Thor 4K Review: By the Power of Grain-Scrub!

In retrospect, Thor was a bold move after two Iron Man installments and one Hulk. My one and only Marvel set visit occurred during Iron Man 2, and a reporter asked Kevin Feige about Thor. Even as Thor himself was uncast at the time, Feige told us that would be the movie that demonstrated these movies do not take place in the real world, but in the Marvel Universe. Iron Man, up to that point, had included real-world celebrities like Bill O’Reilly as most action movies did to ground them. So Thor begins on Earth just long enough to give the viewer some bearings. Then it’s off to grand cosmic battle with Anthony Hopkins narrating. So now that Disney released a Thor 4K upgrade, how does that battle hold up?

Short answer: Jotunheim, great. Asgard, slightly dated. During the first pull in to Asgard, there are some lighting issues on the rocks which briefly stick out. From there, it fees a touch like watching Batman Forever‘s first Gotham cityscape. Or a good game of Myst. The CG is clearly CG, although the illusion works at the end when the compositing with live actors works seamlessly. And I’ll say this: while Asgard may have mildly dated graphics, it never looked this interesting since. Levitating buildings, architecture that feels ancient and alien, plus giant gold statues. It combines sorcery and sci-fi in production design more than the sequels, which leaned into a more medieval take overall. Emphasizing this, you have Idris Elba playing Heimdall like an actual alien, rather than the more casual hero he becomes.

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Thor: Ragnarok is sometimes called the closest thing to a proper He-Man movie we’ll ever get. So it’s ironic that the original Thor plays like an almost beat-for-beat modern remake of 1987’s Masters of the Universe, starring Dolph Lundgren. (Which in turn was inspired by Jack Kirby’s New Gods, soon to get a movie at WB.) There are more players, but the story remains essentially the same. Nigh-immortal space hero with huge muscles arrives on earth to escape trouble back home, befriends locals, and must protect them from the threat back home before defeating the villain who has taken it over. But while He-Man was perfect from the getgo, Thor has to earn the right to wield his magic weapon and transform into a god with caped armor.

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All of this must be achieved without alienating the large swaths of religious American audiences who could potentially be offended by a story valorizing pagan gods. Marvel wasn’t ready to do mystic yet, so Thor adds throwaway lines about advanced science and longer age spans. Ignorant Earth people once thought them gods, you see, but they really weren’t.

Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, at one time considered the only good Marvel movie villain, emerged fully formed here: he’s charming, he’s shocking, you trust him and then you don’t. Director Kenneth Branagh undoubtedly saw him as Iago, but one with a more legitimate motivation than racism. Though there’s some of that too. Loki’s true nature as a Frost Giant gets progressively minimized each movie and we don’t even mention it now. But it was a huge deal here.

Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, on the other hand, has come a long way. Mercifully, Marvel made the executive decision to nix the King James Bible English, so he talks normally. But as time has passed, and his hair and makeup refined to look more like casual, out-of-makeup Hemsworth, version 1.0 looks weird. The wig and facial her feel bleached and unconvincing, while his forehead looks bee-sting swollen.

Some of this is the upgrade to 4K. The de-graining of certain low-light scenes has a digital facelift effect, and is particularly weird in Asgard scenes meant to simulate the “golden hour” before sunset. Low-light, high-contrast scenes come off worst, especially on Asgard. The sharpness is great if you don’t focus on faces too closely. Heavily CG backgrounds also show their seams more than they used to.

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None of this is a deal-breaker – I’ve always said that CG is a tool like any other, and a CG set is no less “fake” than an obviously stop-motion Ray Harryhausen monster. The latter is granted more leeway for being charming, but that’s not quite fair. As long as the story works, the effects are allowed to age. And if it looks cool enough, it need not look “real.” Just be prepared, if you entered this saga recently, to see that it has done just that. The audio rules, though. Lots of loud magic lightning. In watching the movie next door and trying to hide it from my wife, I had to keep playing with the volume to keep particularly thunderous stuff down.

The scene where Loki visits Thor in his Earth prison has both awkward degraining and a clearly glycerine tear in the corner of Hemsworth’s eye. But if you’re noticing that the most, the movie already blew it. (Grain below from previous version.)

Hemsworth’s abs and chest, however — not fake. I don’t know if they’re the reason Natalie Portman plays things supremely thirsty throughout, but they can’t have hurt. Seriously, pre-Disney, we forget just how horny the MCU heroes were. Tony Stark expressed his desires constantly, and Portman’s Jane Foster doesn’t need to. Her manner sells it completely. Compare either, to, say, Wanda and Vision, who got a romance so chaste that non-comics fans were barely aware it was even happening.

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Here’s how you know Thor works. People talk about the acting in it. They argue whether the debuting Hawkeye has enough to do. Or if Phil Coulson is too much of a jerk. Or whether Jane is hotter than Darcy (Kat Dennings). Nobody bickers about whether the costumes and sets are too silly. Few if any critiques suggested this pushed past Iron Man in the suspension of belief steps. Branagh nailed the tone. And it shows.

None of the extras are new, but it’s worth noting the first Marvel One-Shot, a canonical short featuring Agent Coulson, which explains the post-credits scene of The Incredible Hulk and reveals what happened to Abomination. Unlike Agent Carter and Trevor Slattery, I don’t think it’s leading anywhere.