Most film studios wouldn’t look at Taika Waititi’s wildly quirky resume and immediately think, “Why, he’d be perfect to direct the next ‘Thor’ movie!” But most studios aren’t Marvel, who somehow knew only a filmmaker as both shrewd and comedically skilled as Waititi could give the Asgardian Avenger’s sub-franchise the creative kick in the pants it needed.
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The New Zealand native – best know for fast-paced and hilariously funny projects like last year’s acclaimed Hunt For the Wilderpeople, his prior films Eagle Vs. Shark and What We Do In Shadows and the cult comedy Flight of the Conchords – was granted license by Marvel to radically renovate Thor’s particular corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor: Ragnarok. Moving beyond the godly take on the fish-out-of-water premise of the first film and the fantasy-genre grandeur of the second, Ragnarok sets shooting the hammer-wielding hero on a rollicking journey across the cosmos with stops on Earth, Asgard and the alien gladiator world of Sakaar. It’s a fresh and consistently amusing semi-reboot that makes great use of Thor’s previous cast of characters and place in the universe, while never stepping so far into absurdity that the sanctity of the MCU seems compromised.
And, as Waititi reveals to CBR, it was a feat that involved heavy lifting akin to hoisting Mjolnir from a resting position. Fortunately for fans of the Son of Asgard, he proved to be worthy.
CBR: What a fun project this must have been – but also hard work, too! Tell me the balance of fun and work for you making this enormous motion picture?
Taika Waititi: Sure – I'd say it's 74% fun and, whatever the rest of that makes up 100%, with that number. What is it – 26? 26% hard work! It's very hard work. 26% excruciating hard work. So very fun, most of the time, but when it was actual work it was really painful.
And painful because the way stress manifests itself when you're doing these films. It's in different parts of your body, and you start aching in places, and you've got the big shoulder problem, and pains in my neck and stuff. And that's just sort of, I feel like, just is what it is, and I accept that, because it was so much fun, so I could live with it.
Once you started working on the film, how did you find that this movie was not really any different from any other film you've made, and how was it incredibly different from every other film you've made?
It was not different in that I got to ad-lib a lot with my actors, and we got to approach each scene in a new way for shooting, and sometimes rewrite in the moment and explore and not have to pre-plan anything too much.
It was also different in that it was 85 days, when my other shoots have been about 25. And so the length of time that you're concentrating on the same story and the same characters is three or four times what you're used to and therefore you creatively have to really watch out for your energy and make sure that you're constantly giving the best stuff and that you're not getting too complacent or that you're not forgetting the focus of the film – and the focus for me was the tone. It was the main thing, it was just capturing a certain tone that I thought would be enjoyable and fun for the audience.
I think the most notable thing about the film is how you got that tone, how made everything so fast, fun and funny, but you didn't step over the line and make it feel out of context: you kept the tone within the Marvel Cinematic Universe zone, but you also got to do your own thing. How tricky was that balancing act for you?
It was very tricky. We spent a lot of time in post-production, actually, figuring that out. It's a very hard thing to strike that balance throughout two-hours and thirty minutes, however many minutes this thing is, for that much time that you're engaging in a film.
And sometimes it would be funny in the beginning of the film and then not funny at all for the rest of the film. Or sometimes it was funny in the wrong places and in the end, we had to just keep testing jokes and testing parts of the film sometimes. So we failed miserably and had a funny first ten minutes and then a super boring rest of the movie. But that's luckily why you have such a long time in post-production, because you can test all these things out and get the very best film that you can.
You had a great accomplice in Chris Hemsworth, who seemed game to do just about anything you asked of him, and still do his established Thor thing. Tell me about working with Chris and finding out how far you could sort of bend Thor without breaking Thor.
The secret was, we tried to break him. Tried to completely demolish him, and it's where we were able to find some really new approaches to the character and to the way Chris played him. Because Chris didn't want to do it the same way as he has done before. So we felt, “Okay, look – there are no rules here, that's the number one rule. So we're trying to do something new and something that's fun that and adventurous, and we want to do something that Chris will find fun and adventurous so that he can be able to turn up in the morning.
So it was really with that in mind that we felt like we could just do anything we wanted, and that we had Marvel looking over us, who could make sure that we weren't pushing it to too crazy a direction. But it turns out there wasn't, really – it was sort of almost like there was nothing that was too crazy for us to do.