Thor: Love And Thunder Director Taika Waititi Wants To Give Thor Purpose [Interview]

Taika Waititi is figuring things out as he goes. It's why his sets have such a reputation for improv, why he spends months finding his film's tone in post-production, and why his final product might look dramatically different from his original drafts.

"That really just is just months, months of editing the film in different ways," Waititi told me in an interview over Zoom ahead of the release of "Thor: Love and Thunder." It's fitting that his hero in "Thor: Love and Thunder" is similarly trying to figure himself out. "He's lost and he's wanting to know what his purpose is," Waititi explained. And of course, there's the ex (Natalie Portman, reprising her role as Jane Foster), as well as a new villain who seeks to kill all gods (Christian Bale). Things are looking darker than ever for the God of Thunder, though you wouldn't be able to tell by the film's flashy, '80s-inspired stylings. The comedy and drama are all at interplay with each other, but it's all "a balancing act," Waititi admitted.

Waititi has made an award-winning career out of fine balancing acts. The Oscar-winning writer-director-producer-actor extraordinaire is acclaimed for his absurd and absurdly poignant films such as "What We Do in the Shadows" and "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," which manage to hit the funny bone while hitting audiences with an emotional gut punch. And then, there's Thor.

In 2017, Waititi did what was seemingly impossible: He made Thor funny. "Thor: Ragnarok" was a bolt of lightning to the Marvel character played by Chris Hemsworth, who had, until then, spent his time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe brooding and being shirtless and growing his hair to alternating lengths. Tapping into Hemsworth's natural comedic abilities, Waititi turned Thor into a himbo for a new age with the raucously funny "Thor: Ragnarok," which in turn became a new turning point for the MCU. So when it came time to do a follow-up film (and a rare fourth solo film for the MCU), Waititi was feeling the pressure.

"I have to admit, I was a little freaked out," Waititi said. "I was like, 'Am I going to be able to match everything from 'Ragnarok'? ... Was I able to do that? And was I able to surpass that?"

If the early buzz for "Love and Thunder" is any indication, yes, yes he did.

I chatted with Waititi about where we find Thor, both the regular and Mighty ones, in "Thor: Love and Thunder," why his movies are always about family, and what he thinks about love (and thunder).

'He's trying to figure out his place in the world'

You injected new energy into Thor with "Thor: Ragnarok." Coming into the second one that you're directing, was there an expectation to one-up yourself with both the comedic and emotional stakes?

Yeah, always. And I have to admit, I was a little freaked out that I might ... I was like, "Am I going to be able to match everything from "Ragnarok"? ... Was I able to do that? And was I able to surpass that? And we wanted to push Thor in a new direction, and do something we hadn't done before. And luckily, yeah, I think we succeeded.

We managed to create something that's like a really emotional story, too. We're finding Thor in a midlife crisis and he's trying to figure out his place in the world. He's lost and he's wanting to know what his purpose is. Is it really just to be a hero forever, or is there something else? And what's great is by the end of the film, his arc is so great ... he experiences love and he finds his purpose at the end.

Let's talk about the Mighty Thor. You have Natalie Portman back as Jane Foster in quite a sobering storyline that draws heavily from one of the character's most significant comic book arcs. Can you speak about tackling such a heavy subject without sacrificing too much of your signature sense of humor?

Yeah, that's a fine balancing act. And there are iterations of the film, like early, early drafts when I was writing it, where the film opened with her character and it became hard. It's a balancing act. And that's what we do in the edits, for, oh, like 14 months or so. We're just trying to find out, it's like, "When are we allowed to laugh? When can we allow ourselves to be emotional and to feel for this character?" That really just is just months, months of editing the film in different ways.

And also, I just loved that storyline so much, and I think Jane's character is so great. And it's cool to see her move from the sidelines of being Thor's girlfriend in a "Thor" movie to the Mighty Thor and really having as much ownership over this film as Chris. And it was just super, just very powerful to see such a cool character.

'I feel most of us have been there in some way or form in real life'

You've talked about how the love part of "Love and Thunder" was one of your most challenging hurdles of the film. What was your solution to approaching the more romantic parts of the movie that you might have struggled with?

Well, I feel most of us have been there in some way or form in real life. It was just tapping into those moments of just going, "Yeah, if I hadn't seen an ex in eight years and I was still hung up on them, there would be that weird sort of moment of trying to figure each other out." It was really like, the shape of it was just circling each other, trying to suss each other out and then sort of getting tighter and tighter and getting more conversational until...

And when we were shooting, I was adamant that we needed to continue to have little moments of just side glances looking over to see what the other one's doing and just play with that, because to me, the film is a romance. And it was always meant to be like that.

The romance between Thor and Jane isn't actually the only romance in the movie — the only exes in the movie, even — which I thought was kind of an ingenious addition that both added to the emotional stakes and also the comedy of it.

Which exes are you talking about?

Well, we have Jane and Thor, and we also have Thor's two weapons.

Oh yes. Now that relationship, those exes, yeah. That was something that was really cool, because in my mind Stormbreaker — because, you remember the handle of Stormbreaker is made from Groot's arm. So in some ways it's like it's been fused with that and it's part of that, and Groot's a teenager. And I sort of felt like because the weapon's a young weapon, that it should be behaving like an adolescent. And so that's why it's so unruly and unpredictable.

'All my films are about family'

I think at one point you said that all your movies used to be about dads. I'm curious: Do you still see any thematic or emotional threads like this connecting your films, and without going into spoilers, do you see "Thor: Love and Thunder" as being connected to movies about those parental relationships, perhaps even a next step in them?

Yeah. Yeah, they all are. All my films are about family. Most of them, I would say the storylines are concerned with dads and they're about dads. But, essentially, really the films are about mothers and ... yeah, I think this isn't any different. I mean, again, without going into spoilers, but it's about finding — the big thing I keep talking about is Thor finding his purpose, and it's all related to all this. I mean, I'm saying too much already.

So one of your many projects on the horizon is a "Star Wars" movie. Has it been challenging to bring your brand of comedy to the "Star Wars" universe since it has such a different tone than the MCU?

No. No, I'm able to kind of bring my tone. At the moment it's just very early, because I still haven't even finished the script. I'm still trying to come up with ideas and I'm mostly kind of in that part of the process where it's still very kind of open. And when I write, I kind of write every idea I've ever had and then start to kind of chisel it down into something. But I'm still throwing everything at the wall right now.

"Thor: Love and Thunder" opens in theaters on July 8, 2022.