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There was once a time, back in those early wild west days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that the road was uncertain. Iron Man’s surprise hit status helped revitalize Robert Downey Jr.’s career, but also put into motion the machinery that would see Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios become the powerhouse that they are today. But if you ask Zack Stentz, one of the screenwriters who worked on Thor in those Phase One days, he’d tell you that Kenneth Branagh deserves more credit than he gets in helping make that universe possible. And it’s all thanks to his eye for casting intriguing leads.
Reflecting on the casting process that saw both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston becoming MCU fixtures/household names, Stentz shared his thoughts in a very insightful Twitter thread. Kicking off his thoughts was the fact that without Branagh’s casting of either of those actors, in a race that apparently saw other big names in the mix, Thor wouldn’t have been as good as it was. Zack Stentz credited that decision, and shared the following reason why:
Kenneth Branagh deserves A LOT more credit than he gets for shaping the MCU, because Thor & Loki were two of the hardest roles to cast. If you didn't still love Thor while he was being an arrogant dick & kind of love & hate Loki at the same time, the whole thing falls apart.
It would have been easy to play Thor as a straight up superhero movie, where the hero is flawless and the villain is despicable. But were that the case, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki wouldn’t nearly be as exciting. Extending those thoughts into more recent happenings, there’s no way that Bro Thor would have happened if he was a perfect hero, and the Loki TV show on Disney+ would have probably never happened.
While both have gotten either dashing hero moments, or have committed atrocities they still have to answer for, Thor’s pair of brothers needed the right actors to give them life. Director Kenneth Branagh’s decision to go with Chris Hemsworth as the Odinson and Tom Hiddlston as his adopted brother is one of those earliest decisions that’s paid off, even in the post-Disney acquisition era. It’s a point that’s importance is further fleshed out in Zack Stentz’s reflection on the “mixed bag” that was the Paramount/Universal years:
The MCU has spent so long going from strength to strength that it's easy to forget the early stumbles--Incredible Hulk only did OK, & IM2 made tons of money but was a mixed bag creatively. Thor & Captain America both had to hit in 2011 to properly set up The Avengers in 2012. If Thor & Captain America had done Incredible Hulk business, we'd still have had an Avengers, but it likely would have been reshot & recut into "Iron Man and his friends" instead of the true ensemble piece we got.
Sure enough, the decisions behind Thor as well as Captain America: The First Avenger ended up delivering hits that eclipsed the stumbling block that was Universal’s The Incredible Hulk. And when that trailer for The Avengers showed up at the tail end of Chris Evans’ MCU debut, history was about to be made. While Marvel Studios is now a juggernaut, and its casting gambles now certified leads, it’s only fair to remember that the fruits of today came from the seeds of decisions that Kenneth Branagh and others planted in the past.
The orchard of movies and TV known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be harvested as often as you’d like, as the entirety of that lineup is currently on Disney+. Should you not be a subscriber just yet, there’s a fantastic offer that bundles that platform, as well as Hulu and ESPN+, into one convenient package. It’s not Thor’s hammer, but it packs quite the punch.