Thor Director Taika Waititi: Writer’s Comedy or Marvel Sellout?

WWhatever your thoughts on Taika Waititi, one thing pretty much everyone can agree on: the man is a master of branding. In the course of just a handful of feature films, the Kiwi filmmaker has gone from indie darling to blockbuster sleuth to sought-after actor and celebrity in his own right. At a time when the celebrity filmmaker seems to be on the decline, Waititi has carved a niche for himself and made sure he’s the one to fill it.

But what exactly is this niche? More than just about any director of his profile, Waititi is impossible to pin down. His early films were modest-budget comedies – Eagle vs Shark and Youngin which he also appeared. He wrote two episodes and directed four episodes of the cult HBO musical comedy Flight of the Conchords. It was the hilarious vampire mockumentary from 2014 What we do in the shadowswith former Shellfish collaborator Jermaine Clement, who first introduced him to a wider Western audience; This was consolidated with the extremely lovable comedy-drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople. While both of those films stayed true to his New Zealand setting and sensibility, his next film was – the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok – was a drastic shunt to the mainstream. Despite this, Waititi was able to retain some of his indie leanings and successfully strayed from the generic Marvel house style. Ragnarok‘s glam-rock, Technicolor sheen marked a particularly radical departure from the first two Thor films, which were widely considered sterile, unhip, and not hits by Disney’s metrics; Waititi has been given much credit for the resurgence of the $854 million sequel.

When blockbuster franchises ensnare auteur filmmakers, the results are often underwhelming – Chloe Zhao’s widely panned eternal and Sam Raimis Doctor Strange Two current examples are continued. But Waititi seemed to enjoy it instead. With the cache Ragnarok performed, he continued to do Jojo rabbit (2019), a sugary comedy set in Nazi Germany in which Waititi plays an imaginary Hitler. Jojo rabbit surely she had her defenders under her The Independent‘s Clarisse Loughrey and apparently a few busloads of Oscar voters – the film won Best Adapted Screenplay, making Waititi the first Indigenous filmmaker to win an Oscar. But for many, his success was startling: yoyo was treacherous, ill thought out and damn unfunny. It was a hit, but one that perversely only cast doubt on Waititi’s artistic abilities. If the beginning of his career had given viewers an idea of ​​what to expect from a Taika Waititi joint, Ragnarok and Jojo rabbit had broken it down.

Despite this, his “brand” was stronger than ever. In the five years since Ragnarok, Waititi has done what any smart business guy would tell you to do — he’s diversified his portfolio. Waititi threw himself into a hodgepodge of various film and television projects behind and in front of the camera. To name just a few: the excellent ones What we do in the shadows TV adaptation, acclaimed comedy Reservation dogsStar Wars adaptation The Mandalorianand the all-around well-received pirate comedy Our flag means death. He played the villain in Ryan Reynolds’ blockbuster Free guyand repeated his Ragnarok Character, Korg, in a line of Marvel products. He has also directed another Thor sequel, love and thunderout in July, and the football-based comedy Next goal wins (which was filmed in late 2019 but was re-shot after being recast by Armie Hammer following an allegation of sexual assault). The sheer volume and variety of its output makes it difficult to get any further into what Waititi’s whole “deal” is.

He’s no longer an outsider, that’s for sure. Still, there are facets of Waititi that seem to defy categorization as just another corporatized sell-off. For many people, the lasting image of Waititi is a paparazzi snap of him both kissing Tessa Thompson (whom he directed Ragnarok and the coming Thor: Love and Thunder) and Rita Ora (who he is now dating) while lounging on a balcony after a party in Sydney, Australia. While the photo was obviously nobody’s business, it summed up something essential about Waititi’s image — dare I say its appeal. At that moment, Waititi had a certain libertine quality, a repugnance to convention. The photo not only went against Disney’s boring, sexually regressive image—it’s no wonder reports of Marvel’s dissatisfaction with the photo surfaced—but against mainstream society’s entire approach to sexually romantic norms.

What we do in the shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople shone precisely because of their outsider status. They were films about social outcasts, made by someone who seemed to share their sensibilities. Maybe the reason Jojo rabbit fell so flat for so many because Waititi had moved on: This was a film about rebellion and determination, made by someone who had just filmed a huge, frivolous blockbuster for the world’s most dominant film studio. Transgression was never really an option.

Waititi alongside his current partner, musician Rita Ora

(Getty Images)

At a time when filmmakers are increasingly overlooked by the general public – when the biggest films all too often feel like the soulless visions of VFX houses and market research teams – Waititi’s Hollywood track record has something to say. Perhaps his burgeoning fame is the endgame of his endeavors, but it might just be a by-product. The best we can say right now is that he is a man of contradictions; for each yoyo there is a wild peoplefor each Free guy a Our flag means death. As long as he keeps throwing ideas at the wall, it’s safe to say some will stick. Maybe that’s enough. Thor Director Taika Waititi: Writer’s Comedy or Marvel Sellout?


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