Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale – out this week – looks like a hell of a ride, especially with the stellar ensemble cast. Chris Hemsworth’s role might be one of the smaller ones, but the swagger he brings to his brief trailer appearance (those jeans!) promises an iconic turn by the Australian actor. The oldest (and prettiest) Hemsworth brother’s high profile is almost wholly due to his starring role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, while his Thor has grown into a great character, it is a bit of a shame that some of his excellent non-MCU work has gone somewhat overlooked. That said, his early rise to fame as the God of Thunder – and the paychecks that accompany these appearances – may indeed have allowed him to take on roles against his type and play off his well-known, lovable beefcake persona.
Hemsworth’s career, like many Aussie stars, began on soap opera Home and Away, where he played Kim Hyde for 171 episodes (if that’s too big a back catalogue to explore, YouTube provides some highlights). After about seven years working Down Under, he came to Los Angeles to seek more mainstream work. He starred opposite Sean Bean in indie crime thriller Ca$h (shot a mere six weeks after he arrived in the United States) and played father to another Hollywood Chris, one Mr Pine, in 2009’s Star Trek reboot.
The next film Hemsworth shot took almost two years to reach cinema screens due to studio difficulties. The Cabin in the Woods sees Hemsworth playing a rather stereotypical jock who barely survives half the film; however, this indie horror cult favourite – written by Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard – is arguably the most important moment of his career. Whedon encouraged the Australian actor to audition for the role of Thor, cementing him as a key player in modern cinema’s most bankable franchise, and Goddard has reunited with Hemsworth six years later for Bad Times at the El Royale.
The MCU has done a great job distinguishing each of its superheroes by their humanity and character traits more than by their powers – a move which has allowed it to grow into a 10-year, 20-film connected universe while remaining fresh, exciting, and (mostly) coherent. Through some stellar casting choices and often allowing their actors to bring their own traits (and improvisations) to the well-known and well-loved characters, it is often hard to separate the real and fictional personas. Hemsworth is no exception here – his charm, brawn, and sensitivity have made Thor an integral and beloved aspect of this world. While Thor’s three solo films vary wildly in quality, Hemsworth’s total inhabitation of this noble, if slightly goofy, character – who struggles with the modern world, shifting family alliances, and the big bads of the MCU – is a constant. And thank the movie gods for Thor: Ragnarok. Hemsworth’s full commitment to Taika Waititi’s anarchic vision showcases a fantastic sense of comedic timing, best seen in the below speech.
Between Thor and Thor: The Dark World, Hemsworth turned in arguably his finest performance to date in Ron Howard’s Rush (arguably the veteran director’s best film since Apollo 13). At first glance he seems the obvious, almost lazy choice for James Hunt, the handsome blond playboy of 1970s Formula One; even if the physical resemblance is not as striking as co-star Daniel Brühl’s is to Niki Lauda, who else could have filled the part? Hemsworth proves an inspired choice, with his swagger and quips masking a fear, vulnerability, and fierce loyalty to his team and even his longtime rival. Both he and his co-star were woefully overlooked in the 2013 awards season.
Hemsworth never seems too caught up in his own star power to spoof it, exhibiting the same comedic sensibilities and skills that made Ragnarok work and which contribute to the Australian’s endlessly watchable, likeable screen presence. He is the obvious choice for a ridiculously virile specimen of a man in 2015’s Vacation, but nowhere is his self-awareness better exemplified than in Paul Feig’s 2016 Ghostbusters. As Kevin, the impossibly dumb but extremely pretty receptionist hired purely for his looks, he is fully aware of and sincerely committed to the gender-swapped joke. And if you left the cinema before his mid-credits ghost dancing, what were you doing?
While Hemsworth’s most anticipated film after this weekend’s release might be the untitled fourth Avengers film, it is safe to say that his star power is far from waning. In his first decade of film work he has proven himself more than a pretty face across genres, character types, and directorial styles. Whatever fate awaits Thor next spring, Hemsworth is a Hollywood fixture.