In Defense of Thaddy Thor’s Physique in Avengers: Endgame
There has been a lot of conversation surrounding Avengers: Endgame, the final chapter in Marvel’s 22-film, three-phase saga. Fans and critics have a lot of feelings about what the film did right, but a lot of the chatter I’ve seen on social media has been about what the film did wrong. Specifically, how the film “ruined” Thor. While I get some of the general issues people have with Thor in Endgame, a lot of the criticism feels unfair.
If you haven’t seen Endgame yet and don’t want to be spoiled, now is the time to stop reading.
At the beginning of the film, our heroes have lost the battle with Thanos. Thor, the self-proclaimed “strongest Avenger,” who first failed to deliver the fatal blow in Wakanda, executes a weakened Thanos on a garden planet in front of a demoralized team, then walks off. When we catch up with him five years later, he’s holed up in New Asgard with friends Miek and Korg. His hair has grown, his beard is unkempt, and crucially, he has gained weight. This has, apparently, made Thor “a joke.” That particular criticism irks me, so I’ll jump right into why I think it’s wrong.
First of all, Thaddy has been through A LOT. He loses the last of his living parents at the beginning of Ragnarok. His sister Hela, fresh outta prison, shattered Mjolnir(!) and kicked him out of the Bifrost mid-transport. She went to Asgard and murked an entire military squad, the Warriors Three, and no telling how many others. He landed on a strange planet where they cut off his hair(!!) and forced him to fight gladiator-style against his friend, Hulk. When he and his friends escaped, they came back to Asgard to save what remained but had to bring about Ragnarok — essentially letting a monster destroy Asgard — to kill Hela. Then when he led his remaining people to safety, their ship was beset upon by Thanos, who manually culled half the people on the ship, killed Heimdall and Loki, and gave Hulk the business. All while Thor watched, tied up and helpless.
Thor had already lost all his friends, family, and the majority of his people before Thanos used the Infinity Gauntlet to reduce the population of all living creatures by half. He 👏🏾 is 👏🏾 depressed. 👏🏾
Depression doesn’t look the same on everybody. But it can and sometimes does look exactly like Thor. It looks like isolation, apathy, extreme weight loss or weight gain, and self-medicating or substance abuse. It looks like doing the bare minimum to keep yourself alive and grooming/showering only when you can muster the strength or the fucks to give. Thor wears his anger, grief, and guilt on his body like people who struggle with depression often do.
Apparently, this makes Thor unworthy. Or at least, that’s the way some people have interpreted it. I don’t think the filmmakers thought through Thaddy, beyond wanting to show how much he was affected by everything he’s experienced since we’ve known him. He was not written with as much care as he could have been, but I also don’t think he was written carelessly or as a punchline to a bad joke. I don’t think the filmmakers saw him negatively or expected the audience to. They wrote him as someone who is still worthy.
Contrary to some criticism (1, 2, 3, 4), there are only a few times where someone makes a specific comment regarding his body/weight.
When Bruce and Rocket go to retrieve Thor and where his new, fatter body is revealed. Thor says something like “I am doing good, don’t I look good?” and Rocket replies, “you look like melted ice cream.”
Rocket is an asshole. That is his most defining characteristic, outside of being a sentient raccoon. (This is also why he does not give Thor a good pep-talk on Asgard.) Bruce says nothing about his physical appearance or about the way he spends his time and doesn’t make fun of him or judge him for how he’s changed. He just asks for his help.
When Thor abandons his mission to take the Aether from Jane and runs into his mother. After she lovingly roasts him and gives him sage advice, she sends him off with “eat a salad.”
Mom’s be like that. That’s not to diminish it cause it is problematic, but it’s a thing a mom would say. It’s something my mom has said to me and is in line with the kind of caring concern mothers who mean well often show.
After the team has successfully retrieved the stones and are discussing who will wield the new gauntlet. Thor asks them, “do you know what’s coursing through my veins right now?” And Rhodey replies jokingly, “cheese wiz.” Thor responds to this by making a face/gesture that’s hard to read but is either agreement (“that’s fair”) or mild hurt. I personally read it as, “you got me there, but now is not the time.”
It was, maybe, uncalled for, but definitely not worse than any of the numerous jokes that have been levied at other, fit-bodied people over time. One-liners are a staple of the Avengers films. Humor is one way the MCU and the Avengers films, in particular, have softened what might otherwise be very harsh stories to watch. Take away the zingers and it’s just angst and fighting and death.
When Thor rejoins the rest of the team in Endgame, nothing really changes in how they treat him. Tony calls him a nickname, Lebowski, which is not a comment about his weight but his dress and overall demeanor. When Thor starts breaking down while discussing Jane and going on a tangent about what he’s lost, they awkwardly try to get him back on task and when they can’t, Tony gathers him patiently. They may react to him in ways the audience finds humorous, but they are not laughing at him.
