For reference, this reader is referring to Thor: Love and Thunder, which Taika Waititi wrote, directed, and produced.
In a collaborative medium such as film, this would normally raise eyebrows. The one exception is when the film is helmed by an auteur, an artist whose distinct artistic fingerprint is visible upon each of their projects.
Waititi fits that bill; watching one of his films certainly feels different than a Judd Apatow comedy, a Phoebe Waller-Bridge piece, or an Adam McKay flick. That’s not good or bad when compared to a more typical film–auteur films are merely a different end product.
Issues occur, however, when an auteur takes a risk that doesn’t pay off or misses a step because they’ve become overconfident or spread too thin. Another burgeoning problem is the addition of auteurs to franchises or cinematic universes.
The backlash to Love and Thunder came as a surprise to the industry. After all, Taika had knocked Ragnarok out of the park, revitalizing the Thor branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). From a business standpoint, giving an auteur control again made sense. Just do the same thing again, dude. It’s not hard.
Except it is hard. On the one hand, delivering the same story–or even same plot beats–will bore the viewers. Playing things safe will bore the creatives. The last thing a series needs is a lack of passion. Other recent examples of this phenomenon include Sam Raimi with Spiderman 3, Sam Mendes with Spectre, and Joss Whedon with Avengers: Age of Ultron. In each of these cases, the director who helmed these, at best, flawed entries had proven himself with a previous effort–Raimi’s Spiderman 2 remains one of the director’s finest efforts; Mendes’ Skyfallis easily in the top five James Bond movies; and Whedon’s Avengers was monumental for pulling together four hitherto standalone protagonists.
A more successful strategy has been to put the chief creative visionary in a showrunner-like position, treating franchises like enormous television shows. Each “episode” is a two-and-a-half hour installment, and each team-up movie is a “season finale.” With the auteur at the top, the entire series has the “artistic fingerprint,” so nothing feels out of place. Successful examples of this plan include Kevin Feige designing the MCU into “planned phases.” Vin Diesel hand-picking talent for The Fast and The Furious franchise, and Tom Cruise teaming up with Christopher McQuarrie to bring consistency to the Mission: Impossible series.
Yes, two of the bad examples listed fall under a positive framework (including the movie in question, Thor: Love and Thunder). That’s because, in order to make each venture profitable, Marvel films are “event movies.” How the hell does one make a TV show where every episode is an event? Marvel thought the answer was to stick with Waititi, but, because he’s an auteur, it was the equivalent of a “celebrity director” episode, a la Quinten Tarantino directing CSI or David Nutter directing the Game of Thrones battle episodes. One episode in this style is a blast; two begins to feel out-of-place.
While I personally liked Love & Thunder, I’ll admit that there were diminished returns from Ragnarok. For others, the novelty seems to have entirely worn off. The trouble that Marvel faces, then, is that core viewers want more standard, baseline fare–something that isn’t an “event movie” that gets enough butts in seats. Perhaps Marvel has enough public goodwill to take that hit. Find out next season–I mean, phase.
This anime darling FINALLY comes to the U.S. a year after its release. The dramedy about three teens trying to prove each other’s innocence while realizing they’ve grown apart received a standing ovation at Cannes this year. Experience its lush style on the big screen.