Half a year ago a source told me that the script for Thor: Ragnarok was in and that it was the darkest thing Marvel had ever put to paper. This is a good source, by the way, one that has given me a ton of true scoops over the years. Then they hired Taika Waititi, and not only was I happy because Waititi is a great filmmaker (see What We Do In The Shadows for ultimate proof) but because his hiring meant that Marvel understood they needed to leaven the darkness with some humor.
Waititi is active on Twitter, and he's been talking a bunch about his influences and his approach, especially about humor. He's been pretty open:
Waititi talked more in-depth with Collider, giving not only some insight into what he's doing with Thor: Ragnarok, but his general thinking about making a blockbuster. Can I tell you that I love everything he says?
Here's Waititi talking about Marvel in general and his take on Thor: Ragnarok:
I love that one moment in Avengers when Hulk grabs Loki and rag dolls him. It lends itself to great humor, do you read those comic books? They’re wacky. They’re crazy. I think that‘s exactly what they need, to keep changing it up. They’ve got their dark films, some are more serious, and I think it’s great that they’re mixing it up. I really want to inject my style of humor into this.
Before coming to Marvel Waititi did some work on Moana, the next film from Disney Animation. While writing there he discovered that Disney and Pixar approach story in unique ways, being willing to scrap ideas late in the game if they come up with something better. He says Marvel is similar:
I’ve learned that there are really no rules. There’s no road map. They’re very similar to Pixar in that way. They are constantly looking for the best story, they’ll tear everything down to rebuild it to make sure they have the best story. That’s why Marvel is good they keep pushing and pushing and trying to get the best thing possible. That’s what I’ve discovered the way things have changed.
Waititi was at Sundance with his fourth film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, so he's not inexperienced, but he's definitely not done something on the scale of a Thor before. In preparation he's been watching a lot of movies - including bad ones.
I constantly remind myself that there are terrible movies out there. I try to watch them, some of them, to give myself an understanding of what not to do. Because also with that money comes the idea, “Let your imagination run wild.” Which I think is a very dangerous thing. I think it’s dangerous because you can get into pretty wacky territory. There are things that are too crazy. So the films I like to watch are when they make it relatable to human audiences. I’m used to working with restrictions and that’s when you come up with the more creative stuff. So I’m really not trying to do everything that comes to mind because that’s when it can be dangerous.
That's such a smart approach - it's one thing to watch great films and try to reverse engineer them, but it can just as illuminating to watch turds and figure out how they ended up that way. Nobody sets out to make a terrible film, and yet there is Steel, just sitting there. How did that happen?
One thing Waititi has learned is how to approach CGI. He has an attitude that I've been supporting for years now:
I believe as much as possible, how your camera moves and flies around should be limited to the physics of how you could do it in real life. If you’re tracking with a character that’s running off a thing and diving off, I would leave the camera there and not follow them down, because cameras don’t do that. The audience understands that. I’ll definitely bring that understanding of keeping things a bit more grounded.
THANK YOU. The untethered, unaffected by physics camera is my least favorite thing about the modern CGI age. The second that camera buzzes around in impossible ways you know you're watching something fake - everything becomes ten times phonier. It's refreshing to hear that he's clued in to this before he's started working. Let's hope he's letting the pre-viz guys know this.
So is Thor: Ragnarok going to be a comedy? I think it'll be funny, and I think that's important - it's easy to make a movie with a dour, monotonous tone, even if you're not making a Batman film. Throwing in comedy to lighten things up actually offers a stark contrast - your shadows are longer and darker the brighter the light. It seems as though the script my source was telling me about - the very dark one - is still there, it's just that Waititi (who is not getting a writing credit) is being allowed to put his own personality in there, to get jokes in where they work.
Could this be? Could this finally be the good Thor film? What a time to be alive.