Under Taika Waititi’s imaginative direction and influence, Thor: Ragnarok single-handedly innovated Marvel’s Thor franchise forever. Waititi’s refreshing exploration with the established Thor-lore while expanding Thor: Ragnarok’s artistic palette by mixing New Zealand humour, unique scene-stealing characters and eye-catching visuals earned him acclaim from critics and fans alike.
Before going behind the camera for Marvel, however, Taika Waititi was a well-established and acclaimed filmmaker in his own right. His cinematic roots stemmed in homeland New Zealand, where his weird and wonderful low budget films were mainly distributed through film festivals. Despite limited resources, Waititi won numerous accolades and captured audience’s imaginations by making some of the funniest and heartwarming films of recent times that everyone needs to check out. Here’s a look at those films…
Eagle vs Shark (2007)
Two awkward outsiders Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) and Lily find a kindred spirit in each other at an animal dress up party (dressed up as the titular ‘eagle’ and ‘shark’). However, their blossoming relationship becomes fractured when Jarrod becomes obsessed with his “mission” to fight his old nemesis, the high school bully.
Waititi’s quirky and funny first feature film highlights a sweet love story, proving that love can be found in the strangest of places (and people).
Boy is a young, naïve daydreamer who waits for his long-absent father Alamein (played by Waititi) to return home. Boy’s wish comes true when Alamein unexpectedly arrives, intending to dig up his ‘buried treasure’ that’s hidden somewhere in the backyard. Eventually, Boy discovers his father isn’t all he’s cracked up to be.
A comedy with startling realism, Boy won universal praise from critics and cemented Waititi’s status as filmmaker.
There’s also inadvertent foreshadowing to Waititi’s involvement with Thor: Ragnarok when Alamein hilariously asks Boy, “Do you think you can handle having the Hulk for a dad?”
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Flat sharing is never easy, especially when the flatmates are three ancient vampires living in modern day Wellington, New Zealand. Dealing with shared household chores, navigating the Internet and needing to feed are the struggles of the 21st century vampire.
A celebration of vampire stereotypes and utilising the mockumentary format, What We Do in the Shadows is now a cult favourite for its snappy one-liners (“What are we?” “Werewolves, not swear-wolves.”) and bloodsucking protagonists Deacon, Vladislav (Clement) and Viago (Waititi).
In addition, Thor: Ragnarok’s standout character Korg (also played by Waititi) may have subtly referenced the three vamp flat mates when he remarked, “Thor, wanna use a big, wooden fork? Yeah, not really useful unless you’re fighting off three vampires that were huddled together.”
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) and foster child Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) are the self-proclaimed Wilderpeople, a dysfunctional pair who trek the vast New Zealand bush while narrowly escaping the ever-present police manhunt on their tail.
Currently New Zealand’s highest grossing film of all time, Hunt for the Wilderpeople showcases hilarious escapades on an epic scale.
Among the witty Wilderpeople actors is Waititi’s fellow Thor: Ragnarok cast-mate Rachel House (The Grandmaster’s guard named Topaz) who appears as the determined social worker who’s searching for Ricky. You’ll find her in just about all of Waititi’s works.
Thor: Ragnarok is available for streaming on February 20 and on Blu-Ray on March 7. Eagle vs Shark, Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are available now to watch on various streaming platforms and on DVD.