As Thor: Ragnarok's Nov. 3 opening draws closer, hunger to know more about the movie (beyond what that crazy trailer already tells us) has reached a fever pitch. While you'll have to wait until the actual movie is out to know everything, a lot can be inferred about what the film will be like from the choice of director.
Taika Waititi is helming Thor: Ragnarok, and a close look at his career and his previous work gives us pretty big clues about what Thor, Hulk, and co. will be getting into. Waititi, a New Zealander who is the son of a Russian-Jewish mother and a Māori father, has a well-developed sense of what he calls "comedy of the mundane."
This sense was developed early on. While attending the Victoria University of Wellington, Waititi met people who would soon become New Zealand's other most famous comic exports, Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, later to become Flight of the Conchords. Those three, along with Carey Smith and David Lawrence, would form the comedy troupe So You're a Man. The group performed a successful self-titled show throughout 1996-97. After that, Waititi and Clement paired up to form the Humourbeasts.
After Waititi moved from live comedy into film with 2004's Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night, he re-teamed with Clement for a short film called What We Do in the Shadows: Interviews with Some Vampires. (It would be adapted into a full-length feature in 2014).
The short is a faux-documentary that follows a houseful of vampires living in a New Zealand suburb. Where Waititi's "comedy of the mundane" comes in is that these fearful creatures of the undead spend most of their time dealing with truly frightening stuff—like roommates who won't clean up after themselves after they drink virgin blood, and the quandary of figuring out how you look in your new outfit when you can't see your own reflection.
If early reports from Thor: Ragnarok are any indication, we can expect to see Hulk and Thor bantering back and forth much like Shadows' finicky Viago and the entitled, never-washes-the-dishes Deacon.
Another early Waititi short film, 2005's Tama Tu, gives a further idea how Thor and co. might act under pressure. The movie is about Māori soldiers during World War II. Even in the middle of warfare, holed up together in a building and unable to speak due for fear of alerting enemy snipers to their presence, the crew manages to play practical jokes on each other and share (silent) laughs.
Waititi made the leap into features with 2007's Eagle vs Shark, a touching love story again starring Clement as the awkward Jarrod, who tries to find love with the equally awkward and endearing Lily, played by Loren Taylor.
That film, and Waititi's follow-up, 2010's massively successful Boy, integrate fanciful elements—animated sequences, fantasies, and the like—into their otherwise naturalistic tales. While the closest they may get to superheroes is Lily's skill at Eagles vs Shark's Street Fighter analogue Fight Man, the movies show that Waititi is a master at mixing the realistic and the fantastical.
Other moods Waititi is great at mixing, both as a writer and a director, are the funny and the sad. This can be seen in his 2008 short A Perfect Love, about a perfectionist searching for romance. The character's solution—to find his perfect mate in the mirror, literally—is both absurd and heartbreaking.
"I am attracted to the outsider," Waititi said in a TED talk on "The Art of Creativity." And who could possibly be more of an outsider than an exiled Asgardian god forced to live among lowly humans? You can get an idea of how Waititi treats his Marvel outsiders in a Shadows-style faux-documentary he directed meant to show what Thor had been up to between appearances in Marvel flicks. And what has our hero been doing? In true Waititi fashion, he's been hanging with his flat-mate, Darryl.
Ultimately, Thor: Ragnarok, however many CG weapons it has, will be a Waititi film—that is to say, one that finds laughter in the middle of tragedy; that puts extraordinary characters into all-too-ordinary situations; that celebrates indigenous peoples; that loves the 1980s; and that is, as the production notes to his very first feature put it, "A colorful, glorious mess."
"I didn’t realize until after a few months that what we’re doing is essentially the exact same thing as all my other films," Waititi told /Film about directing Thor: Ragnarok. "At the end of the day, when you call action, the lens is pointed at two or three people who are trying to remember lines and say them to each other in a convincing way. From Eagle vs Shark all the way through this, it’s the exact same experience."