Thor: Ragnarok would be much better if it wasn’t a Thor movie. It’s not that I don’t like Chris Hemsworth or Tom Hiddleston but I just keep thinking how much better the movie would be if it was Chris Hemsworth as some sort of uber strong spaceman, and Tom Hiddleston as a con artist space man. The movie is limited by its source material and ultimately doesn’t grow to become what it could very well be. Given the fact that it is a movie featuring a major character in the Marvel universe, I think this is to be expected and I feel like this is going to be indicative of how Disney treats it’s important figures in the Marvel Universe going forward.
There’s two categories of Marvel movies, the massive straightforward ones made to “advance the universe” and the smaller (but still huge) ones that usually feature lesser known characters and allow directors to have more freedom and get weird with it. The first category started with Iron Man 2 and consists of what’s considered the tentpoles of the universe. The second category started with Iron Man but then disappeared until 2014 when Guardians of the Galaxy came out. This second category is where the good and most compelling movies of the Marvel Universe exist. Because the characters in this category aren’t as important to the overall advancement of the universe or even well known to the general public, there’s a lot more freedom in these movies, there’s a lot more of the director or script in these movies. On the tentpole franchises Marvel, I feel, has much more control and say over what happens or doesn’t happen and because of this the director doesn’t have much of a voice. Think for example of Iron Man 3. Shane Black directed Iron Man 3 and while it’s a perfectly good movie I don’t think ANYONE can compare this movie to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Nice Guys and think they’re from the same guy. Directors of the big Marvel movies tend to get swallowed up by the Disney money churning process and the movie loses any and all “flavor” from that director.
Thor is very important to Disney. It was the first post Iron Man Marvel movie. There was a Thor movie before there was a Captain America one! Thor movies introduced the world to the infinity stones and Loki continues to be the only “villain” in the entire universe with any legs yet it’s the easily the lamest of all the Marvel franchises. Enter Taika Waititi. Taika Waititi had just written and directed Hunt for the Wilderpeople which is a fantastic movie. It’s full of heart and laughs. The comedy in the movie happens in small moments between the film’s protagonists, an overweight teenage boy and a grumpy old bushman. There’s a great chemistry between the two and many of the lines were improvised. Waiti believes the script is more of an outline or map to where you have to get to from one scene to the next but the internal specifics and dialogue aren’t as important to him. He’ll reshoot over and over allowing the actors to explore something and actually listen to each other. This is why Disney hired the guy and this is what he tried to do as much as possible in Thor:Ragnarok but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
What I mean is, at the end of the day it’s still a superhero movie where the super hero can never ever ever lose. Worse yet it’s featuring a superhero who is also a God and literally the strongest superhero in the universe. A guy who usually speaks in shakespearean english and who is about as straight man as you can get. The conflict is that Chris Hemsworth is not that. He’s a super charismatic guy with great comedic timing as evidenced by last year’s Ghostbusters. I guess Disney deserves some credit for allowing Waititi to let Chris Hemsworth come alive but the issue I have with the movie isn’t the little parts. It isn’t the dialogue or improvisation that occurs in the scene. My problem is with the big points of the story. The “Disney mandated” parts of the script that while Waititi was out there making a movie his way since it wasn’t HIS script he didn’t care enough to really challenge. The Hulk/Thor fight we’ve already seen in the first Avengers movie. The best part about it was the improvised line of “I know him from work” but the fight itself was ground we’d tread before. Once again Thor is trying to get back to Asgard and doesn’t have his Hammer to trust on just like in Thor 1. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is great when we first see her especially when she breaks Mjolnir but then does nothing else except shoot swords (and reveal that the Infinity Gauntlet in Asgard is a fake, but that’s more for the nerds). Thor goes on pretty much the exact same journey as before except instead of getting a weak human woman to help him he gets a badass Valkyrie to help him. He even has a mad scientist buddy around again.
Disney has given us the same movie as before except allowed a good director to play around in the “in between” parts of the big story and it’s being hailed as a major success. What’s most interesting to me is that Taika Waititi would take on this project especially because in ‘The Big Picture’, which is a movie podcast with The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey, when Sean brings up that he thought Waititi would have made ‘a Will Ferrel comedy or something like that’ Waititi says that he always felt that any director could make one of those. He says he can’t even tell who the director of those types of movies are and it’s hard to ‘imprint yourself’ on it. I’m not entirely sure he’s achieved to not be swallowed up by the Disney Marvel machine in this one, but as long as someone who has that fear was able to look past that and make a Marvel movie maybe that’s good for Disney? Perhaps Disney has stumbled upon a winning formula to revitalize its staler franchises and give a preemptive strike to superhero movie fatigue. Not every movie can be Guardians of the Galaxy, but maybe every movie can be just genuine enough to make us forget we’ve been there before? Certainly seemed to work for Thor: Ragnarok.
Also, Where’s Sif?!