The wonderful world of Waititi
Amongst all the big budget special effects and megastar cameos, the whip-sharp in-jokes and self effacing humour, there are two things that stand out for me in the latest Marvel outing, Thor: Ragnarok.
Firstly, there’s the wonderful seventies styling of the production. From the branding of the movie itself, to the eye-popping landscapes of the world at the edge of the universe, Sakaar, this is a film dripping in classic sci-fi heritage. Compare the movie posters and typeface for Thor with those for sci-fi staples such as Logan’s Run (1976) and Buck Rogers (1976) and you’ll see more than a little similarity. Check out the buildings in Sakaar and you’ll find a palette of colours that are straight from the seventies, with blues that wouldn’t look out of place on a Ford Anglia and mustard shades that are straight from the faux leather interior of a Hillman Hunter.
For all the fawning and breathless raving about Blade Runner’s world building, the Sakaar landscape is every bit as inventive, original and inspired. And it doesn’t have to rain all the time to build atmosphere.
This is all, of course, very deliberate. On a mission to break the mould of a franchise that was fast becoming predictable after just two films, director Taika Waititi has drawn inspiration from the golden age of sci-fi, when heroes were as quick with the one liners as they were with their ray guns, yet at the same time were not afraid to show their vulnerable side and get their asses kicked.
Which brings us to the second stand out feature of this surprisingly enjoyable film; that of Taika Waititi himself. To be able to take a behemoth of a franchise like Marvel and Thor, and make it so clearly his own, is a remarkable achievement. This has everything you expect in a Marvel movie, yet it is undeniably a Taika Waititi film. Anyone familiar with his previous work will see the quirky humour of Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows shining through.
Waititi even gets away with a show-stealing cameo, as rock monster Korg, giving himself some of the funniest lines in the film. Take the infectious energy and optimism you see in that character, and imagine it behind the camera too, and you can quickly see how Waititi’s fingerprints are all over this film.
In a post-Guardians, post-Deadpool world, humour seems almost compulsory in superhero films these days. Directors have to tread a fine line between being funny enough, while not letting that humour spill over where it doesn’t belong. In this respect, Waititi walks the tightrope with all the skill of Philippe Petit, knowing exactly when to back off the gags when Asgard, or its occupants, are in real danger. It’s a rare skill and one that Guardians 2 could have used a little more of.
Not all the gags land, and it lacks that complexity of humour that rewards a second viewing with previously unseen treasures, as you get with the Guardians movies. However, Thor is still a hugely enjoyable film, with the odd casting of Cate Bland-chett as the only real misstep. Marvel, and Hemsworth himself, have both claimed that this will be the last stand alone Thor movie, but I can’t see that myself. All involved seem to have had far too much fun making this to turn down fourth outing, hammer or no hammer.