If you’re a fan of Flight of the Conchords or the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows then you already know Taika Waititi is aces. As a director, he’s got an impeccable ability to balance painful earnestness with biting humor. And as a comedy writer and actor, he produces jokes that land every time—even if they’re so subtle you don’t notice it at first.

This has never been more true than in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and stars Sam Neill as a woodsy tough guy who ends up on the lam in the New Zealand bush with a gangster-wannabe foster kid (Ricky, played by newcomer Julian Dennison). It’s Waititi’s best movie yet, and it bodes well for his next project: Thor: Ragnarok.

Yes, after a career of making small, subtle movies like the stellar Eagle vs. Shark, Waititi’s next gig is directing the third Marvel movie about the Asgardian god. And while his skillset may not at first glance seem suited to an interstellar superhero epic, the way Waititi does it, they are. (Really, aren’t all of the Avengers movies just family misadventures?) Here’s why we should be very excited to see what Waititi does in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

He’s No Stranger to Punching Up Dark Source Material

Despite the fact that it’s very much a comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is actually based on a serious novel: Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress. “Nothing in the book is funny,” Waititi told WIRED at Sundance. “I brought in all that kind of stuff. The main thing taken from the book is the heart and soul of it: It’s about a young boy growing up, and having the craziest of experiences.”

He’s Quick With a Pop Culture Reference

One of the ways Waititi enlivened Wilderpeople was with an infusion of well-placed pop culture references. Ricky, for example, names his dog Tupac, after his favorite rapper. While hiding in the bush, the boy notes his plight is like Lord of the Rings. When Ricky tells the woman from children’s services that he is the Terminator, she replies that he’s actually Sarah Connor—from the first movie, before she could do pull-ups. And that’s just one of a few barbs the welfare agent gets in, and they didn’t all make the final cut. “I saw her character as Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive. She lives in a movie fantasy,” Waititi says. “There’s one outtake we did with her where she did the entire Last of the Mohicans speech.” (She also has a catchphrase: “No child left behind.” However, Waititi hadn’t realized he lifted that from George W. Bush until someone pointed it out at Sundance.)

He’s as Excited About Loki as We Are

One of the great things about Thor: Ragnarok is the return of fan favorite Loki, who was absent from Avengers: Age of Ultron. No one is more aware of this than Waititi—not that he knows how he’s going to use actor Tom Hiddleston. “At the moment, everyone’s trying to figure it out, like ‘What’s he going to do?’” Witty says. “Everyone loves that character.”

He’s Also—Like 99.9 Percent for Sure—Going to Work With Cate Blanchett

Rumors have been circulating for a while now that Cate Blanchett will be joining the MCU in Ragnarok. Ask Waititi, and you’ll get a long pause…then a “Yes.” Really? “Look, it’s so early I’m not sure exactly what the extent of it is, but it’s looking good,” he says, “which would make me very happy.” Push further and ask if about the rumor that she’ll be playing Thor nemesis Hela, and you won’t even get shot down. “Yeah, the rumor … Here’s the thing,” Waititi says. “I can’t say anything. I’ve probably said way too much.”

He Loves Event Horizon

When introducing Neill at Sundance, he presented him by saying “…from Event Horizon, the great Sam Neill.” It’s one of Waititi’s favorite films. So much so that he bugged the actor to explain the movie to him on set. “He says he can’t remember anything,” Waititi says. “He remembers it being really weird. I keep asking him to do the pin through the paper thing, but he doesn’t remember how to do it. I’m like ‘It’s two points, point A and point B, then you put a hole through it.’” OK, so maybe this doesn’t have anything to do with how well he’ll make a superhero movie, but good taste in genre movies looks good on any director’s CV.

He’ll Never Abandon His Roots

Waititi got where he is doing small indie projects in New Zealand with his friends—specifically Conchords star Jemaine Clement. Even though he’ll be spending the next year or more making a Marvel movie, that doesn’t mean he’ll stay in Asgard forever. He’d still like to make Jojo Rabbit, a World War II dramedy, as well as a movie about one of the recurring jokes in What We Do in the Shadows. “Jemaine and I are writing a spin-off film that’s going to follow the werewolves,” he says. “It follows Stu’s journey into becoming a werewolf and fitting in with the pack. We’ve got a bunch of TV ideas we’re working on as well. I love the idea of doing these big things but I also very much like the films that I make. So I’ll always want to go back to doing that.”


Taika Waititi, the Next Thor Director, Is an Indie Film Powerhouse