At first glance, Taika Waititi did not seem to me the man to make a #Marvel film. Not because he isn't incredibly gifted (he is), or because I don't love his movies (I do), but because his films have a uniqueness to them that one doesn't tend to see in a major franchise, never mind the #Marvel Cinematic Universe.
He's already added his stamp to the franchise with his mockumentary-style short film about what Thor was getting up to during the events of Captain America: Civil War, and I started writing this because I was trying to figure out what aspects of himself he'd be able to bring to the full-length event:
If there's one thing that's consistent with Waititi's projects, it's that they are at once both incredibly funny and very sad. Loners and the socially inept manage to create their ragtag misfit families, only to see them torn apart and rebuilt again, and the hilarious moments are born from themes of abandonment, loneliness and death. There's at least one death that influences the events of each movie he makes. So, Thor fits right in that trend.
Waititi's Directorial Style
While being defined as comedy movies, Waititi's films don't tend to get stuck in any genre boxes, which is what allows his stories to break free from any pre-established narrative rules or trends. It's also why it's harder to define him as strictly comedic or dramatic and it's the biggest consistency from project to project — that, and his focus on the mundane. Of course, the mundane reaches from vampire-roomies in New Zealand to a boy running away from the welfare services in the New Zealand bush.
The main discrepancy between his work so far and Marvel may lie is in the intimacy of his stories and characters. While What We Do In The Shadows was the first to be a full-on mockumentary, his other films still feel like windows into very private worlds.
One might think that Waititi be better suited to a Marvel Netflix series, which are chock-full of introspection and societal commentary, rather than MCU's usual loud theatrics and dramatic stakes, in which only a few scenes really focus on the quieter moments of the characters' lives.
On the other hand, the main Marvel universe desperately needs to become more intimate. Particularly throughout its third phase of Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and Thor: The Dark World, its character motivations have been weak and inconsistent, the relationships to lesser or greater extents disconnected, and the plots rushed. Of course, there are exceptions to this, too. Black Panther was gloriously introduced, and Steve and Bucky — while lacking screen time they deserved — were amazing together in every scene. In Thor, the death of Freya was the worst and destroyed me emotionally.
Still, the intimacy of these moments don't compare to to some of my favorite Marvel moments from Phase 2, notably in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3. There was a greater focus on the repercussions of their previous movies — Steve Roger's loneliness and isolation, Tony Stark's PTSD and insomnia, and the dissolution and rebuilding of their various relationships.
What Makes Thor Different Than Other Marvel Properties?
The #Thor movies, while having many great moments and some of my favorite characters, have constantly been very up-and-down in terms of quality and memorability. Thor exists on a tightrope of genres, and has struggled with finding the balance between sci-fi space opera, Shakespearian family feud, and superhero movie, with somewhat unbalanced plots and a less-than-impressive main villain (if one doesn't count Loki as the main antagonist).
Waititi is going to have some new material to work with and thereby be able to wipe some of that slate clean. He is perfectly suited to develop the relationship between Thor and Bruce Banner, as well as giving Valkyrie more to do besides the classically clichéd badass "love interest in boob plates armor that will be the damsel" that I always worry women in the action genre will be relegated to. I am also excited to see what he'll do with the already-established familial drama between Odin, Thor and Loki, and for our rare female villain, Hela.
To what extent Jane and her relationship with Thor will be mentioned remains to be seen. Although I'm disappointed that the last two films never adequately went into the kinds of problems inherent in their relationship, I trust Taika Waititi to not let her be written out as unceremoniously as Pepper Potts was. For all we know, that may be out of his hands.
Waititi's skill lies in his characters, in cutting away the background noise of whatever isn't important for their development, and in making the plot work for them rather than molding them into a pre-established narrative. More than that, he doesn't give a damn about what genre you're expecting of him, and simply lets the story and characters do their work. This means that the things that Marvel has been lacking for a while might return to the frontline of storytelling, along with the explosions and action that we all enjoy and the loosest interpretation of Nordic Mythology you could imagine!
All in all, I'm ready to see how he'll take to the spectacle of Marvel, especially the scale of the Thor universe. With his penchant for making everything he touches personal and surprising, he may be exactly what Marvel needs at this stage.
What do you think Taika Waititi will bring to the next installment in the Thor franchise?
Thor: Ragnarok will be in theaters November 3rd, 2017.