Why The Fall of Asgard Lacked Emotional Impact
Now let's focus in on a particular scene that has caused controversy; the destruction of Asgard. It's a strange moment, one that feels emotionally mismatched; you're literally watching Thor's home explode before your eyes, and instead of feel grief, you're encouraged to laugh at Korg. Even Waititi admits that this particular joke is one that has "no business being in cinema, let alone in a Thor film." It should be, he confesses, the most poignant, emotional and dramatic moment in the entire movie. Korg's dialogue undermines the scene's entire impact, in quite an incredible way.
Waititi's interview makes it clear why he did that. The reality is that he, as the film's director, simply didn't care for Asgard; he had no emotional stakes in the scene himself, and he didn't see why he should try to encourage the viewers to have them either. As he explained:
"I wasn’t really that keen on what Asgard looks like. Seems like quite a privileged place to live. It’s completely made of gold, it’s just full of nerds and scholars. Doesn’t seem like a party town, doesn’t seem like my kind of party town. Seems like a lot of people wandering around in robes holding books and talking about lofty ideas. Which is fine, but I don’t want to live on an entire world like that. I’d like to at least think there’s some Asgardian nightclubs but I’ve never seen any in any of the movies. It’s too gilded, it’s too sparkly."
Your reaction to the Korg scene, which Waititi seems rather proud of, will likely vary depending on two factors. The first is whether or not you actually cared about Asgard in the first place; if you did, there's a good chance you'll view Korg's dialogue as irritating. The second is whether or not you feel Waititi's subversion of the typical dramatic structure works in this particular instance.
A Lack of Emotion and a Focus on Humor
While we've focused in on one specific controversial example, the truth is that the whole film is strongly influenced by Taika Waititi's trademark humor. 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 just something about having him there and then dying which definitely made audiences, test screenings, feel too sorry for him, it was such a bummer. 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."
So the setting was changed, purely because Waititi didn't want viewers to be reacting to his film with complex emotions. Instead, he wanted them to laugh. Again, this is a driven creative decision with clear purpose and effect; but it's nevertheless a controversial one. It points to why so few of the actors really focus on emoting in the film, and why Thor barely pauses to grieve even though he's lost so much. In Waititi's view, it's all about the humor, and the jokes "happen hard and fast but at the right moment."
Strangely, the interview with Waititi also suggests some of his creative choices with the gags were more questionable too. For example, it seems he originally planned to do a scene on the Rainbow Bridge that was a callback to the first Avengers film. All the heroes were stood on the Rainbow Bridge, side by side, with Loki next to the Hulk. "And then Hulk just smashes Loki, punches him out of the frame, just like in Avengers when he did that at the train station to Thor," Waititi explained. Unfortunately, he had to make a choice due to time constraints; did he keep that, or the gag where Banner face-planted the Rainbow Bridge? The one he chose seems easier to weave into the Hulk's character arc in Avengers: Infinity War, and yet it was decided simply based on humor rather than story potential.
Ultimately, Waititi viewed Thor: Ragnarok as something of a superhero slapstick comedy. If that's what you want in a Marvel movie, then this will be a hit. If you prefer with a little more character-work, where you feel a range of emotions, then Thor: Ragnarok isn't for you.
It's important to remember that Taika Waititi didn't make Thor: Ragnarok in isolation. He was chosen to direct this film by Marvel Studios off the back of black comedies, and they supported him in all his creative decisions. That may well indicate that Waititi's distaste with the Thor franchise is shared by Marvel, that they consider the last two to number among their weakest, and that they too wanted to toss the old aside in favor of a straightforward superhero comedy. Regardless, though, it's now becoming clear that these decisions were a lot more controversial than they seemed at first viewing, and there are valid reasons for this; it's because Thor: Ragnarok simply won't appeal to everybody. And, when Marvel movies can often risk being too middle of the road, that's not a bad thing.
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