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Marvel's Thor Hammer Could Be Held By Kenneth Branagh

Director and actor Kenneth Branagh is in negotiations to direct Marvel Studios' THOR, per VARIETY.

THOR is set for a July 16, 2010 release date, just more than two months after IRON MAN 2 bows on May 7, 2010. Branagh, known best for his Shakespeare films, has not directed a film heavy on action since HENRY V in 1989, about the play about the English king's bloody conquest of France.

The choice is surprising, but less so considering that Marvel has had success so far hiring directors with arthouse roots, including Jon Favreau (IRON MAN), Christopher Nolan (BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT) and Gavin Hood (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE).

Marvel and Paramount just signed a distribution deal for their next five films, including THOR. The film about a medical student whose alter ego is the hammer-wielding Norse god Thor was written by Mark Protosevich.

Marvel will finance THOR through a $500 million credit facility through Merrill Lynch. That money was used to fund this year's IRON MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK and will also take care of IRON MAN 2. Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr. are both set to return.

Branagh has recently gotten rave reviews on stage in London in the title role of IVANOV and will next act in the Richard Curtis' THE BOAT THAT ROCKED and Bryan Singer's VALKYRIE.