In the decade-long 23-film saga that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's astounding, to say the least, when recognizing the mass success that Marvel Studios has managed to accomplish. From telling tales about super soldiers to alien guardians, every film released feels like a hit, and fans are always wanting more.
However, it wasn't always that easy for Kevin Feige and his gang at Marvel Studios. In fact, much of their success is actually credited to their inclination to take risks in the film industry. Making a superhero film about a tech genius in a metal suit or about a scientist whose experiments take a turn for the worse is something that many Hollywood directors actually fight for the opportunity of.
What's been revealed recently however was that the space fantasy known as 2011's Thor was one of the biggest risks that Marvel ever took, and that they were very intentional in choosing the famous Kenneth Branagh to lead the way.
Collider sat down with director Kenneth Branagh on a recent episode of Collider Connected to promote the release of his Dinsey+ film, Artemis Fowl. However, Branagh was inevitably asked about his involvement in the conglomerate that is the MCU and revealed that directing 2011's Thor was no simple task:
"Thor became critical to being the sort of tonal bridge—featuring literally a rainbow bridge as well—between as it were the Earthbound and space-bound and fantasy-bound parts of the Marvel universe. So there was a kind of connective matrix that Thor, Asgard, the Nine Realms and everything that it involved could provide inside that large Marvel Cinematic Universe that was enormously important that couldn’t be done by the brilliant Captain America, because it wasn’t the same material. This was the one that said, ‘Is there a fantastical future?’”
Branagh also commented about why he didn’t want to return to direct the film's sequel, Thor: The Dark World:
When the first one was finished, essentially it had been three fantastic years of my life, but I needed to recharge on something else. I was too close to the glass on that one, so I would definitely never say never again because it changed my life and changed my career and I’m profoundly grateful for it.
On top of all of that, Branagh also said that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige told him that casting for the film was a crucial piece to the puzzle, as it would further play out and help develop the studios' first team-up flick that would release just a year later: The Avengers. Because of this, Branagh claims that casting for 2011's Thor was the most important decision the company would make:
“I’ll never forget the moment that we cast those two boys [Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston]. It was like a sort of meditation or a sort of incantation… Kevin Feige must’ve walked around this long oval table a hundred times on that Saturday morning as I kept sort of saying, ‘I think we should call them.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yeah, I think we should call them.’… and I knew how profoundly serious that decision was. Kevin said, ‘We’ll never make a more important decision in this company than what’s happening in this room, Saturday morning at 10:30, when you pick up the phone to Chris Hemsworth and then Tom Hiddleston. It’s either going to work or it’s not. Good luck.’”
WHAT THIS MEANS
Talk about pressure. Imagine seeing the unprecedented success of the first Iron Man film, followed by the underwhelming yet sophisticated powerhouse that is The Incredible Hulk, and knowing that the Thor franchise absolutely has to deliver in order to keep the MCU momentum going. Now, add the fact that Thor would be entirely different than the films that preceded it, taking audiences to new places outside of Earth and opening the door to infinite possibilities on a cosmic scale that could later be explored, but only if Thor was a success. Then, to have the president of Marvel Studios say that the casting decisions for this film will either make or break the MCU as a whole? That's one tall order.
In this case, the pressure that Feige put on Branagh seems to have worked perfectly. It's no secret how Tom Hiddleston's Loki has grown on the majority of the MCU fanbase, and much of that must be credited to how the character was established in his 2011 debut. Additionally, the layers of Chris Hemsworth's Thor that have been explored over the years can all be traced back to his first titular film as well. These two actors embody these historic Marvel characters brilliantly (and so very easily), that no one could even picture another actor playing either of these two roles.
What must be commended above all else in this reveal is the insight that Kevin Feige and his team have been able to wield to their advantage. They knew what they wanted before production even began for Thor, which speaks volumes to how they've been able to blend so many unique stories together to continue to tell one fluent narrative year after year.