I’d say the camera’s POV was more discomforting than any of the characters’ words or behaviors. And this seems largely due to our own biases coloring how we view things. I watched all three Thor films recently and they have always loved a lingering torso shot that pans up. All-a-sudden it’s an issue when that same shot is focusing on a body we no longer find “appealing” or “attractive.” They’ve always emphasized his body, it’s just now that his body is no longer “desirable” that the shot is making fun of him. The audience saw a “beer belly” and decided that was the joke. Never mind that the camera has always treated Thor this way.
Bonus: Age of Ultron
As for his character arc, he went from a person who wanted to be king but wasn’t ready in Thor to a person who was ready but didn’t want it in Dark World. In Ragnarok he discovers that even handicapped and disarmed, he has all the power within him. He leads the Asgardian refugees not because he wants to but because he is needed. It’s a lesson carried through into Infinity War, where he stands in front of a dying star to create a new weapon capable of defeating a powered-up Thanos. He doesn’t need Stormbreaker to be powerful, he needs it to channel his power.
That growth wasn’t undermined in Endgame. Thor has not regressed, he’s stagnant. He’s lost. He doesn’t know where to go or how to move on. He feels like he failed his people as their king and everyone else as the “Strongest Avenger.” His retrieving of Mjolnir in the past/alternate reality was not about him “needing” a weapon (as he clearly had access to Stormbreaker), it was about him answering the question of, after all the failures and losses, is he still worthy? And he was. Belly, beard, sweatsuit, and all.
Maybe people’s discomfort wasn’t that the movie “made fun” of Thor’s weight, but that it showed him being soft and vulnerable and messy and not all the way together. He didn’t suppress the sadness and guilt he’s entitled to. He responded to the pain. People want their heroes to suffer silently and never react or be affected. And it bothers some people that he didn’t just move the fuck on. The film didn’t make him a “bumbling idiot” it just made him fat and people projected all their biases onto him.
As of this writing, I’ve seen Endgame three times. I went into both repeat viewings conscious of how the film treats Thor. And I’ve come away from it each time feeling the same way. I love Thaddy! I love that he was allowed to be imperfect. And I especially love that there was no “quick fix” before the big battle where he magically loses all the weight. Because even with a belly and split ends he’s still powerful, strong, and capable of and willing to fight. He’s still a hero!
And let us be clear, Thanos was beating ALL they asses! Any comments that Thor was singularly weak is nonsense. Tony and Steve got rocked in equal measure. Steve wielding Mjolnir was the shit(!!!) and it didn’t take anything away from Thor or undermine his strength in any way. Thor got his hero moments like many of the OG Avengers did, he just took a few Ls in the process.
Thor’s final act on Earth is appointing Valkyrie king of New Asgard. He didn’t want to be king in the first place and only took the mantle to protect his people after Asgard fell. In the five years while he was depressed and unable to lead, Valkyrie stepped up. She was ready and willing and he was not. Giving her the throne was not an act of weakness, but one of strength and wisdom. It was a culmination of all the lessons he’s learned and him heeding his mother’s advice to “be who you are, not who you’re supposed to be.”
Last we see Thor, he’s hitching a ride with the Guardians and having a push-and-pull with Quill over who’s in charge. As we know, Thor is not a dude, he is a man. Quill is a dude at best. It’s unclear whether Thor will make an appearance in the next GOTG, but if he does, I expect him to be the captain, it’s only fair.
Whether he remains thicc or tightens up is of no consequence. Being fat does not diminish him. He is still strong and he is still a hero. And frankly, he is still foine! A little tummy ain’t never hurt nobody and Thaddy could still get it!
Header image credit to Marvel Studios.
05/16/2019 @ 6:08 PM
I did that 😭
08/20/2019 @ 9:16 PM
As someone whose weight issues and body issues are definitely tied to stress and emotional state, I really needed to see that moment of ‘I am still worthy.’
I love the superhero genre, especially what the MCU has done, but there’s a very strong focus on heroes who fit stereotypical standards of beauty. It’s troublesome, especially when they so often go so far to make the point of ‘it’s what’s inside that makes a hero’ (looking at you, Rogers)
I have always wanted to do cosplay, but was always worried about the fact that I have a belly and superheroes don’t. I was sure I would just look stupid and be made fun of. Then along comes Endgame to show me a heavy super with a lot of trauma who ends the movie more badass than ever, and the solution wasn’t losing weight.
I am thankful for the way the writers (if not so much the audience) treated Thor during this. Also thank you for writing this, Nicole. I needed it this year.