5. Eagle vs Shark (2007)
At a glance, Waititi’s feature film debut would appear to be just another quirky romcom, but its charm is infectious, especially if you’re particularly fond of unconventional meet-cutes and endearingly awkward characters spending time with each other. Don’t think you’ve got Eagle vs Shark pegged from the start though, because as the layers of quirk are peeled back it soon becomes clear that this film is actually a very sensitive insight into depression.
Weirdos Lily (Loren Taylor) and Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) meet at the grubby fast food joint Lily works at and then well-and-truly fall for each other at an animal themed costume party. Before long they are travelling together to Jarrod’s childhood home, partly to see his family but mostly for him to get revenge on a hated bully from school.
The oddball tone of the film won’t be for everyone, but it’s much more mature and profound than it looks at first glance, acknowledging the roadblocks so many experience in communicating effectively with one another and maintaining their own mental health. If you’re going to have a little cry watching a film with inter-cut stop-motion animation sequences involving an anthropomorphic apple core, let it be this one.
4. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Taika Waititi’s Oscar-winner proved tough for some to swallow. Much like Mel Brooks’ The Producers, it was accused of trivialising the Holocaust and making calculated acts of evil committed by the Nazis look farcical. For all that, it works so well as a film about the mundanity of evil.
Young Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) joins the Hitler Youth and dreams of being the perfect Aryan soldier defending the Fatherland until his life is turned upside down when he discovers Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish teenager who is being hidden from the Gestapo in his attic by his mother (Scarlett Johansson). How will his worldview and sense of self change, and what will his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Waititi) think?
The cleverest gag in Jojo Rabbit probably comes in the opening credits, which are set to a German version of The Beatles’ “I want to hold your hand”, acknowledging parallels between rock ‘n’ roll fervour and right-wing fanaticism. Self-described “Polynesian Jew” Waititi playing imaginary Hitler first as a cool older brother, then a jealous bully, and finally a sad, pathetic a-hole as Jojo’s perspective shifts and the war is lost, is a well thought-out idea, and the deft tonal shifts from Pythonesque absurdity (what happens if Nazis keep entering the room and all have to “Heil Hitler”?) to moments of very real-world heartbreak demonstrates an extreme lightness of touch.
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Taika Waititi’s biggest and most mainstream film to date saw him revitalise Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder Thor following a lacklustre second franchise instalment (Thor: The Dark World) and deliver something irreverent, unexpected and gloriously Jack Kirby-inspired in its vibrant visuals. The frankly absurd cast including Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban and Waititi-regular Rachel House all look to be having the times of their lives and the fun is truly infectious.
After long-lost Asgardian Goddess of Death, sister Hela (Blanchett), returns to conquer Asgard, Thor (Hemsworth) is cast out to a slave planet and forced to compete as a gladiator against fellow Avenger Hulk (Ruffalo) before regrouping with some unexpected allies to retake his home and save its people by any means necessary.
Ragnarok contains the best line in a Marvel movie – Hopkins as Odin’s perspective-shifting rebuke to his self-doubting son, “What are you, the God of Hammers?” – two of the MCU’s best supporting characters (Tessa Thompson’s alcoholic warrior Valkyrie and Waititi’s gentle rock man Korg) and some of the franchise’s best gags in and amongst an ambitious story about intergalactic colonialism. Waititi has set the bar high for his return with the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, but if anyone is going to smash everyone’s expectations, then he will.
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