Brit set to wield hammer on Marvel Studios pic

Kenneth Branagh is negotiating to direct “Thor,” the next Marvel Comics property that will be turned into a live-action film by Marvel Studios. Pic will be released in 2010.

Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige’s choice of Branagh is surprising, as Branagh hasn’t really directed an action-heavy film since his debut on “Henry V,” a bloody telling of the British king’s conquest of France. 

Branagh is the latest in a string of directors — such as Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), Christopher Nolan (the Batman franchise) and Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) — with arthouse roots taking on big-budget comicbook fare.

Marvel will set a distributor for “Thor” shortly.

“Thor” comicbook adaptation, penned by Mark Protosevich, follows disabled medical student Donald Blake, who has an alter ego as the hammer-wielding Norse god Thor.

Marvel will self-finance the film via its $500 million credit facility through Merrill Lynch. Marvel used that coin to fund both “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” and will do the same for the “Iron Man” sequel that has director Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr. returning. 

The “Thor” negotiations come during a resurgence for Branagh. He’s currently drawing raves on the London stage in the title role of “Ivanov,” and he’ll next be seen acting in the Richard Curtis-directed “The Boat That Rocked” and the Bryan Singer-helmed “Valkyrie.”

Branagh is repped by Endeavor and manager Judy Hofflund.

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