‘Thor: Ragnarok’ features Maori humor and themes relevant to Oceanic peoples

Written by: 
Josh Mason

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the film “Thor: Ragnarok.”

Maori director Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” boasts comedic and thematic elements students and experts from New Zealand said were Maori influenced.

Will Krueger, a social work sophomore from New Zealand, said Waititi is “pretty well known back home.” Krueger said Waititi has made “heaps of good movies, New Zealand classics such as ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘Boy.’”

Krueger added, “You could definitely feel the Maori kind of humor in the movie. ... I think it's awesome as it's helping people to learn more about Polynesia.”

Not all Maori students agreed the film had a strong cultural presence. Tyrell Gimmell, a junior psychology major, said, “I don’t feel like it had a huge Maori influence, but I was able to see some influence in Korg especially.”

Korg is a rock-like alien character who is voiced by Waititi. “There were a bunch of jokes from him that reminded me of humor from back home,” said Krueger. He said Korg’s humor was something he “wouldn’t normally see on American movies.”

Tonga Taauvao Tonga, a junior from Tonga studying information technology, served his mission in New Zealand and said the character Korg reminded him of the Maori people because of his accent and sense of humor. “That’s straight up [Maori] humor right there.”

Gimmell said Korg's character “certainly opened the door for people to at least be curious about ‘the accent.’”

However, he said, “I feel as though Taika Waititi did put a bit more humour into the Thor movies [than] we have seen in the past, which is a very Kiwi type of humour. Not necessarily exclusive to Maori but certainly Kiwi.”

In an article in The Spinoff, Dan Taipua notes that Waititi’s tone in the film contains “the comedy of deflation,” also known as cringe humor, as well as deadpan, known as dry humor. He writes, “Deadpan has a strong history in Aotearoa.

“But if there’s a factor which is definitely Maori in ‘Ragnarok’ it is the pervasive and all-encompassing sense of irony that drains the dramatic tension from its source material and delivers equal-opportunities mockery.” He highlights how the titular character is usually the butt end of a joke, such as when Thor tries to identify himself as the strongest Avenger.

In addition to the humor, some of the plot elements of the film have an Oceanic influence, according to Dr. Neal Curtis, a comic books professor at the University of Auckland. One specific element he highlights on his blog is how the ending differs from a typical superhero story - the citizens of Asgard lose their homeland and become a displaced people.

“The film doesn’t end with the sort of closure normally compulsory in these films, but with a displacement of a people who need to re-establish themselves anew,” Curtis reports. This makes it a “brilliant story of imperialism, colonialism and resistance.”

Of Curtis' analysis, Gimmell said, “Polynesian people were voyagers who travelled throughout the islands to find new homes for various reasons. As for Maori, our ancestors were driven from their homes and their lands, wronged in unfair trades and had their homes destroyed and ravaged. The same thing happens to the people of Asgard.”

Another part of the film Curtis analyzes is when Hela, the principal villain and Thor’s sister, returns to Asgard and sheds light on the lies that Odin, their father, upheld about their people’s history. “As she knocks down walls and ceilings,” he writes, “she doesn’t so much renovate as strip the building back to reveal Asgard’s dark past, one in which Odin and Hela took control of the nine realms through invasion, violence and the suppression of the other nations.

Gimmell called Curtis’ analysis “a very interesting comparison.” He said, “From what I know, many countries do not teach the full truth about things that have happened in their respective histories.”

The other main message Curtis writes about is the casting and direction of the character Valkyrie. Originally a blonde Caucasian character in the comics, Valkyrie is played by Afro-Latin-American actress Tessa Thompson, who “is positioned very deliberately in opposition of the very white, Cate Blanchett,” Curtis opines.

Taipua points out that Valkyrie is “a member of an ancient and proud warrior tribe marked by the tattoo of her people,” which is similar to Maori warrior tribes.

In addition, Valkyrie’s color scheme is associated with various Oceanic peoples. Taipua writes, “When we first see Valkyrie … she is painted (coded) in the colours of the Maori flag: the red, black and white of the Tino Rangatiratanga.” When she returns to Asgard to battle Hela, one shot shows her walking in front of a spaceship with the colors of the First Peoples of Australia. “As she walks out, now dressed in her traditional Valkyrie clothes, the ship that she escaped in lies behind her with the red, black and gold of the Aboriginal flag clearly visible.”

Also, Valkyrie is “represented as someone dependent on alcohol,” which was an intoxicant Curtis says was used “to both pacify and placate indigenous people, especially in Australia.”

Tonga concluded that the movie “really does remind me of NZ.”

“Thor: Ragnarok” will be released for digital download and on DVD and Blu-ray in February, according to DVDs Release Dates.

Date Published: 
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Last Edited: 
Wednesday, January 3, 2018