When Marvel launched its Thor film franchise in 2011, the studio turned to Kenneth Branagh, a filmmaker who could bring the gravitas of Shakespearean drama to the Norse mythology of a comic-book movie.

But after two films, it was time to lighten the mood. So who better to draft for Thor: Ragnarok than a director of quirky indie comedies who doesn't even take his own career overly seriously.

"I didn't want to do any of this," says Taika Waititi, 42. While growing up on the North Island's east coast, "I was doing acting and art, but it was never my dream as a kid. I'm not one of these people who played around with a camera as a kid.

A scene from the Marvel Studios film Thor: Ragnarok.
A scene from the Marvel Studios film Thor: Ragnarok.

"I fell into this sort of thing," continues Waititi, who calls his career "a mistake."

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Just the sort of professional mistake that allows him to proceed with a sense of Zen freedom, he says, because none of this is supposed to be happening.

"Eventually, I made short films that did really well and I was forced to become a filmmaker," says Waititi, whose 2004 live-action short Two Cars, One Night garnered a raft of honours, including an Oscar nomination.

"I forced myself to fall in love with it - it was an arranged marriage."

Waititi delivers those words so evenly that his serious sentiments began to creep toward the deadpan tone that marked his 2014 vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, co-starring and co-created by friend Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, Moana), one of his comedy-troupe partners dating back two decades to their days at Victoria University of Wellington.

Director Taika Waititi. Photo / AP
Director Taika Waititi. Photo / AP

Waititi followed up that film with last year's Hunt for the Wilderpeople, an adventure comedy starring Sam Neill (who has a Ragnarok cameo) that won a wave of festival awards.

Now, he pivots from films that gross less than US$7 million to a franchise blockbuster that made that much overseas in just its opening hours. (Ragnarok has already grossed more than US$109 million in foreign markets, where it opened early.)

Yet Waititi says he puts a similar trust in his sense of storytelling, even as such executives as Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige oversee the latest step in the decade-long unfolding of this cinematic universe.

A scene from the Marvel Studios film Thor: Ragnarok.
A scene from the Marvel Studios film Thor: Ragnarok.