When Kenneth Branagh directed Thor and brought the most electrifying Avenger to the big screen, he changed the face of the modern Blockbuster. Not because Thor was that great or groundbreaking—it was pretty solid!—but because doing so provided the connective tissue that allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to begin dominating Hollywood. It proved that the mishmash of aesthetics that make up the shared Marvel universe could work on film. That burden was, as it turns out, a lot of pressure.
Talking with Collider about a variety of things, including his work on Artemis Fowl, Branagh also shared some new insight into his experience directing Thor and just how overwhelming that experience really was.
“There was no question that tonally Thor was critical after the massive success of the brilliant Iron Man from Mr. Favreau and Robert [Downey Jr.], and then slightly less successful in their terms The Incredible Hulk. 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,” Branagh said. “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?’”
That meant that all the decisions Branagh made as a director on that film were filled with a critical weight. Specifically, Branagh remembers the agonizing that went into casting the lead roles. At the time, Branagh explained, it was already established that the drama between Thor and Loki would be the lynchpin of the upcoming Avengers movie. So those two characters had to be right, or everyone involved would be out a lot of time and money.
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.’
That stress was enough for Branagh to decide against returning for the next Thor movie, which is understandable, though he’s seemingly not entirely opposed to returning to the MCU, or at least that style of filmmaking, if the opportunity justifies itself.
“The way things work, there was a version of events where… sometimes with these stories I like to plan them as trilogies, but it’s much harder in this world for that to work out because the stakes are so high you’ve gotta really see how the first one does. When the first one was finished, essentially it had been three fantastic years of my life, but I needed to recharge on something else,” he said. “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. I wasn’t ready to go straight into another one, but I like the idea of… I’d love to be planning something that was a three-parter in movie terms. That hasn’t come along yet but maybe it will.”
Branagh certainly brings a sharp, Shakespearean eye to crafting films. If the MCU ever needs that sort of perspective again, Disney knows who to call.
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