One would think that a simple formula to art and success is give a mainstream topic, a huge budget, and creative freedom to a credited unique artist. This is certainly the path that Marvel took with its most recent film Thor: Ragnarok, by putting New Zealand indie director Taika Waititi in the director’s chair.
Thor: Ragnarok follows the titular character (played by Chris Hemsworth), as he loses control of his homeland to Hella Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) and is banished into a wasteland planet. Thor is subsequently imprisoned and made into a gladiator serving the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor, desperate to claim back his homeland looks for an escape and at the arena bumps into a familiar friend: Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Marvel decided that they wanted to take the Thor franchise into a completely different direction. Previously, the films had had a certain Shakespearean element to them (the first even helmed by famous Shakespearean actor and director Kenneth Brannagh). Waititi brings a completely goofy tone to the film that seemingly almost doesn’t fit. Waititi being a talented director, however, makes it somewhat work; he doesn’t do enough, however, to pull this film out of the Marvel-blockbuster cookie mold.
After two previous Thor films, we still get an immense cast of new characters stuffed into this film, with unoriginal world-building and predictable and redundant gags. I’m a big fan of Waititi’s work (those of you who aren’t check out What We Do in the Shadows and The Hunt for Wilderpeople), and I know that he’s capable of an incredibly original sense of humor, but it felt that when he was just warming up to a rhythm he had to insert an Easter egg, or a fight, or a bloated CGI sequence. The franchise constrained Waitity too much, to the point that if this had been an original film with no lore to be loyal to, it would have been much more effective as comedic entertainment.
But for those who want to sit through this Marvel Cinematic Universe behemoth, there are some highlights that will make this viewing all the more pleasurable. First there is the growing awareness of Chris Hemsworth’s comedy chops, here he is given free reign, then there’s Mark Ruffalo who makes his brief time on screen all the more impactful with a nuanced performance, and Tessa Thompson who plays a new character, and who brings us such a powerful and badass female warrior you would think this movie had come out ten years in the future. There is also the character of Korg, who is a very minor supporting character, but is voiced by Taika Waititi himself, and is easily the best thing in the entire movie, stealing every scene he’s in.
But nevertheless, Marvel hasn’t brought us a game-changer; they still suffer from uninteresting villains (Cate Blanchett overacts here), and from very predictable plots. Once again, Thor: Ragnarok like the recent other Marvel films, is simply another build-up and marketing tool to the ultimate climax in 2018’s The Avengers: Infinity War.