The Nordic god is Marvelâ€™s latest comic creation to arrive on the silver screen May 6th. Although Marvelâ€™s Holy Trinity consists of Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four, Thor is a unique and well-established superheroâ€”the only superhero based upon a fabled godâ€”who first sprung onto the comic pages in 1962, courtesy of the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This marks the thunder godâ€™s first feature-length appearance onscreen, filling a lengthy drought of films in the Marvel Universe, and has been highly anticipated since its announcement.
Directed by Kenneth Branaghâ€”director of Mary Shellyâ€™s Frankensteinâ€”Thor tells the story of the supercilious warrior god and his banishment to earth from his realm of Asgard, one of the Nine Realms connected by the Cosmic Tree of Life. Norse mythology depicts Thor as a thunder god, wielding a hammer, the force of which cracks the heavens. Lee and Kirby, when creating the comic series, were adamant about telling the story of a fallen god. When most people think of gods, they think of the Roman and Greek myths. The idea of a Nordic god as a hero was unexpected; equally unexpected was the ongoing feuds between Thor and his father, Odinâ€”veteran actor Sir Anthony Hopkins portrays Odin in the film.
Branagh, who grew up under the soot-colored skies of Northern Ireland, where rain is often more prevalent than sunshine, said he was immediately drawn toward the Thor comics as a child.
â€œThe cover of the Marvel Comics would pop out from the book shelves, and the Mighty Thor was the one I was always drawn to,â€ the director said. Branagh added that he liked the primal qualities of the Nordic god: the connection to antiquity, the Stonehenge feel of the lettering, and the characterâ€™s physical heft. â€œâ€¦ Thereâ€™s exhilaration, a visceral kind of enjoyment in seeing those kinds of characters go through the same things we do.â€
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The task of penning the story for the film fell into capable hands with the talented J. Michael Straczynski. Straczynski, who penned the Thor comics for over two years and is an award-winning screenwriter, said Branagh was the perfect choice to helm the picture.
â€œWith his classical training and his grounding in language, Ken (Branagh) has the ability to make this both lofty and accessible. He can bring these gods down to where a person can understand them.â€
And unlike superheroes such as Spiderman or the X-Men, Thor can be found in works of literature, fables, and mythology throughout the world, and was known long before Lee and Kirby ensnared him to the Marvel Universe. Producer Kevin Feige acknowledged Branagh as a talented storyteller, one who can adapt literature to the silver screen, which was important for this character.
â€œCenturies ago, these tales were handed down around the firesâ€”itâ€™s really sort of the same today, only the fire is the light of the projector,â€ said Feige.
Despite the sources of the comics prevalent around the creative team, the source of the film remains the Norse mythology and history of the Vikings. Thor, who is also a member of the Avengers, is not as well-known as some of Marvelâ€™s other A-list characters. However, this also presents a unique opportunity, for the team has the opportunity to project the first creation of the character on film in a unique wayâ€”a way that can set a precedent and pave the way for said sequels, which are sure to be plentiful. While Spiderman and the X-Men have been filmed again and again, audiences do not know what to expect with Thor, adding a delightful element of mystery that bodes well with the comics.
To play the mighty thunder-god, Branagh and his team felt Chris Hemsworth was perfect for the part. Hemsworth, whose flaxen hair and powerful physique allow for the perfect caricature of the Viking god, is not a well-known actor. However, he is sure to excite audiences with his passion and near-perfect mold of the character. And while Thor is action-packed, loaded with special effects, Hemsworth said the small, non-heroic exchanges in the film rank among his favorite.
â€œThor is full of big moments, some huge action and pyrotechnics, but some of my favorites are the sequences between Thor and Janeâ€”normal, everyday conversations,â€ Hemsworth said, adding that one of his favorite scenes took place in New Mexico, with a picturesque setting, complete with mountains.
The pivotal role of Jane Foster went to Natalie Portman, best known for her role as Padme in the Star Wars prequels. Portman recently won an Academy-award for her portrayal in Black Swan. Through Jane, Thor learns to understand humans and their capabilities, for better or worse. Upon their initial contact, Jane believes Thor to be nothing more than a wandering nomad, but quickly learns that this being is indeed a divine creature of unimaginable power. And while Portman is used to working on films where spectacular effects are the norm, she said she was more interested in the characters in the film and their development.
â€œI think Kenâ€™s (Branagh) leadership really made this a very, very unique project,â€ Portman said. â€œIâ€™ve worked on several large-scale productions, and this is the first one that Iâ€™ve really felt this level of intensity and focus on performance from a director.â€
It certainly was a challenge for Portman to join the cast of Thor, especially after her demanding schedule with Black Swan. â€œI had just spent a year in training, and working with Darren (Aronofskyâ€”director of Black Swan), en pointe, every day. I had been sleeping about four or five hours a nightâ€”I was just spent.â€
Veteran actor Hopkins, who had won an Academy-award for his eerie portrayal of cannibal Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs, was cast as Odin, father of Thor. Hemsworth recalls a pivotal scene with the accomplished Hopkins, when Odin casts his son to earth.
Hemsworth said he had been shooting for nearly a month and had felt comfortable in his role prior to the father and son confrontation, where riotous shouting was to be exchanged between the pair. â€œ â€¦ Ken (Branagh) comes over to Anthony and says, â€˜Let it affect you. Be upset. I dare you.â€™ And Anthony stands for a second and then responds, â€˜Okay, good idea.â€™â€
Hemsworth said at the beginning of the scene when he ranted, Hopkins sat quietly, listening, with tears welling up in his eyes. No need for shouting. Hopkinsâ€™ skill as an actor was clearly exemplified, whereas his commanding presence allows for his character to cry and be far more effective than he would be by demonstrating his Viking temper.
â€œI remember thinking, â€˜Thatâ€™s amazingâ€¦and Iâ€™m useless. I may as well drop this hammer and leave,â€ Hemsworth said.
Hopkins said he was not a fan of the Thor comics, but greatly admired Branagh as a director. Aside from an engaging personality and brilliance, Hopkins said Branagh is an unstoppable man, one who believes he can accomplish anything, and unafraid to really put himself out there.
â€œI think this has been one of the better times of my life in working on this film,â€ Hopkins said, adding that he wished he had more to do in the film.
Hemsworth, too, was complimentary towards his director.
â€œHe pushes you in every single direction your character might go,â€ Hemsworth said. â€œâ€¦ Itâ€™s like forging metal. He would keep working it until it became as strong as could be.â€
And that incredible work ethic and strive for perfection should allow Thor to generate a sizable profit at the box office. While it is unlikely to surpass the success of Marvelâ€™s flagship Spiderman character, Thor will at least succeed in introducing audiences to an often neglected Marvel superhero. On May 6th, audiences will finally be able to experience Thor on the big screen.