The director of Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok thinks he knows what superhero movies have gotten wrong, and he didn’t even need his supporting role in DC’s Green Lantern flop to realize it. It’s just one more strange Hollywood coincidence that after nabbing a part as Ryan Reynolds’s best friend in the ill-fated Green Lantern movie, Taika Waititi would return to his indie roots to find critical acclaim. Acclaim that, just a few years later, would see him leading Ragnarok, another technicolor adventure following Marvel’s resident cosmic defender.
Ancient evils may be common when you’re talking about superhero movies, and while Thor‘s movie series may need a refresh, the similarities between Thor and Green Lantern are coincidental. But that doesn’t mean Waititi hasn’t taken several lessons from his front row seat to big budget, studio-driven blockbusters. When we spoke with the director on the set of Ragnarok, it was hard to resist inquiring about his own brush with costumed superheroes.
Waititi, like most members of Green Lantern‘s cast since its release, has been honest about his thoughts on the film’s disappointing reception. Without throwing any of his colleagues under the bus, the Ragnarok director did suggest what may be the cause of underwhelming superhero films. Especially when the demands of the hero, the film, the story, and the studio make it harder for directors to do what they do best:
I mean, when I was in [Green Lantern] I was just determined to try and do a good job with the job I was doing there. I spent a long time just sitting around on set, as you do, and so I’d watch a lot of how Martin [Campbell] would run things. And he’s a great– he runs a set very, very well, and very efficient. But again, very different to the way I do things, and I think I probably learned more watching a lot of other super hero movies, and a lot of big studio films, you know. I started realizing, ‘Oh I think I know what’s going wrong with these films.’
Having witnessed even a brief glimpse of Waititi’s direction style, it’s easy to see how he and Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) might differ. Aside from the fact that most scenes in Thor: Ragnarok were improvised to some degree, his tendency to play music to set the tone on set, change outfits throughout the day, and leap in to physically act beside his stars demonstrates that “running a set well” can mean almost anything – even on a studio film with a colossal budget.
However, those hoping that Taika Waititi would embrace the vitriolic, venomous ‘DC vs. Marvel’ war will be disappointed. The biggest lesson he took from Hal Jordan’s film debut was the same one he learned from most other films that find trouble:
Usually it comes down to story, and the fact that they… I don’t know. I don’t want to speak out too much [laughs]. But story is still king in my mind, and we worked a lot on the script. We stopped for an hour to just keep working a scene to make sure we got it right, and to make sure that it made sense. There’s one way you can do it, [which] is just bust on through and try and make your day, and you get stuff in the can, but it’s basically worthless when you come to edit.
So we just want to take the time to make sure we get stuff right. And all these actors are great at that. Chris [Hemsworth] especially is very smart and very savvy when it comes to story. I think he’s learned on a lot of the films he’s done, you’ve got to discuss it and make sure you get it right the first time. So we spend a long time doing that.
Everyone hopes that Ragnarok can avoid the pitfalls of Green Lantern and other ill-fated superhero start-ups, especially since the trailers show Ragnarok really is Marvel’s craziest movie yet. For his part, star Ryan Reynolds echoed Waititi’s assessment of his first DC movie. Even from the spotlight, Ryan Reynolds knew why Green Lantern failed, viewing it as another victim of the Hollywood rush to get “poster first, release date second, script last.”
Clearly, that’s a mistake Thor: Ragnarok won’t be making. And for the record, Ragnarok‘s posters didn’t take a hit, either.
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