Why has the depiction of Thor in Avengers: Endgame divided fans? We unpack the character’s arc in the film.
Warning. Spoilers ahead.
Thor has had quite the arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but fans are questioning if certain story decisions for the character in Avengers: Endgame truly did him, and the people watching, justice. There are several strong moments in the film that should be applauded, but some of Thor’s treatment felt insulting, if not injurious, to fans.
We look at Thor’s growth in the MCU, what Avengers: Endgame got right, and what it got wrong. Once again, there are spoilers ahead for Avengers: Endgame.
Thor’s MCU History
Thor began his on-screen life in 2011’s Thor, a film most had little hope for, especially since he was up against fellow iconic Avenger, Captain America. The eccentric and fantasy-driven Thor certainly had stiff competition when the patriotic and more down-to-earth Captain America: The First Avenger was released only months later. And the battle had only just begun. Thor’s sequel, Thor: The Dark World, was universally regarded as one of the weakest entries in the MCU, whereas Cap’s follow-up film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is lauded as one of the strongest.
But all that changed with the final film in both trilogies. While Captain America: Civil War paved the way for the end of the Avengers, Thor: Ragnarok set up Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, and crew as the funniest, and most enjoyable, of the Avengers, even surpassing Guardians of the Galaxy in the humour scale. Against the dark and depressing Civil War, Ragnarok was a breath of fresh air that revitalised the MCU.
The Turning Point
More importantly, Ragnarok finally showed audiences that Thor was meant to be taken seriously. Ironic, considering when he was serious, not many seemed interested in him. Taika Waititi’s Ragnarok managed to cement Thor as an amusing, yet charming, hero with flaws and strengths that made him relatable and inspiring. Avengers: Infinity War managed to continue the trend despite Thor suffering several bereavements in the opening scene of the film. Thor not only had some of the most iconic moments in Infinity War, he was also poised to be the saviour of the day.
That didn’t quite work out.
Which is why his arc in Avengers: Endgame has left fans in a quandary. Because, after all the work done building Thor into a loveable but strong character, he became the butt of the joke in Endgame in the cruelest of ways.
PTSD and the Hero
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, despite being a widespread condition among people, was once barely addressed in films. But the MCU surprisingly acknowledged it with Iron Man 3, basing much of Tony Stark’s characterisation and motivation around his untreated PTSD from his near-death experience in The Avengers.
Many wondered how the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War, which saw Thanos turn half the population of the universe to dust, would impact the heroes, particularly Thor, who had been best positioned to stop Thanos.
As many will remember, Thor, wielding a new and deadly weapon, Stormbreaker, turned the tide of the Battle of Wakanda, before facing Thanos directly. Thor struck Thanos in the chest, and did some damage, but Thanos was still conscious enough to snap his fingers and destroy half the universe, including several well-loved heroes.
Thor’s Guilt in Avengers: Endgame
In Avengers: Endgame, viewers saw how the now-infamous meme-able line – “You should have gone for the head”- actually played heavily on Thor’s mind. When the remaining Avengers confront Thanos after Tony Stark’s return to Earth, they learn that Thanos has used the Infinity Gauntlet one more time to destroy the stones, and almost killed himself in the process. The knowledge that the stones are gone, taking any hope of saving the Fallen, proves too much for Thor.
In a moment uncharacteristically violent for Marvel and Disney, Thor decapitates the unarmed Thanos. It is not until this moment that the audience realise how guilty Thor has been feeling, and it proves to be one of the most powerful, and distressing, scenes in Avengers: Endgame.
Five Years Later
PTSD does not disappear in a hurry and Avengers: Endgame attempts to showcase how devastating the effects of this illness can be. Five years after Thanos’ death, the Avengers have a new plan to save the Fallen, but they need Thor. Rocket Raccoon and Hulk are tasked with recruiting the now-elusive Thor, as they had grown closest to him over the past two films.
However, the Thor they meet is a shadow of his former self. He rules New Asgard only in name, while Valkyrie does the heavy lifting. Thor hides out in his home with Korg and Miek, playing Fortnite, and drinking gallons of beer. He has also put on a great deal of weight. These are understandable reactions to PTSD and it is good to see Avengers: Endgame address it. But then things go downhill from there.
What Went Wrong in Avengers: Endgame
Thor Actor Chris Hemsworth is extremely muscular (he even has his own fitness app), and thus had to wear a fatsuit to show Thor’s new physique. The fatsuit is, in and of itself, deeply problematic. Fatsuits give audiences the illusion that they are watching someone from a particular community, while being reassured that the actor isn’t nearly as ‘disgusting’ as they appear on screen. In essence, actors in fatsuits get to portray people who look a certain way without acknowledging their actual lived experience. They also take away the livelihood of actual fat people.
If that isn’t distressing enough, the near-constant jabs at Thor’s weight make Avengers: Endgame practically unwatchable. Everyone from Rocket Raccoon, Tony Stark, and even Thor’s mother, Frigga, make snide remarks or try to give him ‘helpful’ advice on how to get fit. What’s worse is, none of the characters verbally attacking Thor about his weight – it’s only his weight that anyone has complaints about, not his dereliction of his royal duties – are ever taken to task for it.
So, essentially, the text of the film reinforces that Thor being fat gives characters and the audience carte blanche to laugh at him and insult him. In fact, many people have reported that audience members did laugh whenever Thor’s new silhouette was on screen.
Plus, not a single person tries to help Thor deal with his PTSD. Disturbingly, when Thor becomes overwhelmed while time travelling, and bursts into tears from remembering everyone he’s lost, Rocket actually slaps him. Because, that’s what someone suffering mental illness needs, a tight slap, not comfort?
The Final Battle
Had Thor not been able to participate in the final battle in Avengers: Endgame, it would have added insult to injury. Fortunately, Marvel decided to go down another route, not only returning Mjolnir to Thor, but giving him crucial fight scenes against Thanos. Also, when Thor activated his abilities, he didn’t suddenly become svelte, a trope that occurs far too often in entertainment media. This essentially makes Thor the first fat superhero in the MCU, a fact that is cancelled because the actor himself does not represent the community.
Many fans enjoyed this new characterisation of Thor, and though the acknowledgement of PTSD is vital in blockbuster films, the constant fat-shaming of the character, and the depiction of a fat character as comic relief, is deeply painful to watch, and downright offensive for viewers from the that community.
The fat shaming of Peter Quill in Avengers: Infinity War felt out of place, but Avengers: Endgame took it to a whole new level that distracted from the story and ended up alienating the very audience it was hoping to attract. That is something that cannot be easily rectified and threatens to make Avengers: Endgame nigh-unwatchable in the future. Plus-sized characters, especially women, are so rarely represented positively on screen, and characterisations like this only do more harm to real people.
Though some are defending the characterisation of this film, most fat activists are taking Avengers: Endgame to task, and rightly so. The entertainment industry needs to change how it depicts body positivity, and it needs to do so now.
The MCU having a fat character should have been a step forward for body positivity and representation. Instead, Thor is buried in stereotypes and tropes and that is what makes it problematic.