Director of next Thor film will 'shake the thing up' with 'fresher style of humour'

CNET catches up with director Taika Waititi at the Sundance Film Festival to talk Marvel movies and his latest offering "Hunt for the Wilderpeople".

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Taika Waititi talks "Thor" and "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" with CNET's Rich Trenholm at Sundance 2016.

Alvaro Aguayo

What will the director of "Thor: Ragnarok" bring to the forthcoming Marvel movie? "Jokes!" That's according to the man himself, Taika Waititi, who I caught up with at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday.

"My strength in this is bringing my style of humour," said Waititi, "which is probably a very different style of humour. They've had good jokes in them before, but I think where I come from is maybe a fresher style. It could just shake the entire thing up a bit."

"Thor: Ragnarok", due for release in late 2017, will be the third film to star Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding Marvel comics character inspired by Norse mythology. Director Waititi previously wrote, directed and appeared in "Eagle vs Shark" and hilarious vampire mockumentary "What We Do in the Shadows", as well as helming episodes of "Flight of the Conchords". His latest film is "Hunt for the Wilderpeople", a comic, heartwarming tale of a gruff bushman and a cocky youngster going on the run in the wilds of New Zealand, starring Sam Neill and revelatory newcomer Julian Dennison.

"I know CNET!" smiled Waititi as I sat down with him at a snow-covered Sundance in Park City, Utah, where he showed "Wilderpeople" for the first time on Friday night. The film was shot in just five weeks on a relatively tight budget -- in stark contrast to the huge scale of a new Marvel production.

"I'm like the new kid in class," Waititi joked of his arrival in the Marvel fold. "They're really cool people. I've already made some great friends, and everyone wants to make the best story possible." Asked if he can give a hint as to what that story will be, he said, "No, because I don't even know. We're still figuring out what characters are in it and how they all interact. We're very early on in prep, storylining, figuring it all out."

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He described how a Marvel movie is "very collaborative, more collaborative than I think people probably expect. It's not just one person ordering everyone around. It's people discussing and saying, 'What if it was like this' or 'I don't think it should be like that', which is very healthy. And it's actually what I'm used to, coming from theatre and co-ops and collaborating."

"Thor: Ragnarok" will be shot in Australia. Waititi will also bring an eye for location shooting: "Wilderpeople" makes great use of the lush New Zealand countryside, with swooping helicopter shots and changes in the weather giving the film an epic feel. So much so, I was surprised to learn it was shot in just 25 days. Shooting that fast was "a brave decision...possibly the wrong decision," Waititi joked.

But the director was determined to produce something before "Thor: Ragnarok" loomed. "It's very easy to let two or three years go by between projects," he said, "and it was very important for me after doing 'Shadows' that I didn't wait another three years. So straight after we made that I thought I want to do something really fast, that's going to be low impact in terms of financing it, with a quick turnaround. Just get it out. Just do it, and not think [here he puts on a winsome voice] 'I want to change the world with this movie'."

"Let's face it, most movies are depressing," Waititi added. "I just wanted to make something you could laugh at, with some emotional relevance and tiny little moments of profundity, but I wanted to also have the audience have a good time."

Despite the relatively small scale of the production, "Wilderpeople" just have some big action scenes. Waititi set out his vision for the film. "We're gonna have a car chase, we're gonna flip a cop car, we're gonna have the army in it... the actual army! We're gonna do as much as we can in the shortest amount of time and have the craziest story that we can for these two characters."

"I've always wanted to take bigger steps up and get bigger in scale and do cooler things," said Waititi. With "Thor: Ragnarok", he's doing just that.