High and Low

Hero Complex on the impact of comic books on Kenneth Branagh — and why his experience with Shakespeare makes him a brilliant choice for Thor director:

Those comics by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, John Buscema and others made it into the hands of young Branagh. When he was growing up first in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and then in Reading, England, American superheroes were a bit of a mystery, with the exception of the blond-tressed thunder god who wore a winged hat and a red cape. “I was passionate about Thor,” Branagh, 50, said wistfully. “There was so much there, this hero with primitive brute strength and the dysfunctional family and always this sense of epic about it, the journeys and quests and vendettas.”In hindsight, the tales of royal intrigue, clanging metal and sibling betrayal were the perfect training wheels for the youngster who would become one of his generation’s signature figures of the Shakespearean stage, exhibiting, according to the London Standard, the “vitality of Olivier, the passion of Gielgud, the assurance of Guinness.”

Apparently, he got Hemsworth ready to play the Norse god by having him do the St. Crispin’s Day speech on-camera. That could be an act of vanity on Branagh’s part — after all, he kind of owns that speech:


But I actually think it’s a good point. Shakespearean battles tended to happen on a smaller scale, and to feature a few pivotal characters who either make a key difference in the combat, or who transmit the impact of the battle to the audience. Superhero fights happen the same way: a few people decide big issues. Reaching back for the language of epic is a smart way to convey the weight of that.