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The early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were a time of great uncertainty, and quite a bit of panic. After Iron Man kickstarted Marvel Studios’ fortunes, the not-so-rosy performance of The Incredible Hulk seemingly gave MCU executives pause. Which meant that there was extra pressure on a film like director Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, and part of that response came from a simple request: Thor couldn’t look anything like Fabio.

I would never connect Chris Hemsworth with Fabio, but Branagh reminisced with Yahoo recently about Thor’s production, and it seems there was a concern with Thor as a character being too Fabio-esque. With the concept of Thor Odinson already occupying a world of magic and spanning across the mystical realms of the MCU, Kevin Feige and his team felt they needed someone to ground the character, so they could fit into the overall picture of Marvel’s Phase 1. Kenneth Branagh explained the importance of not making Thor Fabio-like, remarking:

The terror was, 'Don't let it be like Fabio.’ I was aware that [Marvel executives] Kevin Feige, Louis D'Esposito and Victoria Alonso knew that Thor was critical to them, to tonally find a way to sit alongside Robert's brilliant Tony Stark and Captain America. This new dimension, the fantastical space adventure, needed to find its starting place.

Sure, thinking about that particular worry in Thor feels pretty silly after watching the entire history of the character as we know it. But it was a serious concern! In those crucial moves during Phase 1’s production, the image of a blonde dreamboat with long flowing hair and luxurious muscles still very much invoked the image of Fabio -- who may have peaked in the '80s or '90s but was very much still a pop culture figure in the early 2000s. It’s not hard to identify with how the Marvel Studios brass would want to avoid those comparisons, because could you take the image of Fabio as one of Earth’s mightiest heroes seriously? Didn’t think so.

Chris Hemsworth in Thor and Fabio on a fantasy book cover, side by side.

Part of keeping Thor grounded was naturally the approach to the material, which saw Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearian tendencies finding a rather nice home in Marvel’s burgeoning universe. While it was partially a fish-out-of-water movie, the 2011 origin story of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor did also provide some royal drama and familial betrayal that even The Bard himself would have nodded in approval of. Though if you don’t want your Thor to look (or act) like Fabio you have to cast him very carefully.

While the look of Thor’s central Avenger has changed throughout his appearances, there’s been only a consistent level of growth and professionalism out of Chris Hemsworth’s handling of the character. Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame in particular saw Thor showing some hidden depths behind his normally happy-go-lucky nature. But even in Kenneth Branagh’s introduction to the character, where Hemsworth’s prince was cockier than he was wise, the fun was tempered by a serious story that didn’t just act as a romp through Earth’s realm.

It really can’t be understated that without Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe may not have been allowed to become the juggernaut that it is today. Were a sillier, Fabio-esque adventure to have taken its place, the entire gamble could have folded more quickly than you could say Asgard. But now, after history proved Branagh’s hiring to be the right choice, we’re ready to see where the future takes this son of Odin.

We’ll get that chance when Thor: Love and Thunder marks the fourth chapter in Thor’s big screen history on May 6, 2022. That’s a little under a year away, so perhaps it’s a good time to revisit those early Thor adventures? If you happen to agree, Disney+ is the place to be, as they have all of Thor’s MCU escapades available for viewing. If you don’t have a subscription yet, check out the subscription bundle offer that’ll grant you access to that platform, as well as Hulu and ESPN+, with one convenient sign-up.

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