WARNING! There are MASSIVE SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame ahead. If you’re one of the few people on Earth who still hasn’t seen the monumental blockbuster, then you definitely shouldn’t read on. Instead, bookmark this article for later.
Avengers: Endgame has proven to be a pop culture behemoth that exceeded even Disney’s wildest expectations. We all knew it would be quite popular. However, its $1.2 billion worldwide haul in five days means that it now has a genuine chance of eclipsing Avatar’s $2.788 billion total to become the highest grossing film of all time.
But as Cliff Robertson’s Uncle Ben famously says to Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker in Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is something Endgame appears to have ignored when it came to its depiction of Thor, as its treatment of the Nordic god has been criticised ever since the film released.
For most of Endgame, Thor is fat. Not at the very beginning. The first time we see Thor in Endgame, he is silently stewing over his inability to kill Thanos for three weeks. It is only the emergence of Captain Marvel that stirs him into action.
Captain Marvel, Captain America, Bruce Banner, Rocket, War Machine, Black Widow, Nebula and Thor quickly find Thanos on an unguarded planet. He is severely weakened from destroying all of the Infinity Stones, giving a forlorn Thor the opportunity to behead him before Endgame cuts to five years in the future.
When we find Thor in 2024, his depression is rampant. Not only has he all but abandoned his role as the ruler of the Asgardian refugees, who have found a new home in Norway, but he has become a full-time drunk with the beer belly to prove it.
At this point, it is worth pointing out just how much Thor has gone through in the recent Marvel movies. In Thor: The Dark World, his mother Frigga was murdered. In Thor: Ragnarok, he watched his father Odin die, but not before he revealed to Thor and Loki that they had a step-sister Hela, who just so happened to be the goddess of death.
Thor eventually killed Hela in order to try and save his home planet Asgard, which got destroyed anyway. Things got worse — at the start of Infinity War, the ship that the remaining Asgardians were on was ambushed by Thanos. He murdered most of them, including Loki, in front of Thor, who is thrown into outer space then. When the god of thunder finally had a chance to kill Thanos, he failed, which directly led to half the universe disintegrating with the Snap.
Thor’s development is easily the most seismic character shift in Endgame. While Captain America struggles to run a self-help group, Black Widow breaks down at her desk and Hawkeye turns into a ruthless vigilante, Thor is the only superhero to alter both mentally and physically.
He goes from being a perfectly chiseled, confident and arrogant god to a decrepit alcoholic who suffers from a panic attack during a mission. He is so distrusted by the other Avengers that they stop him from wielding Iron Man’s make-shift Infinity Gauntlet, even though he’s the only person that has the necessary constitution to do so.
Some viewers saw pluses in Thor’s bigger bulk. The sight of overweight Thor fighting and holding his own alongside super fit superheroes was undoubtedly body positive and Marvel deserves credit for once again even trying to breach the topic of mental health, which they did with Tony Stark who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in Iron Man 3.
There’s no doubt that the new Thor embodies a more complex and vulnerable version of masculinity, and Endgame shows that even a god like him, who has the “picture perfect” looks, can be affected by trauma, can be mentally fragile.
Not so positive
Unfortunately, Endgame’s use of Thor is ultimately more toxic than progressive. Thor is repeatedly belittled for his appearance and size while his mental health is used as punchline.
That’s especially true when we are introduced to the new version of him. Both Bruce Banner and Rocket look on in astonishment as a long-haired and bearded Thor drinks excessively and shouts at a teenager over a video game, all of which he does without a shirt on so that his excessive gut can be seen prominently in the shot.
Of course, Hemsworth is wearing a fat-suit, which feels needlessly excessive as Thor’s ‘fall’ could easily have been achieved with just the long hair, beard and alcoholism.
Once he’s at the Avengers HQ, Thor passes out during an important meeting, while War Machine quips that he has Cheese-Whiz running through his veins. Iron Man nicknames him ‘Lebowski,’ after Jeff Bridges’ useless stoner character from The Big Lebowski. Rocket ruthlessly and repeatedly attacks Thor’s size and look. Even his dead mother tells him to have a salad.
All of this feels particularly outrageous since Endgame goes out of its way to show just how progressive it is. Not only does it feature Marvel’s first openly-gay character, who is in just one scene and has no name, but it includes a gratuitous shot of all of its female superheroes battling Thanos in unison.
Endgame takes every opportunity to make fat jokes at Thor’s expense. And in doing so, his PTSD, great sense of failure, and loss — the responsibility he feels for the death of his family, his home planet and half of the world — immediately go to waste and are trivialised for laughs.
Suddenly, Thor is perceived to be lesser than his peers. As such, Marvel continues the archaic cinematic perception that overweight characters are useless and simply there for comedy — to be pointed and laughed at.
Maybe we shouldn’t expect the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be the place where this approach is subverted or where a serious discussion is held on mental health. Maybe, the fact that they include a character of this ilk is a tiny step forward.
But Marvel needs to remember the massive impact it has, and that if it irresponsibly uses its great power, there can be serious consequences to those who resemble the characters they ridicule in real life.