Only one big-budget theatrical release is making its way to home video this week, most likely because the Blu-ray debut of “Star Wars” is grabbing most of the media attention.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
From a distance, Kenneth Branagh seems an odd choice to direct a large-scale superhero drama. He is, after all, best known for film adaptations of classical works, including several plays by William Shakespeare.
Look closer, however, and Branagh’s association with “Thor” makes sense. Although it has the trappings of a blockbuster action movie, “Thor” is also a drama of Shakespearean proportion. For starters, many of the characters – including Thor himself – were lifted straight from Norse mythology. What’s more, the movie boasts the type of juicy story arcs that Shakespeare built his reputation on.
As presented in Branagh’s film, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a benevolent-yet-arrogant prince living in the mystical kingdom of Asgard. His aging father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is preparing to make Thor king of the realm when Asgard is attacked. Angered, Thor goes against his father’s wishes and confronts the enemy. When his father learns of the betrayal, he strips Thor of his considerable Asgardian power and banishes him to Earth.
With this, the stage is set for the tale of a fallen hero who must find humility in order to once again rise to greatness. If that’s not the stuff of classic literature, I don’t know what is. Branagh does not, however, overdo the classical angle. He understands that many of the movie’s fans are expecting a comic book adventure, and he delivers. Although the story is centered on Thor’s road to redemption, it contains a number of story threads, including one that plops a ridiculously large and dangerous killing machine into the middle of a small American town.
Hemsworth, an Australian television actor who’s relatively new to feature films, does an outstanding job in the title role. His version of Thor is heroic, cocky and even a little vulnerable, especially when dealing with human astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The fact that Hemsworth gives the character multiple dimensions sets “Thor” apart from countless genre films that rely more on flash and action than characterization.
That’s not to say “Thor” is dull. Branagh does a fine job balancing character development with truly impressive action sequences. In doing so, he’s produced a superhero film that is both entertaining and surprisingly smart.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a three-disc combo pack featuring Blu-ray 3D, standard Blu-ray, standard DVD and digital copies of the feature. Extras vary, but every release has deleted scenes and a commentary by Branagh.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Star Wars” – The Complete Saga: Writer-director George Lucas’ first “Star Wars” film is nearly 35 years old, but the science-fiction world he created is still immensely popular. For the first time, all of Lucas’ “Star Wars” movies are being released on high-definition Blu-ray. The films – “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” – will be available Sept. 16 as part of a comprehensive, nine-disc set. Along with the movies themselves, the new collection promises more than 40 hours of extra features including some never-before-seen content.
“Incendies”: Canadian drama nominated for best foreign language film at the 2011 Academy Awards. The movie, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, focuses on twin siblings who discover long-hidden family secrets after their mother passes away.
“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”: Documentary chronicling the much-publicized comedy tour that O’Brien embarked on after leaving his job as host of “The Tonight Show.” Directed by Rodman Flender.
“Hesher”: Drama about an oddball pyromaniac (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who takes up residence in the home of a grieving man (Rainn Wilson) and his son (Devon Brochu). Co-written and directed by Spencer Susser.
“Citizen Kane”: “Star Wars” is getting the hype, but Orson Welles’ unquestioned classic about the life of a powerful media mogul is also making its Blu-ray debut this week. The movie, which Welles directed and stars in, won an Oscar for best original screenplay in 1942 and was named the best American movie of all time by the American Film Institute.
“Glee” – The Complete Second Season: This musical TV series about students in a high school choir has become a phenomenon, and this release makes all 22 episodes of season two available. Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Dianna Agron, Mark Salling and Matthew Morrison star.
“Camelot” – The Complete First Season: This Starz original series offers a reimagining of the King Arthur legend, and it focuses on the time immediately after Arthur gained his crown. Joseph Fiennes, Jamie Campbell Bower and Eva Green star.
“Spartacus – Gods of the Arena”: Six-episode Starz miniseries that served as a prequel to the show “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.” John Hannah, Peter Mensah, Dustin Clare and Lucy Lawless star.
“Blue Mountain State” – Season Two: Thirteen episodes from the Spike TV series about a poorly mannered college football team. Darin Brooks, Alan Ritchson, Frankie Shaw and Page Kennedy star.
“Wishful Drinking”: HBO adaptation of Carrie Fisher’s one-woman play about her life in the Hollywood spotlight.
“Supernatural” – The Complete Sixth Season: Twenty-two episodes of the continuing drama about brothers Sam and Dean Winchester who spend their days hunting demons and other dangerous creatures.
“Thor & Loki – Blood Brothers”: With the “Thor” feature film coming to home video, Shout! Factory decided it was an ideal time to deliver this motion comic about the God of Thunder and his mischievous brother. The story and visuals were adapted from the graphic novel by Robert Rodi and Esad Ribic.
“Mystery Science Theater 3000 – Manos the Hands of Fate”: The Mystery Science Theater crew poke fun at “Manos,” a film widely considered to be one of the worst of all time.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.