Chris Hemsworth finds a rich groove in Spiderhead

Directed by Joseph Kosinski, Chris Hemsworth-starrer Spiderhead will release on Netflix on June 17.

Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski again had a plane in the air, only this time Chris Hemsworth was at the wheel. They were shooting Spiderhead, a science-fiction prison thriller based on a George Saunders story, along the coast of Australia. The film is set almost entirely in a remote concrete fortress jutting out over the sea, but it opens with the arrival of a seaplane that was flown by Hemsworth with Kosinski lying in the back. The slow-moving, prop-engine plan was a far cry from the F-18 jets of Joseph Kosinski’s box-office smash.
“It was initially going to be the plane Tom Cruise did his work in,” Hemsworth jokes.
Spiderhead, which debuts Friday on Netflix, is in many ways the opposite of Top Gun: Maverick. It’s a talky, interior film made during the pandemic that will be streaming in homes, not filling IMAX screens. But chief among its quirky pleasures is Hemsworth’s leading performance as the researcher who presides as a benevolent, ’80s-yacht-rock-dancing tyrant over the Spiderhead Penitentiary and Research Center, cheerfully conducting experiments in which he drugs prisoners to chemically raise or lower their moods, appetites and verbal acuity.
For a performer who has only occasionally flashed his comic ability (hosting Saturday Night Live, as the secretary in Ghostbusters), Hemsworth’s deft balancing act in Spiderhead showcases a range well beyond the MCU. Hemsworth, who recently began shooting George Miller’s Furiosa, returns as Thor again in next month’s Thor: Love and Thunder, a franchise that has gradually loosened to adapt to its star’s comic agility. And there are more action movies (Extraction 2) on the way.
But without a fight scene or a special effect, Spiderhead may convey Hemsworth’s powers better than anything before it.
“This was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had,” Hemsworth said in a recent interview by video-conference from Australia. “Normally, these films, you string them out over three or four months. In this instance, due to my schedule, due to COVID restrictions and so on, it was compressed into a four-week period. Initially, we didn’t think it was possible.”
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Aside from pandemic factors, Spiderhead is uniquely improbable considering its source material. Few have ever read a Saunders story and thought it would transfer seamlessly into a movie. But screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick developed the author’s 2010 story Escape From Spiderhead, a farcical yet moving first-person account of a prisoner (played by Miles Teller in the film) undergoing lab tests. They greatly expanded the part played by Hemsworth, Dr. Steve Abnesti, who enthusiastically runs the facility with few rules and mysterious intentions. He’s a little like the nicest Bond villain you’ve ever met.
Kosinski sent the script to Hemsworth hoping he’d respond to the role.