Thor is one of the best entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), largely due to the excellent character work that, being a Kenneth Branagh film, unfolds as a Shakespearean tragedy. Its 2013 follow-up, Thor: The Dark World, was more forgettable than actively bad, which in many ways, is almost worse. Still, both the character of Thor and that first film (which is up there with Captain America: The Winter Soldier) are criminally underrated in the Marvel world by fans and critics alike. Even Thor’s presence in both Avengers films is underserved, despite the main villain of The Avengers being Thor’s brother, Loki.
There are several theories as to why Thor doesn’t get his due in the MCU, but one of the key reasons is that the Thor movies are inherently fantasy films with a Classical Hero trying to fit into a universe that primarily services the more modern action/science-fiction genres. This doesn’t mean that any of the Thor movies don’t or can’t belong — indeed, I will continue to sing the praises of Thor until the very end — but they have a steeper hill to climb. With the MCU growing larger, it might be easier for the Asgardian god to take his rightful place in the Avengers franchise alongside more popular and respected characters such as Captain America and Iron Man (heck, even Spider-Man seems more popular than Thor, and he’s barely been in the MCU), but as of now that remains a more of a hopeful notion than a demonstrable fact.
However, something, or rather someone, has stepped up to the plate to bring Thor into the limelight the way Branagh’s introductory film hoped but inexplicably failed to, and that would be New Zealand director Taika Waititi, who until now has been best known for Flight of the Conchords and a few smaller films.
The filmmaker is helming the third installment in the superhero franchise, Thor: Ragnarok, which is slated to hit theaters this November. Fans have already been treated to two very different — and very popular — takes on the character from the director: the short film “Team Thor” and the first trailer for Ragnarok, which has become the most watched Marvel and Disney trailer in just 24 hours. Both videos showcase Waititi’s sharp sense of humor as well as his dedication to the fun he’ll undoubtedly bring to the film. It’s the most people have talked about the heroic Norse god in some time, and with good reason.
For fans of Waititi, none of this comes as a surprise. His past work as a writer and director, including the 2010 family drama Boy, 2014’s vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, and last year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, are critically acclaimed and beloved by the movie community. Laugh-out-loud funny as well as poignant, Waititi’s films showcase his craft and creativity, and hint how Ragnarok could be another superb entry into the MCU.
After all, a guy who successfully co-writes and direct a film about a group of ridiculous, dorky vampires living in present-day New Zealand absolutely deserves our time and attention, not to mention the keys to one of Marvel’s biggest heroes (who needed a makeover anyway). And I write that with complete sincerity and zeal. Why do I have such faith in Waititi, even though he’s never directed a big-budget movie like this one? It’s because he, like Branagh, is first and foremost a visionary who focuses on character and narrative rather than action set pieces, and those are the elements that create the best Marvel movies. Those elements are why, for example, The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3 are much stronger, cohesive films than Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not that these Marvel movies don’t need good action sequences, because they absolutely do. But it’s important to remember that the characters are still the backbone of the MCU.
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is a wonderful, steadfast hero with a pure heart. He perhaps has fewer demons than Tony Stark and less political intrigue than Steve Rogers, but that doesn’t make his arc or his character any less interesting. Indeed, his loyalty, recklessness, brash attitude, and sense of adventure are all traits that compel him as a likable and exciting hero. He absolutely shines in the work we’ve seen from Waititi so far — all at once he’s funny, good-natured, a little obtuse and oblivious, utterly lovable, and valiant. This is the character he’s been all along, and it’s a refreshing to see him front and center once more with a new director beside him — one just as skilled and unique as Branagh.
Of course, the big concern regarding Ragnarok, both literally and figuratively, is also one of the reasons that Marvel fans are most excited — the Hulk. It’s not that Hulk won’t fit in the film or that it’s not exciting to see Planet Hulk, but he presents a fine line that must be carefully walked so as not to overshadow Thor or Marvel’s fun Asgardian mythology. Since day one, the Thor franchise has had so much promise, and it deserves to shine just as brightly as the rest of the MCU on its own merits and wonders. The MCU has hardly scratched the surface of the Nine Realms and the branches and roots of the world tree Yggdrasil, and while Waititi’s film won’t be able to explore all of it, it will be thrilling to dive a little deeper into this rich mythology, especially seeing as it’s the first Thor movie set almost entirely outside of Midgard (aka Earth).
Waititi’s influence on Thor’s latest big screen adventure is undeniable based on the footage we’ve seen so far, and fortunately his presence alone is enough to quell any minor concerns. Throw in the return of Tom Hiddleston as Loki and the new additions of Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, and Jeff Goldblum, and Ragnarok is shaping up to not only be the best Marvel movie of 2017, but one of the best Marvel movies ever.
Anya Crittenton | Associate Editor