We Have Reached Maximum Taika
The schtick can only go on for so long
Being widely beloved is a tricky business. Everyone wants you to keep doing your thing, but there’s a point of oversaturation where your thing tips into being annoying for anyone who isn’t a die-hard fan. The easiest way to walk this tightrope, if you are a celebrity, is to be a bit reclusive. Learn to say no, keep a low profile, and only work when you’re truly inspired. That’s the Jordan Peele model of success. The other option is to submit to both an innate workaholic streak and your ego, which will make your stans happy and the rest of us feel exhausted. That’s the Taika Waititi model.
Pre-Marvel, Waititi was the indie director behind films like Eagle vs Shark and What We Do In the Shadows. In 2015, he was plucked from relative obscurity to direct Thor: Ragnarok, the third Thor movie. Upon release, the film was heralded by critics as “inspired” and “the funniest Thor movie yet.” Manohla Dargis wrote in the New York Times that Waititi had “a charmingly idiosyncratic human touch and a gift for turning goofiness and gab into personality.”
All of this is true, and it was great to see a Marvel movie that had any sense that something other than a machine had directed it. The jokes were funny, the colors were bright, and Chris Hemsworth got to show off his under-appreciated silly side. The real winner of the movie was not Hemsworth or Marvel, but Waititi, who was suddenly a household name. Waititi got a blank check to do whatever the hell he wanted, and you better believe he cashed it.
First there was the Hitler Youth comedy Jojo Rabbit, in which he starred as an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler and won an Oscar for his screenplay. That same year the television version of What We Do in the Shadows premiered to critical acclaim. Then he executive produced Reservation Dogs (also critically acclaimed). Then this year he produced and acted in Our Flag Means Death, an HBOMax show about pirates that got mixed reviews but has a devoted audience.
This week his second Thor movie, Thor: Love and Thunder, is premiering. He’s also working on a Star Wars movie, a film about soccer called Next Goal Wins, and an AppleTV+ show called Time Bandits. He also acts, in case you forgot, and has recently appeared in Free Guy and Lightyear. He’s even billed above the title on the poster Thor: Love and Thunder for his role as Krog.
On top of all that there is the media coverage: Waititi is both a favored profile subject (due to being hot) and a tabloid fixture (due to his relationship with Rita Ora, a woman who is photographed by paparazzi seemingly every day of her life). I’m tired just writing all of that out. Waititi told the New York Times recently that there are “five other things that haven’t been reported on yet.”
This is too much of one guy. Hollywood bigwigs are naturally lazy, and thus not inclined to go find other eccentric weirdos who could take some of the weight off of his shoulders. It’s not even entirely Waititi’s fault that he has been the only person allowed to be quirky for the better part of the last decade. It helps that he’s handsome, but I’m sure we could find another hot, funny person if we all tried hard enough. Looking outside the continental US does seem to help.
In that same Times interview, Waititi said that he would be “cool as well to take six months off and just go hang out with my kids.” As my colleague Fran Hoepfner wrote recently, he should probably do that. We all need a break.
The reviews for Thor: Love and Thunder so far have been far less glowing than those for his first foray into Asgard. Some critics are politely calling it “uneven,” while others are saying that it is “a hasty-feeling mess of a movie.”
While these are probably not the headlines Marvel was hoping for, maybe the poor reception to the movie will give Waititi a wake-up call. He’s doing too much, and the center cannot hold. For his sake and ours, the man needs a sabbatical. If Waititi played his cards right, he could be our favorite acquaintance. We see him at a party and he’s holding court telling an incredible story and making everyone laugh. We’d be happy he’s there! We’d be more than happy to let him have some of the beer we brought. But right now he’s a guy with all of those characteristics, except he’s been crashing on our couch for too long, and we are one funny voice away from kicking him out.