When I saw the trailer for Valhalla: Legend of Thor (2019) I have to admit, I got excited. It looked fresh and new and was based on Norse mythology. Then I read the comments underneath which seemed to be divided between angry Marvel fans that thought it was somehow ripping the MCU off, and people of a specific political affiliation that get annoyed by the circumstance of someone’s birth. Or maybe those were the ones that I focused in on, and the other was okay. Either way, the whole thing left me feeling very depressed and just in the right headspace to sit down and watch Valhalla since now there was no way I could feel cheated by it.
Technically, Valhalla is a remake of a cartoon of the same name from 1986, which is, in turn, based on the comics by cartoonist Peter Madsen. I don’t mean new adaption; I mean a live-action remake of a cartoon.
Comic adaption or not, it draws on Norse mythology. Somewhere on Midgard, brother and sister Tjalfe (Saxo Molthke-Leth) and Røskva (Cecilia Loffredo) go about their somewhat dreary lives on their family farm until they are visited by the gods’ Thor (Roland Møller) and Loki (Dulfi Al-Jabouri). Due to an unfortunate incident involving Loki, Tjalfe, and one of Thor’s magic goats, the children go to Valhalla to serve their debt to the gods. Working alongside the jötunn boy Quark (Reza Forghani), it becomes clear to Røskva that all is not well among the gods. Fenrir, the wolf, has escaped his bonds and the other jötunn giants, led by Utgard-Loki (Uffe Lorentzen) prepare to strike and unleash Ragnarök. It’s up to Røskva to unite the gods and stop the end of the world.
That recap had a lot more umlaut’s that I thought it would have.
It wasn’t until I got the press release that I realised that Valhalla was based on Madsen’s comics which are light-hearted, tongue in cheek, affairs. Similar to the Asterix and Obelix franchise in that regard and the 1986 film was a colourful family amination.
Valhalla is definitely not trying to be a light-hearted affair. It feels like it’s trying to be an Eighties Fantasy Movie. The one’s that had headless witches chase after little girls, Nothing would destroy all you love, and David Bowie’s crotch ruled all. Yet despite a taking a sharp turn onto Grimdark Boulevard, Valhalla falls flat in capturing the same feeling of the films it’s trying to emulate. If anything, the dark-fantasy is purely in aesthetics; there is no building of tension or threat. You don’t feel like these characters are at any point in any real peril or that they make some great, personal scarifies to continue. There is little in the way of a character arc for any of them. There is no chemistry between any of them like they never met before the camera started rolling.
The fiery personalities of the Æsir gods and other characters from Norse mythology are watered down until they’re 2D cut-outs. Is this how they are in the comic? Couldn’t tell you, but if you’re getting bored watching Loki and Thor, in any portrayal, you need to start asking some serious questions.
Ignoring the comics and looking at the mythology, there is enough of it to confuse someone who hasn’t read the Poetic Edda, and not enough to annoy someone who has. Little touches like Mímir’s head while a subtle slight nod to mythology, means little to someone who doesn’t understand it while other important stuff is changed.
They drag the polt out in piecemeal throughout the film. There is no sudden twisted; it’s more a series of revelation after revelation. We don’t find out what’s important until after it’s happened and we’ve moved on to the next scene, leaving us wondering if it will ever come back, like a taxi that’s driven away with holiday luggage in it.
Where Valhalla does stand out is with the visual style. I said earlier that they’ve gone with the Grimdark, but there is also a dreamlike quality to it. It feels like you’re watching something through a light mist of tears, perhaps superimposing the same visuals on top of one another to give it that twist of the uncanny. They’ve designed the set pieces to feel old, vast, and otherworldly, while the CGI is used to enhancement most of the time, instead of filler.
I suppose you could say that being unfamiliar with the comic, I wouldn’t know what was happing. But ask yourselves this, how many of you were familiar with the source material of every adaption you’ve seen? If, for example, Fellowship of the Ring (2001) wasn’t a good film, would reading everything from The Silmarillion onwards have improved it?
I really wanted to enjoy Valhalla, I really did. I was excited to get the chance to review it, and now I feel cheated. Maybe I should watch the 1986 cartoon, see if it was any better.
Dir: Fenar Ahmad
Scr: Fenar Ahmad, Adam August
Cast: Cecilia Loffredo, Saxo Molthke-Leth, Roland Møller, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Reza Forghani
Prd: Jacob Jarek
DOP: Kasper Tuxen
Run time: 105 minutes
Signature Entertainment presents Valhalla: Legend of Thoron DVD & Digital HD from June 29th