by C.E. Smith
It was within the first third of the movie; the snacks had been purchased, the prime seats staked out. I’d gotten comfortable, I’d done the compulsory bathroom breaks to ensure that I wouldn’t miss a single second of “Avengers: Endgame” when I was assailed by a wild fat suit.
Yes, you read that right.
I had gracefully managed to avoid all spoilers during the first week of “Endgame’s” release when (a still gorg, let’s be honest) Chris Hemsworth wearing a fat suit shows up on screen with a full body appraisal from the camera. The point was obvious: Thor’s “let himself go.” This took me by surprise, but only for a split second. Not two minutes later the first few fat jokes had passed, punctuated by loud guffaws coming from a gaggle of young men a few rows ahead. I wondered whether this was just another Austin Powers moment. It wasn’t, exactly. Not entirely. But still, a low blow for all the fat nerds in the theater. (Spoiler: I am one of them.)
The thing about Fat Thor is that I don’t hate this narrative decision. Not exactly. Not entirely. Fat Thor isn’t the problem in “Endgame”, it’s the simple fact that every joke in every one of his scenes comes at his expense. Not only is that viscerally disappointing, but there’s also no real purpose to the jokes. They don’t further the plot. They don’t truly further Thor’s journey in the film, they don’t alleviate any of the tension, and this is just lazy. The humor punches down when comedy in and outside of Hollywood needs to punch up, in order to actually be funny for everyone in the audience.
The last words Thor hears from his mother are “Eat a salad.” I felt that one in my gut, having been a child who grew up surrounded by pervasive diet culture everywhere I turned. For the kids and young teens in the audience, I can only imagine. Freyja’s sharp quip, The “cheez whiz” in Thor’s circulatory system, etc. These sorts of jokes aren’t just cheap, but hurtful. Especially to a young audience. Had I been very young for this movie, these lines would’ve stuck to me, and not knowing better, I would have held onto them, the sour memory, probably for a very long time. This is all despicable for more than just reasons of fatphobia. Not only is Freyja’s very last comment to Thor wildly out of character, but Thor clearly is struggling with post-traumatic depression, and all the awful symptoms that condition entails. These relatable human issues are completely steamrolled in favor of some tepid-at-best comic relief–a feeling the fat among us know too well.
Hollywood has been loudly urged to get with the program on a wide variety of issues, and it still fails to actually deliver proper representation, diversity, or nuance in the majority of these blockbuster hits. This isn’t to say that Thor’s arc in “Endgame” is arbitrary, but it could have been so much better had it been treated with better insight–much like another character’s journey through trauma, physical deterioration, and triumph. Yeah, I’m talking about Tony Stark. Tony’s journey through “Endgame” very much parallels Thor’s, and looking back we can also consider the plot of “Iron Man 3” to be congruent with both their “Endgame” character arcs.
Both Tony and Thor speak strongly to the experience of healing after trauma and how different that process is for each person. Illness and healing is never a neat, compromised narrative in fiction or reality. Both men, broken by what they’ve seen and what they couldn’t do to save the world, show physical symptoms of illness, and their juxtaposition is obvious through their very bodies. Thor, who becomes fat and hides himself from his community, gets mocked. Tony, who wastes away and lashes out at the people he loves, does not.
Let’s not pretend we don’t notice; eating disorders, weight loss due to illness, and the inability or unwillingness to eat have always been romanticized, especially within the context of mental illness. Weight gain always gets swept under the rug. We know why.
All that being said, I was fully expecting to see a workout montage resulting in an instantly ripped Thor, returned from the murky realm of mourning, heralded by a song with a heavy bassline and a wicked guitar solo. I’m so glad I didn’t see that. The fact that I didn’t witness that with my own two eyes salvages Thor’s story, and maybe also “Endgame” as a whole, from being tainted beyond repair. (I still anticipate “Guardians 3” and look forward to more hi-jinks between Thor and Rocket, my favorite mutant mammal.)
For all the jokes in poor taste, “Endgame” furthers Thor’s journey into becoming himself again. “Thor: Ragnarok” focused on that as well. Thor comes to the realization that he doesn’t need Mjolnir to be a hero. All he needs is himself and the support of good friends. “Endgame” echoes that, but with higher stakes and a serious dose of tension between the still-living characters. An argument can be made that this is lazy writing, but I’ll always believe in delivering a positive message about overcoming the odds when no one thinks you can. Especially when you yourself don’t think you can. Fat Thor doesn’t just overcome a post-Thanos world, he overcomes himself. No weight loss montage needed, or wanted.
There’s a fine line between Endgame Thor being a tool of fatphobic Hollywood screenwriters and being almost empowering. Thor still killed it as one of the fat among us. His struggle echoes that of Valkyrie in “Ragnarok”, the need to pull oneself out of a rut with a little help and some wild circumstances. Thor’s rage is not dimmed, his sorrow isn’t hidden for the sake of seeming strong, immovable, masculine. He expresses doubt with Rocket, he receives encouragement from an equally devastated Valkyrie. He is allowed to be vulnerable and still succeeds. He knows how worthy he is, even now. Especially now. I can’t hate a film with that message, even if its heavily fatphobic punctuation massively undermines that message.
I think I speak for all of us when I reiterate: Hollywood? DO BETTER. Do better for your fat viewers, who are still ludicrously marginalized. And if not for us, paying millions to see THE blockbuster of the year, do it for the young people who are watching and learning how to think critically about what they’re seeing.
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