Thor: Ragnarok has handed Waititi the keys to Tinseltown and wherever he goes next, it won't be dull.

If even a modest mainstream hit can turn Hollywood into your oyster, than Taika Waititi's universe is now a string of pearls.

Waititi has been on the industry's radar for more than a decade, since his first film release, the 2004 short Two Cars, One Night, scored an Oscar nomination (a short that later begot the feature film Boy). But he was in no hurry to make big-budget movies like Thor: Ragnarok, which has grossed more than US$430 million ($622m) worldwide.

Unlike other Marvel directors such as James Gunn and the Russo Brothers, Waititi has such an uncommon approach to directing a superhero movie that he might not even accept a shot at a sequel if Disney and Team Feige offered. It wasn't even Thor, as character or story, that particularly attracted Waititi to saying yes to entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Advertisement

"When I think of the comics, not much" is appealing, Waititi tells the Washington Post of the Thor stories. "Other than, he's basically an alien, he has access to these different worlds, and that's a cool way of [taking] the audience on an ... adventure".

(As for the Thor visuals as opposed to the comics stories, Waititi does acknowledge: "All these 70s comic books were so bright and colourful with these splash pages and bold art ... It was a conscious decision to embrace that Jack Kirby art" in Ragnarok.)

With Waititi, you get the sense that he would get easily bored if he stuck with one genre or franchise for too long. As a kid, he says, he was attracted to painting and writing and theatre and music, and film-making simply became a way to integrate all those passions.

Taikia Waititi admits little about the Thor story drew him to it yet he was able to imbue Thor: Ragnarok with his wry, offbeat style.
Taikia Waititi admits little about the Thor story drew him to it yet he was able to imbue Thor: Ragnarok with his wry, offbeat style.

As a 42-year-old film-maker, his interests seem creatively free-ranging and voracious.

Still, there are through-lines. Ever since partnering with Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, Moana) two decades ago in an improv troupe after meeting at university in New Zealand, the constants in Waititi's eclectic film career have been finding laughter in pain, locating relatable realism in the absurd, and exploring family dysfunction and the journeys of an outsider. All those elements work winningly in such indie films of his as Eagle vs Shark and What We Do in the Shadows (both co-starring Clement), as well as Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Yet now that Waititi's form of close-magic deadpan and perpetual irony has been embraced by Ragnarok-loving filmgoers, where does he go from here?

/ Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Well, one fittingly offbeat project is a stop-motion animated film that centres on Michael Jackson's pet chimpanzee, Bubbles. "It's about Michael Jackson's life a little bit," says Waititi, who has spoken of his fascination with the pop star, "but it's more about this animal is [thrust] into this very strange world."

Again, the lure of the outsider tale - be it quirky romantics dressed as eagles and sharks, or a chimp trying to make his way in Neverland.

Either way, at work is a creatively subversive free spirit that loves to fly in the face of reality armed with wit, playfulness and a killer sense of the absurd.

Hollywood now spreads out before Waititi for the taking. Whatever the path, you can bet the flight won't be dull.