As recently as twelve years ago, Kenneth Branagh was considered one of Hollywood’s most gifted actor-directors, which is why I did a double-take this morning when I saw the headline, “Branagh Confirms Thor Rumours.” Turns out the Belfast-born Branagh–who turned 48 two weeks back and who has never been admired for his physique–will only be behind the camera for this version of Marvel’s comic book about the Norse god with an Earthly alter ego as a disabled medical student. Some fanboys are already grumbling (“he hasn’t ever done action“) but with Marvel investing its Iron Man millions in hack-helmed productions of The Avengers and Captain America, as well as an upcoming Wolverine solo flick for song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman, I’m way more excited about what Branagh will do with this project.
A decade ago, Harry Potter’s Professor Gilderoy Lockhart had a reputation for putting out the most creative traditional screen adaptations of Shakespeare since Orson Welles. But since the box-office failure of his titanic four-hour Hamlet (1996) and a tabloid split from his Oscar-winning wife/muse, Emma Thompson, Branagh has retreated to some of the Bard’s dullest plays (Love’s–fucking–Labour’s Lost?) while taking small characters roles to pay the bills, as in the upcoming Valkyrie, in which he plays a nervous Nazi.
Branagh has an impish sense of humor, which permeates his more interesting films as a director–the Welles-infused neo-noir Dead Again (1991), Peter’s Friends (1992), and the autobiographical A Midwinter’s Tale (1995). Luckily for Marvel, and for us, Thor’s greatest antagonist happens to be the mischievous trickster Loki. If Branagh knows what’s good for his career, he’ll cast himself in this role and make Thor his own personal comeback twofer.–Benjamin Strong