Avengers Endgame - Thor

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: no, Thor is not being fat-shamed.)

Avengers: Endgame does an outstanding job of depicting the trauma of failing the ones you love. Earth’s mightiest heroes not only have to deal with losing those closest to them after Thanos snaps his fingers and uses the Infinity Stones to wipe out half the living creatures in the universe, but they have to deal with failing the rest of the world too. That failure becomes even more heart-wrenching when they have to sit with that failure for five years, each of them dealing with the post-traumatic stress in their own way.

However, when it comes to the depiction of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and how he’s grappled with the failure of not killing Thanos by going for the head in his attack with the new weapon Stormbreaker, some have been disappointed and even saddened. The Thor in Avengers: Endgame has gained a significant amount of weight, giving him a big gut that has been filled by an endless amount of alcohol. Some think the movie treats Thor’s new look like a nasty punchline, using fat-shaming to elicit laughter from the audience and ignoring the significance of his emotional trauma. But that’s not how I see it at all.

As a longtime fat guy, let me tell you that I found nothing hurtful or malicious about how Thor was depicted in Avengers: Endgame. That’s because the insults being slung at Thor are par for the course among this group of superheroes, especially when you consider who is saying them. But beyond that, the way Avengers: Endgame handles Thor’s journey gives even more weight (no pun intended) to his character arc.

Avengers Endgame - Chris Hemsworth as Thor

We first meet Thor when Professor Hulk and Rocket Raccoon track him down in the new Earth-dwelling of New Asgard, or rather Tønsberg, Norway. As Valkyrie warns the two, Thor is in bad shape. He stays secluded in his village home and only comes out when he needs to pick up “supplies,” which means when he runs out of alcohol. But the two see how bad it really is when they go to his home, notice a funny smell inside, and see a shirtless, drunken Thor with a huge beer belly.

Crowds have reacted to this new Thor with raucous laughter, and that has rubbed some people the wrong way. Lacey-Jade Christie wrote at The Guardian:

“Thor’s first appearance as a fat person sees him walking into the room shirtless with an extreme focus on his belly and everyone laughs. Look! Thor is fat! Fat, but still jolly, because how could a fat person not be jolly? Sitting in that movie theatre, watching the fatphobic jokes roll through at the expense of a veteran with mental health issues and listening to the subsequent laughter broke my heart.”

Other outlets like Cosmopolitan and The Mary Sue jumped on the treatment of Thor as fat-shaming because of how several members of The Avengers treat him. But if you look at who makes the more questionable comments about Thor’s weight, they’re not at all intended to body-shame. Instead, they’re very much in line with the relationships and backgrounds of these characters. Furthermore, the appearance of Thor isn’t meant to make people laugh at Thor simply because he’s fat. The comedy of Thor’s appearance comes from the stark contrast of his previously chiseled appearance, but it’s immediately stifled when fans see the trauma and fear in his eyes at the mere mention of Thanos by name.

Avengers Endgame

Addressing the Most Egregious Thor Jokes

When we first meet the new Thor, the always-rude Rocket Raccoon says he looks like melted ice cream. It’s a jab that lands even more laughter from audiences, and yes, it’s a mean joke. But what else do you expect from a foul mouthed raccoon who treats everyone like they’re an inconvenience? Rocket Raccoon is an asshole, so do you really expect him not to make fun of Thor? This is a character who steals prosthetic limbs and eyes from people just for a laugh, but I don’t remember people writing any pieces of criticism about Guardians of the Galaxy being unsympathetic to amputees or the partially blind.

Then there’s a line from Rhodey during the scene where Thor wants to be the one to wear the makeshift Infinity Gauntlet and snap his fingers to bring everyone back that Thanos turned to dust. When Thor refers to the lightning power he possesses, he asks, “What do you think is coursing through my veins right now?” Rhodey immediately says, “Cheese Whiz?” And Thor responds by pointing a warning finger at him. Is it a mean joke? For sure, but that’s part for the course from a guy who has spent years with the sarcastic and quip-ready Tony Stark. Plus, Rhodey has known Thor for a long time now, and this is exactly the kind of playful ribbing friends do. As a fat guy who has dabbled in stand-up comedy and improv, I can tell you that there’s no escaping a night out at the bar without one or two fat jokes being through your way.

Finally, the last line that rubs people the wrong way is the departing words of his mother Frigga after they share a touching scene while Thor travels back in time to Asgard in 2013. She tells her son, “I love you,” and just before he gets ready to head back to the future, she implores him, “And eat a salad.” Does this seem like a joke made at Thor’s expense? Yes, and it gets the crowd to laugh. But again, as a fellow chubby chap, I can tell you that those are exactly the kind of comments you get from a mother who only wants the best for your health. It’s the kind of thing that only our mothers can say to us. It’s harsh, but it’s honest, and it’s in no way intended to be mean-spirited.

