Taika Waititi, Marvel Studios, and Auteur Filmmaking

Taika Waititi attends the Thor: Love and Thunder World Premiere at the El Capitan Theatre in [Hollywood], California on June 23, 2022. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Taika Waititi went from indie film to Marvel blockbusters while bringing his humor to both Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: Love and Thunder.

I saw one of the worst possible takes that I’ve ever seen about a Marvel movie: comparing Thor: Love and Thunder to Batman and Robin. Both Thor and comic book movies are going to be fine. What makes this take so bad is that Batman and Robin practically killed the Batman franchise until Christopher Nolan came along with Batman Begins. Because of Batman and Robin, studios weren’t willing to take a risk on Spider-Man. This was before the release of Blade and X-Men in 1998 and 2000, respectively. It took those films to pave the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the rest is history. If they didn’t work, there would be no MCU today. Cinema would certainly be different but these films are still cinema whether you like it or not.

We have auteur filmmakers to thank for the evolution of the MCU. The early years may have started with known blockbuster filmmakers. However, the MCU has evolved thanks to Marvel Studios bringing in auteur filmmakers to do their thing. Whether fans are on board or not is a different story. I trust Kevin Feige in what he’s doing. At the end of the day, everything runs through him, be it movies or TV. Even when I have my own disagreements about this particular vision, I still give credit where credit is due. None of what’s happening now would even be happening without the Infinity Saga.

Even though I haven’t rewatched Eternals since its arrival on home video, it’s a film that is representative of Chloé Zhao’s brand of filmmaking. The result of her vision was an epic film unlike anything we’ve ever seen from Marvel. No other filmmaker could bring her vision to the Jack Kirby adaptation. Because, again, no other filmmaker is doing what the Oscar-winning filmmaker is doing. If you’ve seen The Rider or Nomadland, you know exactly what you’re getting with her brand of filmmaking. Newsflash: it isn’t a green screen blockbuster but practicality and shooting on location whenever possible.

After Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi went onto make the Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit. Following its premiere during TIFF 2019, the film went onto win the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. However, it wasn’t without pushback. The film is an anti-Nazi satire, which either plays well or it doesn’t. It’s a genre that Mel Brooks is familiar with as is Ernst Lubitsch and Charlie Chaplin among others. Holocaust humor walks a fine line and this is where I highly recommend watching Ferne Pearlstein’s Solzy Award-winning documentary, The Last Laugh. It’s been a while since watching Jojo Rabbit but it’s a comedy that manages to walk a fine line. Waititi won the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay while the film was nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Editing, Costume Design, and Production Design.

All of this brings me to Thor: Love and Thunder. Humor is Taika’s brand. I’m still digging my way through his filmography. Sunday night featured a long overdue and probably way-too-late-in-the-evening first viewing of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. After watching a number of films and TV series, I’ve come to expect Taika to bring his A-game on the comedy side. Take Thor’s goats, for example. The film would not be able to feature them without Taika injecting his humor into Thor: Ragnarok. That and the growth of the MCU in general. Per the production notes, executive producer Brian Chapek discusses the film’s expansion into the absurd:

“It’s something that we’ve had to earn from the audience over time. I think if we started this universe with Thor riding on two goats, people might’ve found that a little too crazy. But it’s a testament to all the filmmakers who paved the way for us. That’s what sets us apart from other universes, other franchises—this idea of going from a grounded movie to something fantastic and cosmic in nature.”

Even though an unfortunate reason leads Dr. Jane Foster to take up the mantle of the Mighty Thor, Natalie Portman’s character gives us a new female superhero as a role model. Up until recently, there haven’t been all that many on the big screen. Wonder Woman, Batgirl in the aforementioned Batman and Robin, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Captain Carter, etc. While the list might be growing on screen, it’s still small compared to the male heroes. There have been more female heroes in recent years on the small screen. In any event, I’ll take such female heroes where I can find them.

Here’s what Taika Waititi has to say about the new film according to the film’s production notes:

Thor: Love and Thunder feels similar to ‘Ragnarok’ in terms of tone and style, but we wanted to double down on how vibrant and crazy the worlds are and the situations we put Thor in,” says Waititi. “Because when you’re dealing with outer space and a Viking, if you run and embrace that incredible combination as the thing that powers the story, you’re only really limited by your imagination.”

If you ask me, they manage to pull it off. It also goes without saying that comedy is subjective. Not every joke is going to land for every member of the audience. It’s like people no longer want auteur filmmakers directing Marvel films because they’d rather have the film they made in their head. When one does this, it already puts them at a disadvantage before they even walk into the theater.

Thor: Love and Thunder is now playing in theaters.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.