Taika Waititi has becomes something of a movie golden boy over the past few months.
While Thor: Ragnarok is still not quite in theaters, its director has already shot from relative obscurity to become one of the most talked-about names in Hollywood, with an offer pending to direct Akira (even though he really shouldn’t!) and no doubt plenty more high-profile work to come.
Some of us may have been familiar with Waititi’s work before he got stuck into making Ragnarok, but the majority of movie fans were unfamiliar with this indie New Zealand director until Marvel sunk their claws into him and got him to back a big budget, colorful action comedy set in space.
There’s been plenty of speculation over the past few months as to where Waititi’s career might go next, but the director himself has ruled out one possible franchise – he is absolutely, definitely not going to ever tackle a Star Wars film.
Not that such an opportunity has necessarily been offered, but that’s beside the point.
“That particular franchise seems really hard. There’s not much room for someone like me. Through its narrow canon, the tone of Star Wars has always been determinedly self-serious, whereas the Marvel movies, like the decades of comics they sprang from, veer wildly from high drama to low comedy. And improvisation has been a tool in every Marvel movie since Robert Downey Jr. riffed his way through Iron Man.”
You know what? Taika Waititi’s right.
If there’s one thing that’s clear about everything that’s gone down at Lucasfilm over the past two years, it’s that the studio absolutely, categorically does not want a director that’s going to rely on comedy and improv.
Sure, The Force Awakens has moments of levity that feel unscripted, but that’s about it – Rogue One seems allergic to anything humorous that doesn’t come from a grumpy, sarcastic Alan Tudyk-bot, while the original directors of Solo (what a name!) got fired for doing exactly what Taika Waititi does best, and letting their actors show original thought during improv sessions.
It’s probably not just Taika Waititi that’s going to be avoiding Star Wars movies if offered in the near future – Lucasfilm has proven itself to be very decidedly anti-director autonomy, and there’s a limit to the number of directors a studio can fire before all related properties start getting a bad rep.
This likely isn’t going to end well for Lucasfilm – without fresh, original ideas, it’s not going to take too long before the entirety of the Star Wars movie line ends up feeling generic and stale.
Meanwhile, Marvel is most certainly capable of putting out bland, unoriginal filler movies (see Ant Man and Doctor Strange, and heck, even Spider-Man: Homecoming!), but the studio has also proven to be able to get solid, artistically motivated directors with a clear vision to helm projects.
Taika Waititi, the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, Jon Favreau, and Joss Whedon are all talented visionaries who make a very specific, distinct kind of movie. The MCU’s ability to adapt and change to fit each different movie is one of its greatest strengths – as is the ability of the production team to bend to fit the needs of different directors with very different ideas of what a movie should be.
Sure, the MCU is still restricted – Taika Waititi couldn’t have done something to disrespect the brand as a whole – but there’s no denying that he has a lot more freedom with Thor than he’d ever have with, say, Yoda.
There is hope that Lucasfilm will change their strategy, though. Thor: The Dark World is often held up as the most boring, rote, paint-by-numbers example of Marvel playing things safe, to the point that they ditched director Patty Jenkins and her plan for a far more meaningful superhero movie.
Jenkins went on to do Wonder Woman, and Marvel went on to let Taika Waititi make Ragnarok. Clearly, the company had a change of heart over how much freedom their directors should have.
So fingers crossed Lucasfilm has a change of heart and loosens the leash they hold over their directors.
Fingers even tighter crossed that the studio figures this all out before the entire Star Wars brand suffers too much as a result.