"Thor: Tales of Asgard': I Was a Teenage Thunder God
Thor is a hot property right now, and it’s about freakin’ time if you ask me. He’s been a Marvel Comics heavy-hitter since he was created (well, adapted, from Norse myth) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in the 60s, but he hasn’t seen a whole lot of play outside comics until recently. But now the live action Thor movie is creating a storm in theatres while Thor is a main character on The Super Hero Squad Show and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Previously, the closest he’d come to getting his own DTV was when he co-starred in Hulk Vs. Thor, so the next natural step was to give him his own animated movie.
However, all this recent Thor exposure risks retreading his origin (arrogant prince of the Norse gods sent to Earth to learn humility and becoming a superhero) again and again. But Thor: Tales of Asgard puts a different spin on the character.
The story is set before Thor becomes the hammer-wielding storm god and Avenger we all know and love, thus avoiding the origin story you get in the theatrical live action film. And, let’s face it, anything that happens in that movie is going to steal the, ahem, thunder, from an animated direct-to-video one. Now, Thor may be a superhero, but unlike the others his origin story is the stuff of legends and takes place over the course of centuries. Thor has many adventures on Asgard before arriving on Earth, and Thor: Tales of Asgard is set when Thor is a teenager on the verge of adulthood.
A young Thor, whose only battle experience is fighting fellow warriors in Asgard who won’t defeat Odin’s son, seeks to find the legendary Sword of Surtur in the land of Jotunheim, home of the Frost Giants. Along with his brother, Loki, Thor joins the Warriors Three, and ends up causing an international incident amongst the Asgardians, Frost Giants, and Valkyries.
It’s a solid story, and though Thor is a Marvel hero his world (more than any other Marvel characters’) can certainly stand on its own. It’s a relief that this DTV takes place only in Thor’s corner of the Marvel Universe and doesn’t reference the Avengers or anything else to add some kind of significance. The problem, however, is that while a DTV that takes place solely in Asgard is the perfect venue, the movie ends up failing to do that. As a teenager, Thor doesn’t use any of his thunder powers, isn’t armed with his hammer, and doesn’t display the mighty strength he’s famous for. Likewise, fans who are more familiar with characters like Loki will be disappointed that the hints of the character’s future we know don’t turn into more than just hints. Mjolnir gets a quick appearance, as does the Enchantress, but these things are only Easter Eggs
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a prequel movie per-se, but I felt like it was giving us only about a third of Thor’s journey. He goes through a character arc, but it’s missing the myth. We don’t get to see what directly leads into Thor being sent to Earth to learn humility. Rather than an actual prequel to anything, it’s just an adventure about a young Thor. This movie could’ve been compressed into a backstory that adds depth to the character and his world rather than stand alone as its own independent adventure.
Taken on its own, though, Thor: Tales of Asgard does offer a great deal of entertainment. The movie looks very impressive, from the various mythical realms to the use of magic to the colorful bar patrons. I particularly like the way the Warriors Three travel through space aboard a Viking ship. The Frost Giant kingdom serves as an interesting parallel to the kingdom of Odin. I enjoyed the portrayal of Sif, but the Valkryie society didn’t work particularly well. The Valkyries are pretty much the textbook definition of “Amazon stereotype”, right down to the aggression and hostility towards men.
Although the set pieces are great, the character designs are a mixed bag. The personalities of Thor, Loki, and the Warriors Three come right through in their facial expressions and movements. The Frost Giants and Algrim also look sufficiently fantastical. Odin, however, feels a bit too generic as an old guy with white beard. (He even has both his eyes.) There’s also nothing particularly standout about the other Asgardian or Valkyrie warriors. The animation itself is nice, and the action scenes are fluid and move well. The music is a real treat: I’m hardly the authority on Viking sounds, but I got a genuine Old World feel from the music. The theme over the end credits in particular is great to listen to.
Included in the release are two audio commentary tracks as well as “Worthy: The Making of Thor: Tales of Asgard”, a featurette that explains the history of Thor in Marvel Comics and the approach to creating the DTV, including animation style and score. Also included is “Thor The Mighty”, “The Siege of Asgard”, “My Brother My Enemy”, and “The Isle of Silence”, the micro episodes of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that shows what Thor was doing before he joined the team.