Marvel fans may be waiting to see how Thor: Ragnarok will expand the MCU’s cosmic side, but as far as the director is concerned, Ragnarok works best as Thor’s very first, standalone movie. That doesn’t mean that MCU fans should disregard the previous Thor movie and Dark World sequel, or take Ragnarok as an explicit reboot of the franchise, but… it also doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. The connections between Thor’s journey into mystery and, say, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Infinity War are building on what came before. But for director Taika Waititi, they’re not the reason for Ragnarok to exist.
It’s a challenge that every director of a strictly-structured ‘cinematic shared universe’ will have to deal with, as the demand for a strong enough story to win over fans must be balanced with the demands for the films that came before, and the ones yet to be made. No studio established that system better than Marvel, releasing films in specific ‘phases’ – all leading to the Infinity War showdown with Thanos. And yet, Thor: Ragnarok seems poised to tell, in no uncertain terms, a ‘Taika Waititi story’… which also happens to be a pivotal building block in the cosmic MCU.
We had the chance to discuss this balancing act of creativity and larger, studio masterminding when visiting Waititi on the set of Thor: Ragnarok. And if he was feeling the pressure to serve a corporate studio vision, he was hiding it well:
There’s definitely a challenge with wanting to be true to what the fans want, and to the universe itself. But I have to keep reminding myself that I was hired for a reason, and I think one of those reasons is because of the kind of stories I tell, and the kind of films that I’ve made previously. Obviously it has to be… trying to unify my type of storytelling with this kind of content, and hopefully it all comes out really nicely in the end. But also… you know, I don’t want to make an episode of some larger thing.
I know that it will be, and that all the pieces will fit together. But it’s not my job to make sure they fit together. It’s not my job to make sure that this makes sense three movies down the tracks for one of the other franchises.
Waititi points out a reality that more and more Marvel directors are beginning to promote: that as much as Marvel may have found success by ‘doing characters justice’ in the eyes of the fans, creativity and filmmaking has to be the top priority. Even if it means – gulp! – breaking from the canon of either the comic books or the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on who you ask – the growing frequency with which Marvel movies break the MCU timeline seems to be another symptom of that growing freedom.
But those who think Waititi is questioning the structure or demands Marvel places upon its directors are mistaken. While expanding the MCU “isn’t his job,” he knows perfectly well that somebody is doing that work:
My job is to make a film that can sit alone as a standalone piece that obviously I’ll be proud of. But I want it to be a film that, if it’s the only Marvel film you see, that it’s a great film and it’s a great story in and of itself. The lucky thing is that there are a bunch of geniuses who run Marvel who make sure that it even if it’s a standalone piece, it is part of a great big jigsaw puzzle that could be appreciated as a whole as well.
Taking the time on a studio level to make individual films build towards a universe greater than the sum of its parts, so that talented directors can tell their own stories? No wonder Marvel is on such a roll. Although we’re willing to bet they don’t want Ragnarok to be the “only Marvel film you see.”
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