Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.
Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople speaks to the lost boy in all of us, tweaks our sense of humour with subtle doses in all the right places, taking what could have been a familiar feeling story and sending it miles down the road less traveled, in terms of emotion, comedy, script and pacing. This film has the largest scope of any he has made so far, but it’s purely for atmosphere; he remains steadfast in his need to explore what fascinates him the most: people. Their fears, desires, eccentricities and idiosyncrasies laid out bare and blunt, with none of the trademark gloss or cookie cutter cue card normalcy that so much writing has these days, clouding the potential for characters to feel geniune. They feel just that here though, and inhabit a world of harsh realities, unpredictable outcomes and organic, unforced interaction. Hell, even when his protagonists are vampires, they still feel far more lifelike than many a human character in film these days. The story is benign, until slowly kindled by all the elements I have just outlined. Child services, in the form of a tyrannical bitch (Rachel House), bring wayward boy Ricky (Julien Dennison, a wicked new talent) to stay with his new foster parents on a remote farm in rural New Zealand. The couple (Rima Ti Wiata and the legendary Sam Neill) couldn’t be more different than the young lad. He’s a hoodie wearing, rap rhetoric spewing, pop culture paintball gun of colloquial gibberish and big city malarkey. They are a withdrawn, earthy, isolated type of folk, content with farm life and each other’s company. Ricky is a disruption which they both need, creating a mini culture clash that provides countless moments of amusement as we wade our way into the story. The aforementioned unpredictability strikes when Neill’s wife passes away without buildup or ceremony, leaving him and a kid he barely knows, let alone likes, alone in the world. What follows is a touching, picturesque and endlessly funny glimpse at two people who are thrown into the thick of it together. These people are both lost in different ways; Ricky has never known a real family, tethered to nothing and set adrift among a sea of cyber role models and unreliable elders. Neil has just spent the majority of his life in a rock steady routine with his farmer’s wife and clockwork existence, suddenly unmoored and left with not a clue how to proceed. The two are hilarious together, providing each other with bushels of character development and scene after scene of purely inspired, bona fide human interaction that feels so utterly, blessedly unforced. They’re set among a slide show of breathtaking scenery, lively supporting work and attention to detail that adds up to quite the unforgettable package. If Waititi’s latest is any indication of what’s to come, lay down that red carpet runway post haste, because he’ll continue to take us by storm.