Taika Waititi takes us into his brilliant, bizarre mind and behind his great new Marvel film.
"Larry, motherfucker, what the fuck do you want to talk about?" When Taika Waititi answers the phone just like this, in a thick accent, I'm taken off guard—then, he laughs. "I don't really talk like that, man. I can't have a conversation like that."
Catching people off guard is kind of a thing that the 42-year-old director's made a career out of. What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and last year's Hunt for the Wilderpeople were both left-field takes on genre-ish trappings that oozed a specific wit, and Thor: Ragnarok is no different. Waititi's take on the third installment in the Thor franchise—and, what, the sixteen-millionth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?—is packed with color and even more so with laughs, the one-liners zinging around like Iron Man's suit. (Note: Iron Man is not in this movie. The Hulk is, though!)
Even if you don't like MCU movies in general, you'll likely and mightily enjoy this one, and that's owed in large part to Waititi's vision and unique outlook. We talked to him about his unlikely marriage with Marvel, making a funny superhero movie, and what's next:
VICE: Thor: Ragnarok is quite a leap for you, stylistically.
Taika Waititi: Oh, it's a leap—a leap of faith, a leap of stupidity, a leap into the void. You don't do these films unless you're very sure of yourself or you have a career suicidal tendency—and I have no interest in my career. The closest I can come to destroying my career is the happiest I am. I'm not trying to be a smart ass. It was never my dream to do this shit. I just fell into it. It's like an arranged marriage: I don't hate it, I love it, but I had to learn to love it, and the reason I did was that, every time I've done a film, it's been the least expected move—either in my opinion or other people's opinion.
So this was a very big risk for me. I had a few admirers in little independent pockets, and I thought, What's the best way to piss them off? To sell out? Turns out, now they love me even more.
For some reason, it seems like Marvel films allow more leeway with director creativity than other mega-franchises.
The genius of that studio is that they bring in voices that are unique, different, and very unexpected. When they gave me this job, the Marvel fans on Twitter were like, "Who the fuck is this guy?" And I was like, "Yeah, who the fuck am I? Why'd they give me the job?" Props to them for taking chances on people like me, James Gunn, and Ryan Coogler—and thank God they did, because I think this movie is really good. It's been the best thing for the Thor franchise, a very colorful and exciting film—and what the world needs right now are films that make you laugh and smile and don't make you depressed, because the world's a pretty sad place right now. The last thing I want is for an audience to go into a movie and be reminded of that for two and a half hours.
This film's approach to color and visuals reminded me of another recent MCU film, Doctor Strange.
That approach is something I was keen on doing. I'd seen the first couple of Thor films, and I appreciated what they were, but I wanted to go in a completely new direction. I grew up with comics that were colorful and just ridiculous—Flash Gordon is a good reference to where we were headed in terms of color and tone. If you look at the Thor comics from the 70s, they're very dreamlike, the costumes are ridiculous, and the storylines are ludicrous. For this movie, it was like they gave creative freedom to a bunch of six-year-olds and said, "Here's a $100 million, go and make a movie."
Thor: Ragnarok is as successful at being a comedy as it is as an action film.
The way that jokes appear in these movies is that they're written about a year before they start shooting, and if they're not stale by then, they're almost dead. In Hollywood, the jokes suck, because they're written by a bunch of dudes in an office before they've even know who's cast in the movie. The way I've always done comedy with my mates is that you may think ahead and have some suggestions, but you'd never lock it in so far in advance. You get to set, and you figure out what's funny. That's where the humor [on Thor: Ragnarok] differs from every other one of these superhero movies—not to detract from the comedy of something like Guardians of the Galaxy, but you can tell that certain things rely on the skill of the actors.
Also, the comedy in this film is surreal and tangential, and it's got a life to it that can only exist if you're coming up it in the moment. A lot of the stuff between [Mark Ruffalo] and [Chris Hemsworth] was ad-libbed—there was a shit load of ad-libbing, which I was pleasantly surprised that we were allowed to do. Things that were never thought of that were just done to loosen things up turned out to be good enough to be put in the movie.
What's next after this?
I just want to keep it interesting—to keep shocking and challenging myself. One of my next films is a stop-motion film about the life and times of Michael Jackson's chimpanzee Bubbles. There's also a smaller film that I've written that I'm going to try to shoot next year. It's a Nazi comedy.
A Nazi comedy? Did I hear you right?
That seems pretty accidentally relevant.
Isn't it? I wrote it five years ago, and now it's weirdly perfect timing. Nazis are cool again. [Laughs]