From Star Trek To Thor: Love And Thunder, Let's Trace Chris Hemsworth's Slow Slide Toward Comedy

One might think playing Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would make it easier for Chris Hemsworth to have free rein when it comes to his other projects, but that hasn't always been the case. Far too often, the actor has found himself with a gun in his hands and scruff on his face, starring in potboiler fare like "Red Dawn," "12 Strong," and "Extraction." Even the "Snow White and the Huntsman" films mistake Hemsworth's strengths as being that of an action hero first, a good-humored character actor second. Yet, as evident by his role in "Thor: Love and Thunder," the further Hemsworth has slid into comedy, the more he's come into his own as a performer.

Like so many Australian actors turned Hollywood stars, Hemsworth got his start acting in soap operas in his home country. After three years and many, many episodes working on the Aussie soap "Home and Away" from 2004 to 2007, the man who would be Thor landed his big break playing James Kirk's doomed father, George Kirk, in the high-octane prologue to J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" in 2009. One look at the actor in that movie (in which he appears for less than 10 minutes), and you can see why Marvel executives would be inclined to cast him as the blonde, brawny God of Thunder in the MCU.

What they didn't know, however, is that Hemsworth's comedy muscles and talent for self-deprecation are far more awe-inspiring than any amount of physical bulk he could ever hope to attain.

Hemsworth: the early years

You can see the early signs of Chris Hemsworth's comedic prowess in 2011's "Thor," when the God of Thunder is a fish out of water adjusting to life without his super-powers on Earth. The difference between Kenneth Branagh's film and the actor's later work in the role is that Hemsworth plays the character without a hint of self-awareness, even when he's doing the now-classic Thor window face-plant or striding into a pet store and demanding he be given a horse, no questions asked. 

It would take another five years for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to really tap into that potential. Instead, as with the first "Thor" film, much of the humor in 2013's "Thor: The Dark World" and Joss Whedon's "Avengers" movies plays on Thor's ego, along with the comedy inherent to a god-like alien trying to fit in with everyday humans. Likewise, in director Drew Goddard's 2012 meta horror-comedy "The Cabin in the Woods" (which Whedon co-wrote), Hemsworth plays a well-read college jock who mostly serves as a straight man, allowing the comic relief characters to bounce jokes off of him as the story begins to take stranger and stranger turns.

Even when he wasn't working on the MCU (or with Whedon), Hemsworth stayed away from comedies during this period. He instead focused on expanding his range as a dramatic actor by teaming with directors such as Ron Howard ("Rush"), and launched a far less successful second action-fantasy franchise with his role in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Then came 2015's "Vacation" revival, in which Hemsworth played his muscly physique for laughs in his small role as protagonist Rusty Griswold's — to put it politely — well-endowed brother-in-law.

However, it was another 1980s comedy franchise relaunch that really gave Hemsworth the chance to earn his comedy stripes.

From bustin' ghosts to battling Thanos

Say what you will about the 2016 "Ghostbusters" (I'm a fan myself), but it was Paul Feig's reboot that prepared Chris Hemsworth for Taika Waititi's irreverent, improv-heavy reinvention of the "Thor" franchise. Unaware that Feig, like Waititi, employs a lot of improvisation in his comedies, Hemsworth signed on for the film without fully knowing what he was getting into. Upon learning the truth, he's admitted to fearing he would ruin both the movie and his career in one fell swoop.

Quite the contrary, Hemsworth managed to go toe-to-toe with the movie's cast of improv experts and comedy veterans, along the way creating one of the greatest himbos in recent film history with the Ghostbusters' (mostly-useless) receptionist, Kevin Beckman. Clearly bolstered by the experience, Hemsworth wholly embraced the task of evolving Thor into a good natured yet bumbling hero, starting with his appearances opposite Daley Pearson as Thor's put-upon flat-mate Darryl in the Waititi-directed "Team Thor" mockumentary shorts in 2016.

By the time Thor returned to the big screen in 2017 with Waititi's "Thor: Ragnarok," he had completed his evolution from self-serious God to lovable, blonde-haired, wise-cracking clown in the vein of Kurt Russell's Jack Burton from "Big Trouble in Little China." Like all of Waititi's work, though, "Ragnarok" blends zany humor with pathos as it strips Thor of everything that had defined him in the MCU up until that point. This would then pave the way to his arc in "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame," including the latter's problematic depiction of Thor's struggles after failing to prevent Thanos' snap.

To his credit, though, you get the sense Hemsworth is sympathetic to Thor's plight in "Endgame," even when the film is not. In this case, the actor's tragicomical intuitions proved to be a saving grace.

Feel the love (and thunder)

Jump to the present, and moviegoers have grown fully accustomed to Chris Hemsworth being a comedic actor first, even when he isn't playing Thor. And while the results haven't always been great, they have paved the way to the actor taking on roles he might have avoided in the past, like the beguiling sociopaths he portrays in the films "Bad Times at the El Royale" and "Spiderhead." In both cases, Hemsworth uses his well-honed image as a riotous good guy against the audience, luring them in just as the villains he's playing seduce their victims with their deceptive charms and untrustworthy smile.

After voicing an extra silly, hedonistic, alternate reality version of Thor on the animated series "What If...?" (a character fittingly dubbed "Party Thor"), "Thor: Love and Thunder" gives Hemsworth a chance to further marry his dramatic skills with his comedic sensibilities. Taika Waititi's film finds the God in the midst of an existential crisis, eager to leave his superhero days behind him but unable to do so when troubles comes a-knocking at his door once more. In that regard, it serves as the perfect culmination of Hemsworth's slow but steady slide into comedic territory over the past decade.

"Thor: Love and Thunder" opens in theaters on July 8, 2022.