Superhero Sundays: Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011)
Matthew Turner | On 28, Jul 2019Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Sam Liu
Cast: Matthew Wolf, Rick Gomez, Tara Strong, Alistair Abell, Paul Dobson, Brent Chapman, Chris Britton, Ron Halder, Cathy Weseluck. Michael Dobson , John Novak
Watch Thor Tales of Asgard online in the UK: Netflix UK / Amazon Prime / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Thor: Tales of Asgard is the eighth and last of the direct-to-video animated features produced by Marvel Studios and Lionsgate. Produced in 2009, it wasn’t released until 2011, 11 days after the release of the first live-action Thor movie. However, anyone looking for crossover elements in terms of characterisation is likely to be disappointed – although later Marvel cartoons (notably Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) followed Chris Hemsworth’s and Tom Hiddleston’s leads with Thor and Loki, this is very much its own thing, with the result that both characters are a little blander than audiences might expect.
The story takes place well before Thor becomes worthy of wielding Mjolnir (spoiler alert for Mjolnir fans: its appearance is limited to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo). Indeed, as the plot begins, Thor (voiced by Matthew Wolf, reprising his role from Hulk Vs.), the future Thunder God is little more than an entitled brat, unaware that his father’s guards have been ordered to lose to him in their weekly battles in a public arena. When he discovers the truth, Thor is desperate to prove himself, so he and his brother Loki (Rick Gomez) stow away aboard the Thunder Runner, aiming to join the Warriors Three – Hogun (Paul Dobson), Fandral (Alistair Abell) and Volstagg (Brent Chapman) – on a quest to find the Sword of Surtur in the Frost Giant kingdom of Jotunheim.
However, what begins as a simple treasure hunt quickly turns into a high-stakes struggle, as Thor inadvertently causes war to be declared on Asgard. Seeking help from Sif (Tara Strong) and the Valkyries, Thor realises that he has to accept responsibility for his actions and prove himself worthy of his destiny.
The cover art for Tales of Asgard has grown-up Thor all over it, so you could be forgiven for expecting a proper Thor adventure. However, although its teenage focus is initially quite annoying, the film quickly settles down and becomes an entertaining adventure in its own right. There’s also an added layer of interest in the way the film depicts the relationship between Thor and Loki – you’re constantly expecting Loki (and the Enchantress, who also has a brief cameo) to be scheming against Thor, but Loki is fiercely loyal, perhaps because he doesn’t yet know he is only Thor’s half-brother (the fact that he’s actually half-Frost Giant is cleverly hinted at, but never stated).
Similarly, there are plenty of fun moments for those familiar with Thor’s future, whether from the comics, the cartoons or the movies. The best and most obvious of these involves Loki handing Thor a wooden mallet (“Try this – better than nothing”) during a bar fight and Thor’s surprised reaction to just how well it works out.
Plot-wise, the film is consistently engaging, and the way the film suddenly becomes much more serious is nicely handled, with a satisfying conclusion. It also has a twist you’ll probably see coming if you’ve seen the live-action Thor movies, but it’s a good one all the same.
The voice work is fine throughout. Wolf and Gomez are a little bland compared to other versions of their characters, but Wolf does subtly alter his performance as the stakes get higher. The supporting characters are a lot more fun, with the ever-reliable Tara Strong and Ron Halder (as Odin’s advisor, Algrim) the stand-outs. Sif, in particular, is a total badass in the film (she gets the traditional hero-landing-ready-for-battle shot and everything), which only serves as a reminder of how poorly the movies have used the character so far.
As for the animation, it’s fairly basic, even compared to the other Marvel animated features, and there’s not a lot of imagination or detail in the depiction of Asgard or Jotunheim. That said, the battle sequences are very enjoyable – it’s hard not to like a film that has its heroes battling a giant polar bear. In addition, the climactic battle is extremely stylish, taking place in darkness, with the only light coming from the Sword of Surtur and Odin’s spear, Gungnir. There’s also a lovely touch with a shot where you see several images of Odin’s face, which seems like a nod towards original Thor artist Jack Kirby.
The film’s biggest problem is that it has quite a few dodgy bits – it’s very sexist in places (looking at you, Fandral) and has a few too many innuendos and ill-advised word choices. It even has a suggestive bit with Valkyries, which comes out of nowhere and seems out of place.
Ultimately, this is an entertaining adventure story that presents an interesting teen-aged take on the character, as well as adding an extra layer of tragedy to the eventual Thor and Loki relationship. Worth seeing.
Thor: Tales of Asgard is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.