How 'Thor' opened up the MCU: Kenneth Branagh on hiring Chris Hemsworth, going to space and the terror of Fabio

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

The Marvel Cinematic Universe as we’ve known it for the past decade has recently come to an end with Avengers: Endgame. And while the road to Endgame began with 2008’s Iron Man, we likely wouldn’t have ever gotten to this destination without a certain Asgardian warrior. In 2011, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige took an enormous gamble by leaving behind the Earthbound exploits of heroes like Tony Stark and the Hulk and heading off into space with the first live-action Thor film. And he hired director Kenneth Branagh to take that leap with him. “I was aware that Kevin Feige really knew that Thor was critical,” the British filmmaker tells Yahoo Entertainment while discussing his new movie, All Is True. “This new dimension ... the space adventure needed to find its starting place. There was real concern around that. They felt that if they didn’t get that one right, it was going to be really, really difficult for the expansion of that tone across the rest of what they planned.”

Both Branagh and Feige knew that the success or failure of Thor depended heavily on the actor they chose to wield Mjölnir. Enter Chris Hemsworth, who had previously made an impression playing James T. Kirk’s father in the prologue sequence of J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek reboot. Before they settled on Hemsworth, the duo reviewed the audition of a fresh face named Tom Hiddleston, ultimately choosing to offer him the equally important role of Thor’s trickster adopted brother Loki instead. “We made the calls the same morning within two minutes of each other. Kevin said ‘These will be the most important calls we make.’ And they were, because who knew what amazing chemistry they would have.”

Branagh headed into production on Thor with a unique mantra about what the movie shouldn’t become. “The terror was, ‘Don’t let it be like Fabio! Don’t make it Fabio!’” he says, laughing. He avoided that fate by tapping into his Shakespearean training and grounding the story in what he calls a “dynastic architecture” that forced the audience to take this new planet and its fantastical citizens seriously. “You’ve got to set up a kind of mythology ... that allowed for people to understand high stakes and emotional content. I felt like you needed to get a big peg in the ground with that.”

The one fanciful flourish that Branagh allowed himself was an extensive use of “Dutch angles,” where the camera is tilted to one side so that the image appears slanted instead of horizontal. To this day, that choice distinguishes Thor from any other Marvel movie, including the sequels The Dark World and Ragnarok. “It was as simple as this: I read the comic books and all I saw were the images in those angles,” Branagh explains now. “For me, it was an easy attempt to find the dynamism of the comic books. I know quite a few people weren’t crazy about it, but I’m so glad we did it because it has such a distinctive look.”

Avengers: Endgame and All Is True are playing in theaters now; check Fandango and Atom Tickets for showtime and ticket information. Thor is available to rent or purchase on Amazon, iTunes and Vudu.

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