"Thor" thunders into theaters next week, adding yet another chapter to Marvel Studios' big-screen universe and bringing audiences that much closer to next year's superhero team-up extravaganza, "The Avengers."
As part of this year's Summer Movie Preview Week, MTV News spoke to "Thor" director Kenneth Branagh about taking on Marvel's hammer-wielding hero and the daunting task of integrating the god of thunder into the same world occupied by Iron Man, Hulk and — in a few months — "The First Avenger" himself, Captain America.
MTV News: So let's go back to the very early days of this project. Everyone was surprised — and pleasantly so — when your name was first announced as "Thor" director. Why did you take the job? Why did this project appeal to you?
Kenneth Branagh: I suppose it was partly that I wanted to surprise myself. I was happy to surprise a few other people. It's nice to challenge your own sense of what you think you might be able to do and other people's preconceptions. I thought that it was a total breath of fresh air, and the freshness about the whole adventure was something I'd enjoy very much. But you can't do it for just those reasons. I was drawn to the character and the story and the understanding that it would happen on an epic scale. The size of it, and the chance to tell a big — and hopefully popular — movie on a large scale was just such a very, very exciting possibility.
MTV News: Much like Iron Man was in 2008, Thor isn't all that well-known prior to his big-screen debut. One would think that this, along with his magical, godlike powers and origin story, makes the character an even harder sell for mainstream movie audiences. How did you approach that challenge?
Branagh: There's no question that everybody at Marvel felt that way, and I would have to agree with them. Although, nearly 50 years of Thor comics say there's a real fanbase for the character out there, and he's interacted with the other members of the Avengers in the comics many times. But there are many challenges to laying out a Thor origin story and letting it interconnect with the rest of the Marvel universe, which I, as a cinema viewer, am very intrigued by and enjoy. The happy coincidence was that I was certain that a large part of the movie should take part on Earth. For me, the story being partly on Earth was absolutely crucial, regardless of whether it had to fit into any other kind of movie, in order to maximize a number of things — chiefly, the humor. In the two or three months while we were talking about whether we want to make the same type of picture, that was one of the key conversations, and thank god we agreed.
MTV News: When we spoke with the "Captain America" writers, they mentioned that the central story came first, and then there was a point when they went back over the narrative and added references to the greater Marvel movie universe where appropriate. Was that the same for "Thor"? How did you handle the need to connect "Thor" with the other Marvel movies?
Branagh: Some of that was planned upfront, but to be honest, I never had to think about it too much myself, because my job and my value to the project was to keep the Thor story front and center. The rest would just organically start falling together. Sometimes it would be a case — particularly with names and things — where one could do a little blending in various places that would intersect. ... But I have to say that at no point did I feel like I had to try and guess where I was fitting into in some great Marvel wall chart of all of this. They definitely were aware and for the idea that every movie has to work on its own right — and not to assume anything — and once it's feeling secure and tight, we can have the fun stuff sprinkled throughout, and hopefully it will add some value.
MTV News: Well, the cat's out of the bag as far as Jeremy Renner's debut as Hawkeye in "Thor," so what else can you tell us about working with him and that character's role in Thor's universe?
Branagh: I'm not able to divulge anything in great detail, but the time I did spend with him was excellent. He's prepared, smart, very detailed, and what he's going to bring is something extremely interesting. He's an unusually big fan of the comics and knows the character well. There's likely to be a very, very interesting development from one film to the next with that character.
MTV News: There have been some rumors of a sequel in the works, and though nothing's official at this point, is this a world you'd like to return to down the road?
Branagh: I'm still so in the midst of the "Thor" experience that it's impossible to see anything other than simply finishing the delivery of it. We've been going around the world and getting fantastic reactions, and the thing I've been so pleased with is the number of people who have been surprised with how much they enjoyed the movie -- because it wasnt' necessarily what they expected or wasn't a character they knew. I'm also thrilled about the consistent delight in the humor of the film, and necessarily and sort of triumphantly, the emergence of Chris Hemsworth as a really significant actor here in the role of Thor. So all of those things are hugely exciting, but we only just opened in Australia, and we're opening in the UK as we speak, but given this is where we made it and where the comics come from, it's going to be phenomenally important how we do here in the U.S. So, being the Irish superstitious man that I am, I'm not going to even think about "Thor 2" until -- and if -- we are lucky enough to have the right kind of audience for "Thor 1."
Head over to MTV Splash Page for more from Kenneth Branagh on how Thor changed from comic book to screen, which scene "Avengers" director Joss Whedon was involved in and more from our "Thor" interview!
It's Summer Movie Preview Week, and MTV News will be bringing you exclusive interviews, clips and photos for the most anticipated films of the coming months. Get ready to gorge on inside looks at "Captain America," "The Hangover Part II," "X-Men: First Class," "Cowboys & Aliens" and more.
Check out everything we've got on "Thor."