Who knew that what Marvel needed to overcome superhero fatigue was an indie filmmaker from New Zealand?
Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok is a raucous, insane, hilarious, visual assault and it’s everything superhero films were ever supposed to be.
Both comic film studios Marvel and DC fell into the trap of trying to go dark and gritty with their heroes, totally forgetting that these stories are utter nonsense.
There are gods, a giant green rage monster, a defrosted 50s war hero and a grown man in a cape. It’s absurdity wrapped in spandex and finally, someone understands that.
Waititi is the first director in the Marvel roster who fully delves into the fun side of heroism, Ragnarok is fun and outlandish and hyper-stylised with all the comedy the comics used to have and then some.
Visually, it’s a mind-blowing cross between heavy metal album art, 90s Tekken and 80s poster art and – somehow- Michelangelo paintings. We travel through space via technicoloured swirling vortexes, soundtracked by Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka.
And the action sequences are slick, quick-moving and bloody, filled with lightning and fire and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song blaring in the background. It’s the definition of badass.
Through all the big action and effects that Marvel is known for, Waititi does what he does best. While anyone else would’ve made a film about a death goddess wreaking destruction on an alien planet, Waititi made a film about family, loss, friendship, love and honour, which also happened to have a death goddess and the impending end-of-days.
Taika Waititi makes friends with all the actors he works with he reveals as he talks about working on Thor. Ragnarok. Video / AP
It’s the first time Marvel’s really shown the personal side of heroism. It focuses on relationships and throws back to past events in terms of personal memories rather global-scale events.
We see Thor and the Hulk fighting over who’s stronger, Thor and Loki pulling childhood tricks, Hulk struggling with his past, Thor making new friends and more. Some of the most mundane moments are the best ones, like when our heroes decide whether or not to trust Loki and Thor tells a hilarious story about a snake.
It’s not at all relevant, but damn it’s funny, and it’s the first opportunity we’ve had to really live with these characters instead of just dropping in at seminal moments.
But at the same time, it gets serious when it needs to and Waititi throws in some heartwarming, thoughtful moments like only he can without totally slowing down the overall vibe.
The other thing Waititi handles notably well is the film’s treatment of women. They’re all badass, they all have their own stories and motivations and they’re never hyper-sexualised, despite the fact that we do get gratuitous shirtless shots of Thor and even a naked Hulk.
It’s simple things like going into battle and having women drawing weapons on the front line, setting a scene up to take a romantic turn and then not taking it, or letting a woman get things done without a man commenting on how sexy that makes her.
It’s exactly everything that Marvel got wrong with characters like Gamora, done right.
Even the villain Hela is essentially just fighting patriarchal double standards – albeit in the most bloodthirsty way I think we’ve ever seen a Marvel villain behave.
But it’s Waititi’s character Korg and the constant flow of Kiwi humour that really breathes life into this franchise, and the Kiwi director even manages to invoke some Lord of the Rings/Battle of Helm’s Deep vibes into Asgard while he’s at it.
The whole thing is frankly insane and risky as hell, but it’s paid off. Ragnarok is everything Marvel needs to breathe life into the franchise, and it’s undoubtedly stamped Waititi’s distinctive mark on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we move toward Avengers: Infinity War.