WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, in theaters now.
Trauma has been a long-running theme throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Avengers: Endgame embraced the physical expression of it like never before — from Hawkeye’s edge lord makeover to Tony Stark’s emaciated body. Thor’s weight gain, however, was the only one of these extreme transformations that was played for laughs, a decision that has split audience opinion down the middle.
Some chuckled on command when Chris Hemsworth’s fake belly was first revealed and continued to laugh through the Big Lebowski jokes and references to various junk food brands. Others balked at the inherent fatphobia of the gag, or even in the very idea of a “fat suit,” which turns a victimized body type into an attachable comedy prop. (In a strange coincidence, the long-running subplot feels like a callback to co-star Gwyneth Paltrow’s Shallow Hal, a similarly divisive film that came out in 2001, in case you needed a reminder of how dated this kind of humor really is.)
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Whether you were laughing or squirming, you were almost certainly counting down the minutes until Thor would regain his Adonis-like figure — the standard resolution to this kind of storyline. Instead, the film chose to buck convention. Rather than “eating a salad” and magically shedding his added bulk, he took up both Stormbreaker and Mjolnir to prove that — no matter his physical condition — he could still bring the lightning with the right mental one.
Things that DON’T make you ugly
– being over/under weight
– stretch marks
– crooked/yellow teeth
– body hair
– fat rolls
– physical abnormalities
Things that DO make you ugly
– hating on thor
— ems saw endgame (@ripmarveI) April 21, 2019
This arguably put a somewhat positive spin on a the gag’s poor taste because, thematically, keeping his physical weight signifies Thor finally letting go of the weight of his past duties to just be himself. Early into his MCU journey, Odin scolded his first-born son for his “arrogance,” accusing him of being “vain, greedy and cruel.”
Every step in Thor’s journey since has stripped him of each of these shortcomings: he lost his arrogance when he was banished, hammer-less from Asgard in Thor; he lost his greed by not taking the throne in Thor: The Dark World; he lost his cruelty in Thor: Ragnarok by absolving Loki of his sins. Finally, he lost the last shred of his vanity in Endgame by choosing to keep his unkempt hair, mismatched eyes and fuller body.
After passing his title onto a well-deserving Valkyrie, Thor found himself free, for the first time in a millennia, to go and do whatever he wanted. Odin will never be deserving of a World’s Best Dad mug, but somehow one of his messed up kids found their own kind of equilibrium in the end.
Despite all this, there’s still a palpable sense of disappointment from the MCU fandom regarding Thor’s Endgame arc. Having seen him at both his physical and superpowered peak in Avengers: Infinity War, some fans feel his new body and team are a downgrade that’s stunted his closing chapter.
Putting aside the valid complaints of body shaming, the fact that Thor, in particular, got the dramatic weight gain treatment seems to be the crux of this disappointment, more than him just being laughed at, which we’ve done ever since he slid down the glass of a hospital door in New Mexico. What is it really about “fat Thor,” and not any other Avenger, that hits such a nerve?
Thor in ragnorok: *gets his appearance changed for comedy*
Y’all: hehe funne
Thor in Endgame: *has turned to alcohol due to the udder guilt he feels because he was unable to avenge his people in iw for the past 5 years*
Y’all: ay y’all ruined Thor
— MathiasBam (@BamMathias) April 29, 2019
In a large cast of stacked dudes, Chris Hemsworth has somehow always managed to be the stacked-est of them all, which is a necessity considering he’s not only playing a superhero but also a superhero god.
The pressure for him to look how we imagine both of those things to look is huge. Both those archetypes, which are closely related, represent the “ideal” body, and our dismay at Thor losing his tells us how little tolerance we have for the breaking of this ideal. It would be tricky for most of us to get stranded in space and become as malnourished as Tony, but Thor’s depression-fueled weight gain hits a little too close to home.
We’ve seen Thor fall repeatedly from grace and pick himself back up each and every time — including during the final battle of Endgame. The only difference here is that his recovery didn’t line up with how we’ve been conditioned to view “lesser” body types, which the superhero genre also has little tolerance for.
Outside of comic book fare, we’re bombarded on a daily basis with weight loss propaganda telling us that thin equals good and fat equals bad. “If the God of Thunder can’t maintain his figure,” our subconscious panics, “what hope is there for the rest of us?” Worse still, he keeps the weight and is happier for it, scuppering any chance Marvel may have had at getting its own diet suppressing yogurt tie-in.
Would it really “ruin” the MCU if future-Thor never lost the weight? Of course not. Writing for The Atlantic in 2016, Maria Teresa Hart identified the problem a lack of body diversity in the genre creates.
“It seems that as studios continue to roll out more superheroes, the leading men are becoming homogenized. […] These superheroes are approaching a point of such rigid physical perfection that Hollywood is hovering dangerously close to the uncanny valley, a place of eerie, manufactured humanity.
As this becomes duplicated ad nauseum, it might end up disconnecting viewers — because this echo chamber of muscle neglects what’s actually compelling about superheroes: the place where ‘super’ and ‘human’ intersect.”
Perhaps all that muscle and sinew has, as Hart describes, been distracting us from what really makes Thor tick. Volstagg of the Warriors Three proves that Asgardian warriors can come in all shapes and sizes and, just like Superman, there’s no real necessity for a naturally empowered character like Thor to look the way he does beyond it being a pleasing aesthetic.
As problematically framed as the message is, Endgame challenges us, as Odin once did, to put aside godly vanity in search of Thor’s true human strength: his vulnerability. Let’s just hope that, if we do see more of “fat Thor,” his body is no longer treated as a costume or the butt of a bad joke.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Endgame stars Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Bradley Cooper as Rocket, with Gwyneth Paltrow Pepper Potts, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, Benedict Wong as Wong, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Josh Brolin as Thanos.