Taika Waititi is reportedly returning to the MCU for Thor 4 - but there's some key lessons he needs to learn from Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel has never seemed particularly sure what to do with the Thor franchise, and as a result the Thor movies have been some of the most heavily-criticized - and worst-performing - in the MCU. All that changed with Thor: Ragnarok, a slapstick superhero comedy that grossed over $853 million worldwide.
Given that box office performance alone, it's no surprise that Marvel Studios has signed up Waititi for Thor 4. The writer-director has always been open about the fact he's willing to return to the MCU, but he doesn't view this project as another Thor film. "It wouldn't even feel like doing a fourth Thor film," he noted in an interview back in 2017. "It would just feel like doing the second Ragnarok film." In his view, Thor: Ragnarok reinvented the Thor franchise, and he's keen to see that continue.
Thor: Ragnarok may have been a tremendous success for Marvel, but it's important to note that it wasn't a perfect film. In fact, as time has passed, Thor: Ragnarok has become more than a little divisive. Some Marvel fans love the screwball, slapstick comedy, while others feel it was overdone. Given that's the case, while Waititi may want this to feel like a Ragnarok sequel, it's also important he learns some key lessons.
Taika Waititi Needs To Bring Emotion To Thor 4
Thor: Ragnarok is actually something of an unusual film for Taika Waititi. It's true that the movie is full of his trademark humor, but normally the director carefully balances that out with strong pathos, ensuring viewers have an emotional connection to the characters as well. In this case, by his own admission, Waititi didn't want viewers to feel a range of emotional responses; he simply wanted them to laugh. That desire colored a number of the director's creative choices.
Take, for example, the death of Odin. The first trailers for Thor: Ragnarok showed that scene taking place in a New York back-alley, an approach that Waititi describes as a "kind of Fisher King style scenario." But when this scene was played against test audiences, it stirred up too strong an emotional reaction for Waititi's liking. "It was such a bummer," he reflected. "Seeing the great King of Asgard stuck in New York and you feel sorry for him and then he dies, it was almost too much." As a result, the scene was moved to Norway and Odin made into a more sage figure
In part, the issue seems to have been that Waititi himself didn't have an emotional connection to the story of Asgard, and as a result he settled for a superhero comedy. Thor 4 should be far more than that, though. The current MCU Thor is completely cut off from all the themes and ideas Waititi cared so little about. The old supporting cast has been disposed of, meaning Thor 4 can focus on the new group Waititi assembled in Ragnarok; characters like Valkyrie and Korg, rather than Sif and the Warriors Three. Hopefully, these are characters Waititi can connect with on an emotional level, and thus make viewers truly care about in Thor 4.
Don't Let The Comedy Overwhelm Thor 4's Story
Thor: Ragnarok's sense of emotional distance isn't incidental; rather, it's a part of the film's design as a superhero comedy. Almost all the best comedies work by creating this kind of distance between the audience and the characters, giving viewers permission to laugh at things that - if experienced in reality - aren't actually all that funny; that's precisely how they can tackle serious, sensitive and even controversial subjects with ease. Waititi is ordinarily a master of this art, but in the case of Thor: Ragnarok he simply couldn't find the right balance.
The problem is best illustrated by the destruction of Asgard, which realistically should have been one of the most powerful and affecting scenes in the entire MCU. Instead, Waititi threw in a couple of one-liners from Korg that even he admits have "no business being in cinema, let alone in a Thor film." As a result, rather than experience any real sense of loss, audiences are encouraged to laugh as one of the MCU's most iconic locations explodes on the screen. While that can work in the moment, it leaves a key part of the movie's themes undernourished.
It's possible this was a case of teething problems for Waititi as he graduated from What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople to superheroes. If that is the case, then Ragnarok's blockbuster success should ease those concerns. Waititi has proven he can make a popular and successful superhero flick, and now it's just a matter of honing his skills. He doesn't need to disarm every single scene with a gag in order to make sure the film is still funny; rather, he can play the comedy and emotion off against one another, with emotions making the humor funnier, and well-timed jokes adding depth rather than detracting from it.
Thor 4 Has To Build On Past MCU Movies (& Fit The Future)
Thor: Ragnarok was essentially a hard reboot of the entire Thor franchise, for better or for worse. Marvel clearly wasn't happy with the fantastical direction they'd gone in thus far, and they deliberately hired a director who hadn't read the comics and didn't care much for what he'd seen of Thor in the MCU. This was an entirely legitimate creative choice, but it meant Ragnarok sat uncomfortably with the films that came before it. It also didn't fit particularly well with the MCU's overarching direction; the tone and style of Avengers: Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok were jarringly different. Even some of the plot beats weren't exactly complimentary; Thor's realization that he is not the "God of Hammers" led straight into a quest to get a new weapon in Avengers: Infinity War.
Again, though, Waititi is in a far stronger position for Thor 4. He's already done the hard work, relaunching the Thor franchise in a form he's more comfortable with. Furthermore, this time around the MCU won't be building up to its biggest event yet, meaning the director will have plenty of room to maneuver. His one concern will be ensuring that Thor 4 fits well with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but that's something of a known commodity; James Gunn's script was finished long ago. And, in any case, Gunn's own comedic style fits well with Waititi's, meaning he's unlikely to try to alter the new Thor in any major way.
All this means the news of Waititi's return bodes well for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor: Ragnarok should be seen as the writer-director's first attempt at a superhero blockbuster, and while it wasn't perfect, by any measure it was a remarkable success. With just a little self-reflection, Waititi can ensure that Thor 4 is even better.