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2 Sep 2023


Taika Waititi at the Thor: Love And Thunder World Premiere

Thor director Taika Waititi has revealed a big problem with Marvel's villains (Photo by Alberto E. ... [+] Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Getty Images for Disney

If ever there was a poster-boy for experimental film making in mainstream cinema it's Taika Waititi.

The New Zealander brought his expertise directing indie movies to Marvel's tired Thor franchise and grossed $854 million with 2017's Thor: Ragnarok. Then he did the same with the war genre and won an Oscar for Jojo Rabbit. Marvel liked him so much that it invited him back to direct the fourth instalment in the Thor series but it was a step too far.

Last year's Thor: Love and Thunder was so far removed from the Asgardian god of thunder's origins that it was almost a parody.

Replete with flat gags about goats and a supposedly sentient hammer, the movie was blasted by critics and even Thor actor Chris Hemsworth himself said "it just became too silly." He added "it's always hard being in the centre of it and having any real perspective...I love the process, it's always a ride. But you just don't know how people are going to respond."

With a Rotten Tomatoes critics' score of just 63%, and an audience rating not much better at 77%, it seemed like Thor had reached the end of the road, especially as Love and Thunder grossed 11% less than Ragnarok.

Goats

Thor: Love and Thunder was dubbed 'too silly' by its star Chris Hemsworth ©Marvel Studios 2022. All ... [+] Rights Reserved.

Marvel Studios

Hemsworth recently said he had "no idea" if he would return as the Asgardian and would only do so "if there is a new story, it has to be something very special. I'm sure there's something exciting to tell, so we'll have to wait and see." We may not have to wait long based on Waititi's recent comments.

While Thor 5 is not in development, Waititi revealed in Titan’s 'Thor: Love and Thunder The Official Movie Special' book what he would do if given the opportunity to direct it.

"What is left to do to [Thor]? It’s got to be something that feels like it’s carrying on with the evolution of the character, but still in a very fun way and still giving him things to come up against that feel like they’re building on the obstacles that he has to overcome."

He added that "I don’t think we can have a villain that’s weaker than Hela. I feel like we need to step up from there and add a villain that’s somehow more formidable."

Hela is Thor's sister and the goddess of death who brings about the destruction of their home planet of Asgard. In Ragnarok Cate Blanchett gave a commanding performance as the character who is defeated by a towering fire demon taller than the planet itself. That was just the start of Thor's struggles with powerful beings.

Love and Thunder's antagonist was Gorr, the god killer and, true to his name, he had the power to kill gods. It made him a formidable force but it didn't stop the movie from underwhelming at the box office.

Gorr

Christian Bale played Thor: Love and Thunder's main villain, Gorr ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights ... [+] Reserved.

Marvel Studios

Likewise, in February Marvel released Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which stars a villain who can control time itself. Despite this prodigious power, the movie still grossed less at the box office than both of its prequels with its takings coming to just $476.1 million.

Then came the Secret Invasion streaming series which cut no corners as we revealed. It introduced a hero and an enemy which are amalgams of Marvel's most powerful villains. It attracted criticism and still didn't stop the show's finale scoring just 7% on Rotten Tomatoes making it the single lowest-rated episode of any Marvel streaming series.

It's perhaps no coincidence that Marvel's highest-grossing movie of the year so far is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 which doesn't feature a villain with especially formidable powers. In fact, it isn't even clear what they are. However, there is no doubt they are incidental to the plot which surrounds a quest to save a team member and unravel a mystery about his background. It stands out from other superhero movies which increasingly seem like a series of action sequences from a videogame.

That might have been enough to cut the mustard before the pandemic but nowadays movie-goers are looking for something a little different, as evidenced by the recent 'Barbenheimer' phenomenon.

It's not clear why this is the case but it may be that when audiences returned to cinemas they became more picky about what they watched given the risks of being in a room full of people. That risk may have subsided but the selectivity of the audience appears to have remained. They certainly don't seem to appreciate more of the same as shown by the results of Marvel's recent endeavours.

Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth

Taika Waititi directing Chris Hemsworth on the set of Love and Thunder

©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

If Marvel wants to make Thor more punchy again it could do a lot worse than bring back its original director Kenneth Branagh, who is currently busy playing Hercule Poirot in Disney's Agatha Christie film series.

Marvel broke new ground with the launch of 2008's Iron Man because it dispensed with traditional superhero tropes such as secret identities and gaudy costumes. Audiences lapped it up so much that it has spawned 31 follow up films.

Most people credit Joss Whedon for expanding this realistic environment into space in 2012's The Avengers, which culminated in an alien attack on New York City. However, the task of grounding aliens in reality actually fell on Branagh's shoulders one year earlier.

The Oscar-winner positioned Asgardians as humanoid aliens and levelled the playing field by stripping Thor of his powers when he is cast out of Asgard to earth. Veterans Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo starred alongside Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston who both gave sublime performances which launched their careers. This is the true measure of the film's success as it wasn't reflected in its box office takings.

Thor only grossed $449.3 million and was overshadowed by The Avengers which made just over $1 billion more. However, Marvel needs its human touch now more than ever as it has strayed so far into the cosmos that it seems to have lost sight of where it started. It is now common for Marvel movies to introduce new dimensions, let alone new planets, and secret identities have gradually crept in.

As we recently reported, the best performers can make billions of Dollars of profits so it's no surprise that Marvel is still flogging the same horse. However, it may need a change of direction if it wants to make its movies heavy hitters with critics again.