REVIEW: THOR: TALES OF ASGARD

CAST (VOICES)

Matthew Wolf (The Fault of Our Stars)
Rick Gomez (Sin City)
Tara Strong (Batman: TAS)
Alistair Abell (Freddy vs Jason)
Paul Dobson (Chappie)
Brent Chapman (Big Eyes)
Chris Biritton (Carrie 2013)
Mark Gibbon (Man of Steel)
Ty Olsson (Battlestar Galactica)

Tales of Asgard takes place well before Thor would become the mighty God of Thunder. His strength is anything but superhuman. He wields no otherworldly powers. This teenager has yet to seize hold of Mjolnir, the mystic hammer that would go on to be the adult Thor’s weapon of choice. There’s nothing vaguely heroic about him at all, really. The Thor we’re introduced to at the outset is a sheltered, arrogant whelp. He’s never stepped foot outside the palace grounds of Asgard. He’s so wrapped up in himself that Thor fails to recognize that the warriors he battles in the arena are letting him win.

His father Odin and brother Loki do their damndest to keep propping up that façade. When Thor with his masterfully crafted, jewel-encrusted sword is effortlessly bested in battle by Sif — a teenaged girl with nothing more than a bucket and a broken pitchfork — his illusions come crumbling down. Thor thirsts for a real adventure, so he and Loki stow themselves away on the flying ship of the Warriors Three. The prize is the legendary sword of the fire giant Surtur…a treasure that countless Asgardians have chased but never been able to unearth. The treasure hunt at first glance seems to go according to plan, but the sword’s dark power proves to be more than Thor can handle, and a war between the Frost Giants and Asgard quickly erupts because of it. Returning the sword should quell those fires, but Thor and his companions are still a world away.

As much as the Star Wars prequels have trained me to wince at the prospect of a “when they were young” story, Thor: Tales of Asgard pulls this off remarkably well. It’s intriguing to see how different these characters are at the outset. Loki would in later years be Thor’s arch-nemesis — responsible for the deaths of untold legions, to blame for the destruction of Asgard — but here he’s easily the more likeable of the two brothers. He’s fiercely protective of his family, genuinely innocent, cautious, and only just now dipping his toes into sorcery. Thor, meanwhile, is an arrogant, impulsive braggart incapable of looking far enough ahead to think about consequences. At least at first, no one would mistake him for a hero. The events of Tales of Asgard nudge both of Odin’s sons towards the directions they’d take later in life, but instead of feeling like a heavy-handed origin story, it’s a really well thought out and very effective chapter from these early years. Both Thor and Loki are believably fleshed-out as characters, and their arcs feel meaningful and wholly earned.

Asimpressed as I am with the way both of them are presented, the Warriors Three completely steal the movie, overflowing with personality and scoring all the best lines. Also putting in appearances here are Odin himself, The Enchantress, a Fenris Wolf, the Dark Elf Algrim, Brunhilde, and the warrior goddess Sif, among many others. As sprawling as the cast is and as dense as the mythology can be, Thor: Tales of Asgard is never overwhelming. The point of it all is to introduce neophytes to the realm of Asgard, and the movie deftly juggles all of these many different elements and with a minimum of exposition to boot.

The pacing is kept nimble with a constant sense of forward momentum too, so things never have a chance to drag. I’m also intrigued by how even-keeled Tales of Asgard is with these characters. There really is no overarching villain. There are characters who do terrible things, of course, be it willfully or out of ignorance, but there are no nefarious, moustache-twirling schemes or anything like that. Everyone is shown as having a sympathetic, justifiable point of view. Its primary interest is in showing the transformative effects of great power, and in keeping with that, the finalé even takes care to define heroism in terms other than people hitting each other. Even better, the movie manages to make these points in the scale of a colossal battle, never at all feeling preachy, heavy-handed, or anticlimactic.

Thor: Tales of Asgard takes a lot of chances, presenting such familiar characters in very unfamiliar ways and veering away from the traditional superhero formulas. I mean, this is a movie where Thor is kind of a prick, can’t fly, lacks any superhuman abilities, has never held his iconic stone hammer, and is the best of friends with a character we’re so used to seeing as his mortal enemy. It’s impressive enough that Tales of Asgard doesn’t play it safe, but also that it pulls all of this off so well.