However, don’t forget how the rest of The Avengers treat Thor’s apparent case of post-traumatic stress. Professor Hulk speaks softly to him and tries to pull him out of the funk he’s in by explaining how Thor inspired him to fix his problem with the big guy who used to give him so much grief. Tony Stark even shows remorse when he tells Thor that he’s in no condition to wield the Iron Gauntlet despite his demigod strength. It’s not mean-spirited – it’s out of concern.

Even during his presentation on Asgard in 2013, there aren’t looks of judgment when Thor starts going down a spiral of sadness as he talks regrettably about his break up with Jane Foster and the death of his mother. Rhodey shares a look of concern with Hawkeye, and Tony respectfully pulls him away and offers him breakfast. Even Rocket comes back around during their time together in Asgard in 2013 and levels with him about the loss they’ve both had to deal with during these dark times.

But if you don’t agree with my justification for these characters to spout off those lines in Thor, there’s another reason that I don’t see Avengers: Endgame body-shaming Thor.

Avengers Endgame - Chris Hemsworth

This Doesn’t Trivialize Thor’s Trauma

First of all, there’s no denying that Thor’s initial appearance in Avengers: Endgame is played for laughs. But from my perspective, this laughter comes from the shock of seeing the typically buff Chris Hemsworth looking out of shape, his gut hanging over his pajama pants, his hair naturally turning into dreadlocks, his beard unkempt like a ZZ Top fan club president. And yes, there are laughs to be had as he drunkenly stumbles and mumbles around his house. But what other reaction should there be when you’re used to seeing Thor as an armored, muscular demigod?

To me, this contrast in appearance is exactly the kind of thing that made the classic Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley as prospective Chippendales dancers so great. That sketch isn’t about laughing at Chris Farley and shaming him because he’s fat. The comedy comes from the stark contrast between Farley’s chubby but agile body dancing just as energetically and confidently as the fit Swayze. Even the judges see them as equals. That’s exactly how I see Thor’s weight gain. It’s a visual gag that comes from a comparison to the way Thor used to look, but it doesn’t inherently come with inferiority.

But more importantly, it should be noted that the comedic reaction among audiences is short-lived. After Thor dishes out a sick burn to an online gaming bully who calls Korg a dickhead, Hulk takes him aside for a serious one-on-one chat. Suddenly, at the mere mention of the name Thanos, Thor’s demeanor changes instantly. Gone is the jovial attitude and drunken smile on his face. Tears immediately well up in his eyes, and he gets very serious with Hulk by saying, “Don’t say that name.”

In this scene, Chris Hemsworth turns on a dime, and immediately the severity of this drastic change in Thor isn’t funny. While audiences might have initially found this considerable change in Thor’s appearance worth a laugh, it becomes clear that Thor is dealing with post-traumatic stress in a significant way. But where Avengers: Endgame really succeeds in giving Thor his due diligence in this state is how he overcomes this trauma.

Avengers Endgame

Why the Fat Jokes at Thor’s Expense Don’t Matter

Even if you still think Thor’s overweight appearance is treated like a simple fat joke, it’s hard to deny that the rest of Thor’s arc erases any of those concerns.

First of all, for anyone who thinks that Thor being fat suddenly turns him into a joke, let me remind you what happens after Thor’s mother Frigga tells him to eat a salad. Just before Thor gets ready to travel back to the future, he calls upon Mjolnir, which hasn’t been destroyed yet in this time. It takes a moment, but it flies right into his hands. Thor immediately lights up with a look of surprise on his face. This entire time Thor has thought that he was a failure, that he was unworthy. But here he is, overweight, an unkempt beard, matted down hair, prone to panic attacks and scared of risking everything all over again, and he’s still worthy of wielding Mjolnir.

If that’s not enough, take a look at the final act of the movie. When the time comes for Thor, Captain America and Iron Man to face Thanos and keep him away from the Infinity Stones, the god of thunder’s demeanor has changed. He’s deadly serious and he’s ready for a rematch. Suddenly, he calls both Mjolnir and Stormbreaker into his hands and lightning surges through his body. The magic of his powers gives him a quick makeover with a braided beard and hair and new armor. But one thing hasn’t changed: Thor’s physique.

Here we are in the final battle for the fate of the planet, and we have an overweight Thor walking up to Thanos, fully confident in who he is. When he summons his powers, he doesn’t suddenly become fit. Instead, he lives up to his mother’s wisdom when she told him, “The true measure of a person is how they succeed at being who they are.” This is who Thor is at this point in time. He doesn’t need to be ripped to be worthy of Mjolnir. He doesn’t have to be traditionally fit to be a hero. As someone who has struggled with weight loss, got bullied here and there in my younger years, and still carries a hefty belly of my own, this movie doesn’t feel like body-shaming to me. If anything, it’s about time we had chunky superhero, and I can only hope that Thor keeps this weight if he’s coming back around in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in the coming years.

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