentary does include the obligatory post-credits scene. While he doesn't reveal much information, it's nice to hear him pop back in.

That's a pretty meager assortment of extras, unfortunately. I'm sure there was room on the platter for more, especially a piece exploring the comic book character's history, but this is yet another one of those DVDs that gets shafted when compared to the bonus features on the Blu-ray version. I know, I know, it's quickly becoming a Blu world; it just annoys me when the studios hurry up the transition by short-changing the standard-def discs.

5

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