Why we love Taika Waititi

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Promoting a film can be an often thankless task. You spend months at a time traveling the globe to say the same handful of sentences in junket after junket, answering the same questions in every language imaginable, and trying to find ways to respond to cringe-worthy clangers without ending up embarrassing yourself. It’s a minefield of decorum to navigate when you’re a world famous actor with all eyes on you. When you’re the director, you do it all with the knowledge that the majority of people just won’t find you all that interesting.

That’s never been a problem for Taika Waititi, the New Zealand-born actor-director behind Thor: Ragnarok who has taken the world by storm in a flurry of top-notch one-liners and ceaseless charm. Ever since the announcement that the Oscar nominee behind indie hits such as What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople would be the first non-white director to helm a Marvel movie, Waititi has quickly established himself as a magnetic personality whose humor is matched only by his cinematic talents.

Waititi is so damn charming that he made pineapple print romper suits cool, and now with Thor: Ragnarok’s reviews bringing in a new level of critical acclaim for Marvel Studios, it’s safe to say that he’s the star of the future. How do you steal the show from stars like Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett, all while dressed like an exotic fruit? Only Taika knows for sure.

Waititi didn’t seem like the obvious choice to direct a $180m blockbuster, the third in a series that forms part of the highest grossing franchise of all time. Yet he’s proven himself to be a natural fit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe without sacrificing any of what makes his work so original and exciting.

It's nothing new for major studios to hand the keys of their lucrative franchises over to scrappy young upstarts from the indie world. Marvel struck gold when they let a Troma director turn Guardians of the Galaxy into a ragtag comedic space opera; Jordan Vogt-Roberts went from his Sundance darling debut to the epic battles of Kong: Skull Island; and Patty Jenkins's prowess as a director of indie dramas and television brought a mighty force to the cinematic introduction of Wonder Woman. Of course, there are notable failures, like the shambolic grimdark take on Fantastic Four offered by Josh Trank and Lucasfilm removing Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the Han Solo project before they even finished shooting. Still, it's a risk many studios are willing to take, and there are obvious upsides to an all-powerful studio hiring a director who they can keep in line.

Often that means there’s little opportunity for said directors to put their stamp on the project, but in the case of Waititi, for those familiar with his work, it’s near impossible to ignore his fingerprints all over Thor: Ragnarok. More than arguably any other director in the Marvel franchise, Waititi gets Thor. In a New York Times profile, he says Thor is "basically a rich kid from outer space who comes down to Earth and gets to kiss a cute girl." The Avenger whose films have previously been forgettable fare with no discernible identity has been reimagined as a rainbow-colored frenzy of self-awareness heroics and goofy space opera. It’s a typical Taika crowd-pleaser: funny and esoteric with a healthy dose of heart and just unhinged enough to keep things interesting.

Half the fun of Thor: Ragnarok has been in the promotion. Who can forget the skits of Thor flat-sharing with a beleaguered human while he passive-aggressively waited for Tony Stark to call back? Or Cate Blanchett’s psycho-inspirational videos shared across Twitter? What about that casual tweet-flirting with Mark Ruffalo? Waititi isn’t afraid of pathos – indeed, if you’ve seen Boy or Hunt For The Wilderpeople, you’ll know he excels at quietly devastating moments – but there’s something utterly joyful about seeing the frequently po-faced Chris Hemsworth playing the straight man in a suburban comedy while dressed in full Asgardian fare. It took Waititi to remind Marvel that their hammer-wielding Avenger was silly, and that wasn’t a bad thing. Finally, it’s okay to laugh again!

As noted in a New York Times profile, Waititi liked to keep the set of Thor: Ragnarok fun. There was music, dancing, a ceremony with the local Aboriginal tribe, and a lot of piss-taking of Hemsworth, deliberately confusing him with every other actor named Chris (trust us, Taika, we've all been there). After endless stories of tyrannical directors who turn film sets into war zones and pretend their petty temper tantrums are part of their glorious genius, it's a relief and delight to hear stories of a director who doesn't treat his job as a burden. Waititi, by all accounts, made the filming of Thor: Ragnarok fun, and it shows on the screen. We could use more directors like Waititi, who prize positivity and a few jokes over screaming matches.

On top of all that, Waititi is dedicated to paying the favour forward and supporting other indigenous film-makers and people in the entertainment industry. He invited eight native filmmakers to shadow him on the Thor: Ragnarok set, and he worked on a Māori dub of Disney's Moana (he had written the original script for the movie). 

Of course, we’d be missing out on a key point of Taika’s appeal if we were to stop here, so forgive us for the intrusion into the shallow here: Taika Waititi is a total fox. He’s a silver-haired, pineapple romper-wearing fox and hot damn, he knows it. Him being as funny and talented as he is would usually be enough for one man but no, he’s also got the ability to turn fruit-based clothing into a uniform of impeccable sex appeal.

We’ve got a few more weeks of the delightful Thor: Ragnarok press tour wherein Waititi will surely continue to do drunk interviews, respond to commenters and be delightfully complimented by Jeff Goldblum, but after that, the world is his oyster. The movie looks set to surpass lofty expectations at the box office, giving Waititi essentially the power to do whatever the hell he wants to. We’ll be watching with much anticipation. Here’s hoping the romper stays.