One of our best recent filmmakers, Taika Waititi‘s voice is unique among moviegoers in that he’s one of the rare directors who is somewhat of a celebrity in his own right. While starring in his own films will do that, Waititi is also a smart, witty guy in general whose scripts toe the line between pure farce and emotional sincerity.
Over the course of his recent career, he has made seven films of varying quality, and while not all of them are classics, several of them have entered the annals of history already. Whether it be superhero action, comedic dramas, or just wacky slapstick, Waititi has it all.
Everybody has to start somewhere, and Eagle vs. Shark works as Waititi’s humble and small-budgeted debut. Filmed in his home country of New Zealand, this quirky romantic comedy is as standard as you can get outside a couple of interesting twists, mainly in that it’s not afraid to dabble in the bizarre non-sequitur humor that became trademarks of Waititi.
Eagle vs. Shark makes up for its standard fare story with that sense of humor. Still, it’s far cry from his later work and has all the makings of an early filmmaker still trying to find his voice.
Thor: Love and Thunder should have been a slam dunk. Following up the titular’s hero most popular solo outing as well as some of his most acclaimed roles in Infinity War and Endgame, there was a ton of pressure on Taika Waititi to deliver once again, and with him, in the writer’s chair (along with co-writer Jennifer Laytin Robinson) it seemed like an easy win for Marvel.
The magic of Thor: Ragnarok is gone, and critics seemed to agree as the consensus was that it failed to live up to its predecessor despite some strong performances and striking visuals.
Depending on who you ask, Jojo Rabbit is either Taika Waititi’s crowning achievement as a director or a complete misfire. And it’s not hard to see why – the subject he is tackling here is extremely delicate and touchy, and it’s possible his cynical, satirical approach just didn’t work for some viewers.
And it’s reflected in the critical score, which is highly divisive. Some critics named it one of their favorites of the year, with most of the praise being lobbied to the cast, its script, and Waititi’s visual style, while others loathed the film for the same reasons. Whatever the case was, everybody who Jojo Rabbit had opinions on it, especially as it became an Oscar frontrunner and eventually won Waititi his first Oscar.
Boy was the film that truly put Waititi on the map. A coming-of-age film that deftly balances comedy and drama, Boy is pretty much prime Waititi material – finding yourself in a world that seems bizarre, offbeat, and even against you at point, and seeing how you can make the best of yourself.
While its tried and true themes aren’t new, critics latched onto its storyline and its characters, as well as Waititi’s offbeat, bizarre sense of humor that was being carried over from his work on Flight of the Conchords. It has since become a must-watch for fans of Waititi, and a personal favorite of the director for many.
People seem to forget sometimes how dire the situation was for Thor in the MCU back in Phase Three. While other heroes like Iron Man and Captain America were thriving with audiences, as well as new characters like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange becoming household names, Thor was getting lost in the bunch after a weak second outing and being underused in the Avengers films.
And then comes along Taika Waititi, who revitalizes the character in a way not seen before or since in the MCU. Latching onto Chris Hemsworth‘s shockingly good comedic presence and the wackier, more colorful side of cosmic Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok is still one of the MCU’s very best and remains just as fresh as it was back in 2017. Critics agreed, and they routinely praised the film across the board.
While it’s something of a household name in most households now, What We Do in the Shadows has pretty humble beginnings. A small-budgeted comedy from New Zealand with the energy of “four guys made this is in a basement”, the ingenious premise involves a fake documentary about four roommate vampires in Wellington.
This easy-to-sell premise is ripe for comedic potential, but the real treat is just how well the mockumentary angle makes you buy these characters are actual friends. And while critical acclaim had always been in the film’s favor, it has become a massive cult hit, with a just as popular TV show version has been airing on FX to equal amounts of acclaim.
There is something really special about Hunt for the Wilderpeople that’s hard to put into words. While the film plays with all of Waititi’s normal tropes – young kid characters coming-of-age, adult characters who are directionless, bizarre humor, and the mix of emotional gut punches with slapstick, it’s on point in a way that’s not really there in most of Waititi’s filmography.
And critics seem to think so too. It’s widely seen as Waititi’s finest work yet, and it’s the film that likely really showed what he was capable of before going to Marvel to take over Thor. It’s a wonderful film and one of the best of its year – a true modern classic in every sense of the word.