I was one of the innumerable people who rushed to the theater to see Avengers: Endgame last Thursday night.
I kind of felt like I was obligated to see this movie, to be honest. Not only did I need closure after sitting through Infinity War, but I needed closure after seeing nearly every Marvel Studios movie since 2008’s Iron Man, otherwise known as the Movie That Started It All.
I’ve been on the Marvel Cinematic Universe train since I was around 14 years old, and it’s been a wild ass ride on the most uneven of train tracks. There have been some movies that I adored with all of my heart; there have been some movies that I loathed with a burning, painful passion. Every Marvel movie has its quirks; every film has its extreme highs and extreme lows. And Endgame, the culmination of the 21 movies before it, is no different.
I feel as though directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, recognized that they had a daunting task ahead of them when they began creating Endgame. They had to make a film that would wrap up story lines for the six original Avengers, find a convincing way to bring back all the characters who had been taken out by Thanos’s snap, tie all the elements from the many movies before it together, and help set up Phase 4 of the MCU.
Endgame had to be a satisfying conclusion and a promising beginning at the same time.
They had a lot to do. And I think that they mostly accomplished their goal. Mostly.
One of the things that I really liked about Endgame was that it actually took the time to address the extreme amount of trauma that our heroes have after dealing with Thanos. It could’ve been pretty easy for the movie to barrel past all of that and get straight into the explosions and corny jokes, which is something other Marvel movies have done in the past. Infinity War in particular had an issue of focusing on the action and plot points instead of on the development of the characters who are the middle of all of this catastrophe.
Endgame’s 3-hour-2-minute runtime allowed the first half to be dedicating to checking in with our heroes on a mental and emotional level. It helps reminds us that are heroes are people, too (and yes, I’m including the robotic woman and talking raccoon in that statement.)
The fact that the filmmakers took the time to show our heroes traumatized and grieving was great. But, um, the way they showed that trauma and grief was pretty problematic for one particular character.
Thor Odinson is my favorite Marvel superhero, and I would not have typed that out a few years ago. Up until recently, I didn’t really care about that lovable space bro. I found the movie Thor to be boring, and I found Dark World bafflingly bad and also boring.
Thor’s presence in the Avengers was nice, but he might has well not have even been in Age of Ultron as far as I was concerned. His presence felt disjointed and ultimately unremarkable.
It wasn’t until Ragnarok that I fell in love with Thor. The movie’s director, Taika Waititi, and Chris Hemsworth worked together to revitalize the character, giving him a more dynamic personality and sense of humor. During the press run for Ragnarok, Waititi would often say that he had to make Thor the coolest character, and that if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to call the movie “Thor.” Ragnarok finally allowed us to see Thor in his full, witty glory.
Going into Endgame, I figured that we weren’t going to get fun-loving, joke-telling Thor. Not only had he watched Thanos murder Loki and half of the Asgardians, but he also failed to stop Thanos from decimating half of all living creatures in the universe. All that Thor is left with now is the guilt and shame he feels because of his failure. The fun times are over.
The Thor we see in Endgame is very clearly suffering with severe post traumatic stress. He has become a recluse and left the task of governing the new Asgard to Valkyrie so that he can spend his day playing Fortnite with Korg. Thor has descended into alcoholism and spends much of the movie stumbling around drunk and slurring his words when he talks. His hair is now huge and unkempt.
But the most notable change is that Thor has gotten fat. The famous abs have now given away to a big (….CG?) beer belly that protrudes over the waistband of his pants. Thor wears dusty-looking sweatpants and a huge, overly-long, even more dusty-looking duster. Thor is in pain, and it’s a very saddening sight.
Well, at least he should be a saddening sight. But for whatever reason, the Russos decided to make the symptoms of Thor’s post traumatic stress a running joke.
Thor’s fat body is played for laughs. His drunken speech is used as an extended gag in more than one scene. His complete loss of confidence and his anxiety is supposed to be funny. There’s even a “Eat a salad” joke thrown in for good measure.
Thor’s trauma — and the physical evidence of that trauma — is used as one of the big comedic moments of the movie. And I found it extremely disrespectful to the character and to audience members who might be dealing with similar issues.
To be clear, I have no issues with the fact that Thor got fat, or that he started drinking, or that he’s not the leader that he used to be. Those reactions make perfect sense to me because they are very common reactions to trauma. Post traumatic stress can often manifest in physical changes such as weight gain/loss. Post traumatic stress also often leads to drug/substance abuse. And it is really any wonder that he would feel anxious or afraid after what he’s dealt with?
It is not the way that Thor’s written that bothers me. I’m only bothered by the fact that the Russos made deliberate choices that turned Thor’s pain into comedic relief. The score, the direction and Hemsworth’s delivery all create a light, goofy tone to Thor’s scenes that feels extremely inappropriate. The filmmakers did not taken Thor’s mourning seriously at all, and they encourage the audience to also not take it seriously.
I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why they felt the need to try to make Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “funny.” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a debilitating issue that is often misconstrued and criminally under-treated; many who suffer from it are left to their own devices because our culture still doesn’t seem to grasp just how dangerous it is. This lack of treatment can lead to all sorts of problems, such as the development of other mental health issues and suicide.
The MCU has dealt with PTSD before. It is a theme in Iron Man 3, where Tony begins to suffer anxiety attacks after having gone through the attempted Chitauri invasion and being confronted with the terroristic threat posed by “The Mandarin.” While Iron Man 3 doesn’t always handle Tony’s PTSD with the most maturity, it’s not nearly as trivialized as it is in Endgame.
PTSD is also mentioned in Winter Soldier, which is also directed by the Russos. When Steve meets Sam Wilson, Sam’s a volunteer at the Veterans Affairs center who leads a support group for veterans who are dealing with PTSD. Sam encourages the group and handles them with the care and empathy that comes from personal experience.
If the Russos could strike the correct tone in that instance, why didn’t they strike the right tone for Thor in Endgame? Why didn’t they decide to allow us to empathize with Thor instead of giggling at Thor’s fat belly?
Speaking of Thor’s fat belly . . . fat jokes? Really?
Okay. It should be not secret that we collectively degrade fat bodies because we exalt thin and/or muscular ones. In our culture, fatness is a bad thing; some even consider it the worst thing to be. Being referred to as “fat” is considered an insult instead of a physical descriptor. Fat people face discrimination in nearly every area of our society: in the fashion/beauty industry, in the job market, in the medical field, in romance.
There’s such a concentrated effort to avoid fatness that dieting has become a major aspect of our everyday lives. How many new diets have been introduced in the past couple of years? How many weight-loss commercials do you see everyday? What type of bodies are featured in television, movies, advertisements? What does the standard IG body look like? How often do you or someone you know make a fat joke? The disdain for fatness is ubiquitous.
And the Russos reinforced that disdain for fatness by inviting the audience to ridicule Thor’s fat body. They rely on every negative stereotype associated with fatness to make Thor’s weight gain “funny.” The writing is as harmful as it is lazy.
Thor’s depiction in Endgame has been bugging me since I first saw the movie. I remember that I just kind of sat there feeling awkward and uncomfortable while people around me laughed wildly.
The only thing I could think was “why?” Why did they choose to do this? It feels like I’ve written this a thousand times already, but that’s my question. Why?
The Russos didn’t have to depict Thor this way; they could’ve used Thor to delve into a very solemn, mature, real storyline what happens when a god has to deal with his trauma.
Instead, they chose to do the opposite. And that’s very, very sad.