Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DVD Review: Thor (Blu-ray)

When it comes to bringing comic books to the big screen, nobody does it better these days than Marvel.  With the blockbuster performance of Iron Man, Marvel Studios proved that "if you want something done right, you do it yourself."  With strong performances, heavy nods to the comic book faithful, and a strong continuity tying the movies together, all building up to next year's release of big budget, ensemble adaptation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, The Avengers.

A couple of weeks ago, yet another member of the "Avengers Assembled" club made his way to home theaters with the release of Thor on DVD and Blu-ray.  It's officially "Hammer Time" (sorry about that, but I think everyone in the media is contractually obligated to make the M.C. Hammer reference) as Marvel's God of Thunder enters the battlefield.  But is the flick that perfect storm of action and adventure waiting to electrify comic book fans and filmgoers alike?  Or is simply more Hollywood bluster, amounting to little more than a special effects laden tempest in the proverbial teapot?

So what is it that Thor can possible add to the Marvel cinematic formula? Well, both Iron Man movies, The Incredible Hulk, and even Captain America: The First Avenger, for all their action, try to stay fairly grounded.  Those movies still feature good men fighting evil men.  For all their powers and talents, they're still human heroes fighting human threats.  With Thor, we get action on a cosmic scale.  We get to see gods fighting against gods, with not just the fate of one world hanging in the balance, but the fate of multiple worlds.  It's a perfect lead-in to The Avengers ... because if you're going to pull together "Earth's Mightiest Heroes", it's a safe bet that their going to be teaming up to prevent a threat of planetary levels.

For those that missed the movie in theatres, Thor stays fairly true to the comic book origins.  On mythological world of Asgard, Thor proves himself to be a great warrior.  But he's also more than a little full of himself.  After his arrogant actions unintentionally push his people to the brink of war, Thor finds himself exiled from his home ... alone and powerless on Earth.  Meeting with research scientist Jane Foster and her colleagues, Thor is forced to adapt to human life while trying to recover his hammer, Mjolnir, and with it his power and his way back home.  Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Thor's half-brother Loki is following through on a scheme which could change Asgard forever and leave Thor and his newfound friends dead.

The plot may sound overly dramatic, but it's a great fit for the character.  Chris Hemsworth is perfect as Thor, embodying the role flawlessly, while Tom Hiddleston's Loki very nearly steals the show.  It's great to know that both actors will return not only in The Avengers, but in Thor 2 (due out in 2013) as well.  Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, and Joshua Dallas are all over-the-top as the legendary Warriors Three, kept somewhat in line by Jaimie Alexander's Sif.  And Anthony Hopkins' Odin fills the screen with power and authority.  Admittedly, I think Natalie Portman's portrayal as Jane Foster came off a little tepid, especially in comparison to the bold and blustery Asgardians, but it still managed to click.  And for Avengers fans, there's a small, uncredited cameo from Jeremy Renner's Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye) and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury.

One of my favorite things in the recent Marvel flicks has been Clark Gregg's portrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s no nonsense liaison, Special Agent Phil Coulson. Every since Agent Coulson first introduced himself to Tony Stark in the first Iron Man flick trying to set up a meeting with the "Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division", he's been a fan favorite ... and in Thor, Agent Coulson is back in the middle of things.  Best of all for Agent Coulson fans, the Blu-ray also features the first in a planned series of short "Marvel One-Shot" films, featuring Agent Coulson and helping to further bridge the gap between the Marvel movies.  In Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant, Agent Coulson meets up with fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hern√°ndez) to discuss the approval of the Avenger Initiative ... and how to best avoid dealing with a certain big, green menace being demanded for the team (and no, it's not the one you think).  Sure, it's an excuse to reuse clips from previous movies, but it sets things up wonderfully and puts a new spin on how it's all coming together ... all with the dry wit and humor that only Gregg's Agent Coulson can deliver.

Other features on the Blu-ray release of Thor include feature commentary by director Kenneth Branagh, eleven deleted scenes (many of which help to expand on the development of the Asgardians), movie trailers, a short "Road to The Avengers" showing the introductions of The Avengers cast from Comic-Con 2010, and a host of extra behind-the-scenes features showcasing the development of Thor from concept to screen.  While I was disappointed in "Road to The Avengers", as it's little more that a 3 minute hype montage, the other special features (like the 20+ minute "From Asgard to Earth" more than make up for it.  And hey, what Marvel movie would be complete without Stan "The Man" Lee popping up?  Aside from his cameo in the film, Lee manages to work his way into a couple of the bonus features to discuss his thoughts on the film and the character.

If you're any sort of comic book fan, you can't go wrong picking up Thor on Blu-ray.  The movie is true to the comic and features a lot of great little extras for those in the know.  And even if you aren't a comic book fan (or just don't want to admit it in public), the movie has plenty of big action and sentimental moments that should appeal to most audiences.


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