Two members of the Marvel family downsize from superhero shenanigans to tackle a World War II film.
Despite making waves in the best way with Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi is determined to head in a completely different direction with his follow-up feature. Far from the fantastical stories of demi-gods and hulking green giants, Jojo Rabbit — a family film set during World War II — will be Waititi’s next project, and he has found the film’s star.
According to Variety, Black Widow herself — Scarlett Johansson — is in final negotiations to headline Jojo Rabbit. The film centers on a 10-year-old German boy who greatly desires to join Hitler’s regime. Johansson is set to play his mother who is hiding a Jewish girl in their family home; the boy’s father is nowhere to be found. Waititi wrote the Jojo Rabbit screenplay himself, and Variety reports that Fox Searchlight is currently on the hunt for the perfect actor to play the young boy.
Some may think of Waititi as a comedic director, and the presumption wouldn’t be far off. But in spite of Jojo Rabbit‘s seemingly serious subject matter, the project could very well still feature the director’s trademark mix of off-beat humor and striking impassioned elements. As much as I love the endlessly rewatchable What We Do in the Shadows — which is currently being remade for television with Waititi at the helm — Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are overall more impactful stories because of their dramatic underpinnings and emotional beats.
In Wilderpeople, Ricky Baker’s foster mother suddenly dies, and he reacts by running away. The absurdity of his shenanigans is counterbalanced by his burgeoning connection to his foster father (played by the ineffable Sam Neill). This juxtaposition effectively relays the importance of found families and supporting “bad eggs,” whose questionable behavior can sometimes be endearingly funny or ridiculously dangerous. Wilderpeople is a film for the underdog child in all of us.
In comparison, Waititi revealed to The Wrap that there would be an “imaginary Hitler” character in Jojo Rabbit, who he will also portray. This is the German boy’s imaginary friend who represents both the father he longs to be with and his confusion over the ever-present Nazi propaganda during the war. Waititi clarifies that this will not be a glorified, sympathetic depiction of Hitler, but more of “a lonely boy’s best version of his hero.”
Once again, Waititi taps into child-like innocence to reach a profound statement. But of course, Jojo Rabbit has a more tenuous storyline compared to Wilderpeople because of its connection to WWII. Whether Waititi can find a balance between his singular, clearly fictional account and the ripple effects that a very real world war had remains to be seen.
This does seem like a challenge befitting a director looking to expand his horizons, though. Ragnarok was very well-received for being a fresh addition to the MCU, and Waititi has fielded offers for huge projects since. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was so impressed with his work at Marvel that she declared him to have “exactly the right sensibility” to direct a Star Wars film sometime down the line. Mumblings that Waititi will take the helm of a live-action Akira remake still aren’t set in stone. However, he has offered a promising glimpse of what his version of the cult favorite could be like.
Along with directing the pilot for the Shadows TV show, Waititi has an actual sequel to the film — We’re Wolves — is planned with long-time collaborator Jemaine Clement. It was also announced in February 2017 that he would co-direct Bubbles, a film about Michael Jackson’s famous pet chimpanzee.
As for Johansson, she is mostly known for her work in blockbuster and genre fare in recent years. Besides the Marvel movies, Johansson has done extensive work in action (Lucy, Ghost in the Shell) and sci-fi (Under the Skin). She has lent her voice to some animated films too (The Jungle Book, Sing). Johansson also has roots in comedy, be it of the more eccentric variety (Hail, Caesar!) or a full-on mainstream raunchy romp (Rough Night). Most recently, she voiced one of the dogs in Wes Anderson’s stop-motion film Isle of Dogs and has a Noah Baumbach project in post-production. So, it would seem like Johansson is focused on finding a balance between her bigger budget commitments and auteur-driven films.
Marvel gave Johansson and Waititi a huge boost in profile respectively and will likely sustain their image for a long time to come. Working together on a smaller project would be a nice change of pace for them compared to navigating blockbuster juggernauts, all the while maintaining fandom interest in where they will go next. Jojo Rabbit already sounds like the best of both worlds in this regard.