Living in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe means your favorite superheroes can pop up anywhere in the multiverse — including prestige awards dramas set in the 1960s.
That’s precisely what happens in Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” which saw a triumphant premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on Sunday night. The emotional, loosely autobiographical project follows a 9-year-old boy living through the political tumult of Northern Ireland in the 1960s.
Director and writer Branagh’s surrogate in the film is the adorable newcomer Jude Hill, whose preciousness and purity inspired tears in the audience on the ground at the Canadian festival.
While the movie shows glimpses of the violent sectarian upheaval of that time, there’s plenty of joy to spare as young Hill comes of age. This includes a sweet moment where the character is shown sitting on the curb, reading a vintage Marvel comic starring Thor.
Branagh, of course, has personal ties to the god of thunder. He directed the 2011 film “Thor,” the first big-screen adventure starring Chris Hemsworth. Grossing nearly $500 million worldwide, the film has spawned two sequels with a fourth hitting next year via Disney. The moment delighted the TIFF audience, who applauded the visual.
The Marvel reference is one of several that invokes pop nostalgia. The local movie house and a rabbit-eared television set play big parts in “Belfast,” as Hill and his family (led by Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe) take in the content of the period. This includes Jane Fonda’s “Barbarella,” the stop-motion “Godzilla,” Raquel Welch’s “One Million Years B.C.” and the original “Stark Trek” series.
Branagh, who broke into tears following the Sunday premiere, described “Belfast” as a reflection of things “precious and simple,” saying it was about a boy who has “the love of his family and the movies.”
Focus Features will release “Belfast” in theaters on November 12.