Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok is proving to be very divisive among MCU viewers - and a recent interview with the director himself has explained why. When the movie was first released last year, it was highly praised. Early reviews complimented the film on its crowd-pleasing humor, its glorious sense of irreverence, and its impressive energy. It was swiftly certified "fresh" on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, with 98 percent of initial reviewers giving a positive review. Although many critics pointed out that Thor: Ragnarok was far from perfect, they almost all enjoyed watching it.
The social media conversation, however, has been far more interesting. Initial reactions to the film were very much uncritical, with viewers focusing on the things they'd loved - most notably the humor and use of "Immigrant Song" in a stunning action sequence. While some audiences expressed criticism, these appeared to be in a minority. As the months have passed, though, that's changed. Some of the movie's fans remain as uncritical as ever, but there's a groundswell of deeper analysis that seems to be building force. It now looks as though Thor: Ragnarok was a lot more divisive than it first seemed; it's just those who disliked the movie, or indeed were ambivalent about it, were initially quiet about their opinions.
Director Taika Waititi recently conducted an interview with The Empire Film Podcast, in which he discussed many aspects of the production - from the humor to the themes, from its MCU links to how he handled emotions as part of the narrative. Using Waititi's own comments, we're going to focus in on just why the director's choices made Thor: Ragnarok quite so distinctive - and controversial.
None of this is to claim anybody's wrong about Thor: Ragnarok, more a look at why, almost a year alter, what at first seems like a knockabout comedy is still being debated.
- This Page: These Aren't the Characters We Know and Love
- Page 2: Ragnarok Distances Itself From The MCU
- Page 3: A (Deliberate) Lack of Emotional Impact
These Aren't The Characters of the Comics - Or Even the MCU
Marvel films are generally viewed as "comic book movies," but in truth that's not quite the case. Even the most comic-book-accurate of films tend to rewrite their source material, simply because what works well in one medium won't translate effectively to another. Still, the fact remains that many of the key figures in Marvel grew up reading the original comics, and directing these films is a childhood dream come true. You only have to look to Scott Derrickson, whose love for Doctor Strange leads to him teasing announcements with images from the classic comics.
Taika Waititi, however, is no lover of the comics. In fact, he didn't even bother reading them after getting the job. As he explained:
"Here’s the thing about me guys, I did not really do my research. I read one issue of Thor as my research. Not even a graphic novel, one of the thin, thin ones. And by the end of it I was like, well we’re not doing that, let’s not really look at those anymore. Cool art, I love the art but I can’t stand the way everyone talks."
Now, it's important to stress that this is a legitimate creative choice. The first two Thor films had attempted to stay relatively true to the style and tone of the comics, and they hadn't been particularly successful. Waititi had been brought on board to try something new, and Marvel backed him 100 percent on that. But this creative choice nevertheless alienates people who loved the Ragnarok arc in the comics, or even the popular Planet Hulk storyline that was incorporated into the movie.
Surprisingly, though, Waititi is quite open about the fact that he wasn't really interested in how Thor and the Hulk had been portrayed in the movies before either. He apparently found it impossible to empathize with them:
"When you look at comic book characters we don’t have anything in common with them, especially not with this rich kid space Viking or this bipolar, angry green beast. So you’ve got to bring them into situations that all of us have been in, we’ve all been annoyed about our behavior and felt guilt about that."
This statement is actually pretty remarkable. The Hulk, in particular, is quite an important figure in that he's commonly used by child counselors. Children who feel misunderstood, who struggle to handle anxiety and rage, often find themselves able to empathize with the Hulk. That's been the case for decades, well before the Hulk was adapted for the big screen. And yet, Waititi couldn't see it; he couldn't feel any connection to the characters. "I always thought that Banner was super boring in the other movies, just a boring, whinging, nerd," he observed. "In this one at least he had some dimensions."
That's why the characters feel unrecognizable when compared to the comics or even previous MCU movies. Waititi wasn't interested in them, and redesigned them from the ground up. For some viewers, he gave us the best versions we've ever seen of these heroes. For others, he misinterpreted them.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Untitled Avengers Movie (2019) release date: May 03, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019