By JAKE COYLE, AP Screenwriter
NEW YORK (AP) — To a large extent, modern blockbuster-making has depended on appeasing fans to keep the franchise’s behemoths running smoothly. But in making Thor: Love and Thunder, Taika Waititi had no interest in that. He approached the film from the opposite direction. What would really piss off fans?
“I wanted to show it in a light that most Thor fans really wouldn’t want if you told them about it,” says Waititi. “If you told them, ‘Yeah, I’m going to make Thor fall in love,’ that’s probably the last thing a Thor fan really wants to hear.”
“Thor: Love and Thunder,” which opens Thursday, is Marvel’s fourth Thor film and Waititi’s second after 2017’s smash hit “Thor Ragnarok.” A hit with fans and critics alike, that film reinvented Chris Hemsworth’s god of thunder and introduced a looser, more idiosyncratic tone to Marvel’s most monolithic hero.
But if “Ragnarok” was Waititi’s version of a Marvel movie, “Love and Thunder” could just be a Taika Waititi movie, hands down. Of the 29 films thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, none can be so distinctively the work of its filmmaker.
In “Love and Thunder” there are things that normally never enter the MCU, like children and cancer. He’s scruffy, rebellious, and surprisingly human in scale. Manly courage is mostly a joke. Thor isn’t even really Thor. His hammer, Mjolnir, has transformed Natalie Portman’s Jane into the Mighty Thor. By the time Waititi is done with him, Thor’s biggest battle is convincing a boy to wear proper footwear before leaving the house.
“For me, it’s nice to give the fans something they don’t know they want,” Waititi said in a recent video interview from Los Angeles. “Especially with ‘Ragnarok,’ when I signed up, a lot of fans freaked out about it. They were like, ‘Who is this guy? He will take our precious Thor and ruin it. And I was like, ‘Yeah. Exactly. That is exactly my intention. And I’m going to do better, you just don’t know it yet.
When Waititi was handed the reins on “Ragnarok,” the 46-year-old New Zealand filmmaker was a less familiar figure to most Marvel fans, and the first Indigenous director to helm a major superhero movie. It was a huge leap in scale for Waititi, who, after spending years painting in his late 20s, turned to making indie comedic films (“Boy,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) with deadpan absurdity and riotous tonal shifts.
But since “Ragnorak,” Waititi has emerged as a Hollywood dynamo, in front of the camera and behind it, juggling several major studio franchises and more offbeat projects. Hers “Jojo Rabbit,” a childlike vision of Nazi Germany in which Waititi played an imaginary Hitler, received six Oscar nominations in 2020 (Waititi won for adapted screenplay). He has another movie coming up for Searchlight Pictures, “Next Goal Wins,” as well as two Willy Wonka series for Netflix, a “Flash Gordon” movie for Disney’s 20th Century Studios, a “Time Bandits” series for Apple TV+, and a “Time Bandits” series for Apple TV+. “Star Wars” which he hopes to write soon.
Hollywood has shoved just about any intellectual property it can find onto Waititi, eager for him to dismantle it.
“I’m surprised I never wanted to do it. I always wanted to do smaller things just with my friends,” says Waititi. “The idea of working with a studio never appealed to me. Then I worked with Marvel and I realized, well, there are ways you can work with studios where it doesn’t have to be painful.”
“My job is to go in and come up with as many ideas as I can and not think too much about the consequences, and let them keep me in the Marvel lane,” adds Waititi. “It’s not my job to go and see every movie. or read all the comics. I’m sure that’s contrary to what a lot of people think a filmmaker should be doing.”
It’s a somewhat ironic development for a filmmaker who, as an actor in last year’s “Free Guy,” parodied the commercial demands of sequels and who once cringed at the thought of spending long months in post-production at Marvel Studios in Burbank, California. . .
“It’s more the idea of Burbank as a place,” Waititi says. “Going out is fine if you close your eyes and ignore the fact that you’re in Burbank and eating Burbank food for lunch.”
But how much of Waititi’s anarchic spirit can Hollywood’s biggest franchises digest? “Ragnarok” grossed $850 million worldwide and expectations are similar for “Love and Thunder”. His ability to connect with mass audiences, despite his best efforts to subvert expectations, is surpassed by few current filmmakers. However, something like “Star Wars” has been particularly resistant to comedic shifts in tone, something Waititi is well aware of.
“It has to feel authentic to my tone,” he says of the “Star Wars” movie first announced two years ago. “I wouldn’t say any of my films are just comedies. I have never done a general comedy. I’ve never done anything that’s all jokes. It always has something that resonates or connects with some human problem. It’s about family. It is about (expletive) forming families. I don’t think blood makes you family at all.”
“Families are just a hodgepodge of people who kind of gravitate toward each other,” adds Waititi, who was raised by a Jewish mother, a largely absent Maori father (they separated when Waititi was 5) and a wide range of family members. range of relatives. “My family is so gigantic. There are thousands of people.”
That includes collaborators like Jemaine Clement (with whom Waititi did “What We Do in the Shadows”), Rhys Darby (currently paired on the HBO Max series “Our Flag Means Death”) and many others. Another is Sterlin Harjo, whom Waititi met on the festival circuit years ago, where they bonded as native artists with a similar sense of humor. Waititi helped Harjo launch his acclaimed FX series “Reservation Dogs,” about four Native American teenagers in Oklahoma.
“The way Taika directs, the way he does things, it’s all about spontaneity,” says Harjo, who will premiere the show’s second season next month. “It’s about the magic trick of it all. Having everything working at once is where the creativity lies for him. It’s like he’s operating at this level where he has to have it all buzzing.”
The love in “Love and Thunder,” which Waititi co-wrote, applies more directly to the relationship between Thor and Jane, but also ties into other aspects of the “Thor” sequel, including Christian Bale’s grieving villain and the children. kidnapped who play increasingly central roles in the film. Waititi, who has two daughters with film producer Chelsea Winstanley (they split in 2018), relied on her children and others to help design the film’s monsters. Children of Hemsworth, Bale and Portman appear. in the film.
“It’s nepotism at its finest,” says Waititi. “And why not? It’s a movie about parenting and about putting someone else before yourself.”
The primacy of children in “Thor: Love and Thunder” is also very much in line with Waititi’s other films. “Boy” was loosely based on his own childhood in the 1980s when he grew up in Waihau Bay. Her first short, the Oscar-nominated “Two Cars, One Night,” is about a girl and a boy who become friends while waiting for their parents in a parking lot outside a pub. The army of children who help save the day in “Love and Thunder” is just the latest uprising in Waititi’s ongoing war against adulthood. In the end, even Thor was no match.
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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