Suggest to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige that the Thor movies aren’t as beloved as his other films and he points to the reviews. “I remind you that Thor 1 is Certified Fresh [on Rotten Tomatoes] and Thor 2 is Fresh,” he said. But if those films were as revered as the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Taika Waititi wouldn’t have made Thor: Ragnarok.
“In all honesty, I knew it was wasn’t the most popular or strongest of the franchises,” Waititi told io9. “But that’s really why I become interested in things. I don’t want to come in as the third director on something that’s super established.”
So instead we get Thor: Ragnarok, a film that feels completely different from the first two Thor movies in a ton of ways: It’s brighter, it’s funnier, it’s out there. And it was because the last two films aren’t near the top of everyone’s Marvel list that a director like Waititi can come in and have the freedom to change things so radically.
“Coming into something that wasn’t quite as sure of itself—that didn’t quite know what it was—that was a lot easier,” Waititi said. “I felt like I had something to bring there. It was kind of calling for some shaping and branding. So that’s actually one of the reasons I decided I could bring something, because it felt a little like an underdog project. And I really go for the underdog.”
What happens when you are forced to change something so much, though, is that you often ended up changing which changes you want to make along the way, which is exactly what happened with Thor: Ragnarok.
“Story-wise it went all over the place, really,” Waititi said of the film’s development. “We went through about three different iterations of the story with different versions of what was happening. At one point they went to Valhalla in part of their journey. The Hela/Thor relationship came far into pre-production. We were working all the way up until shooting trying to make the most satisfying version of this thing. And even through post-production. We were still working on the story.”
But that’s how Waititi likes to work. Not only does he encourage improv on set, he likes to keep everything as free-flowing as possible. “You have to be very open to collaboration and to just tearing everything apart and rebuilding it trying to find the best version,” he said. “Because if you rest on your laurels and you think, ‘Eh, we’ve sat with the story for a year and a half now, we don’t want to change it because it would be too difficult.’ Then, I feel like that’s where you get stale films and stale storylines.”
One example where that happened was with the character of Korg, a rock character played by Waititi himself through performance capture.
“His role in the movie was originally one scene. One or two scenes,” Waititi explained. “And he’s always just been a helper character, someone to explain how things work on the planet. But now that I think about it, he doesn’t really explain anything. He says, ‘Everyone dies here’ and that’s it, really. But I loved it.”
He loved it so much the role got bigger and bigger to a point where there are rumors Korg could come back later in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although the director mostly shoots that idea down.
“Oh, we’ve kind of talked about that,” he said. “No one’s ever really talked seriously. [Or] made any moves to do anything. I like the idea of it, but, you know, the thought of doing more of it, it takes a lot of energy.”
Less energy was spent worrying about what Ragnarok would do for Thor’s future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When asked about handing the new comedic Thor and Hulk off to the Russo Brothers for Avengers: Infinity War, Waititi says they didn’t talk much and that the producers handled most of the larger universe ramifications, but there was some collaboration.
“They got to see a bit of footage that we’d done just before they started shooting anything,” Waititi said. “Just to give them an idea of what we were sending to them. ‘Here, we’re delivering Thor, this little suitcase, you take care of him.’”
They most likely will, but there’s no doubt that Taika Waititi has done much more than just take care of Thor. With the excellent Ragnarok, the director has brought Marvel’s god of thunder back to the front of the Marvel pantheon.
Thor: Ragnarok opens in theaters November 3.