Super hero fatigue is real. Keeping up with the MCU can be hard if you’re not a superfan, and some of the plots can seem a little juvenile if you’re not ten. But Marvel, having reached true juggernaut status, is now in a position to take risks. They’re reaching beyond the fandom, courting new viewers, and straying every so slightly from the tried and true formula that has consistently put butts in seats and dollars in pockets. One surprising but welcome MCU twist was that Kevin Feige allowed one of his Avengers to be completely rebranded. Previous Thor films had underwhelmed and underperformed (in a ‘it’s all relative’, millions of dollars kind of way), but it was still a huge risk to hand over the reins to a relatively unknown guy with a funny accent and a filmography comprised solely of quirky indies.
Taika Waititi has been my favourite director for as long as he’s been directing movies. When I met Sean about a decade ago, I made him watch Eagle vs. Shark as a litmus test: was he cool enough and funny enough and subversive enough to be with me? He was. Barely. But he has a big penis so I let it slide.
As you may know, Taika Waititi came on board to direct Thor: Ragnarok and is largely responsible for turning an arrogant god into a thoughtful and affable leader. Thor was transformed. Thor is fun! Plus Waititi gave Thor a haircut and suddenly I was thinking: Thor is hot?
So Thor has since been my favourite Avenger, which is why I was so sad to see his trajectory in Endgame. Thor is suffering from (is it too much to say?) PTSD. He’s been at constant war for years and years, maybe even lifetimes, and has only recently slowed down enough to be crushed by the weight of it all. He blames himself for failing to “aim for the head,” taking responsibility for Thanos’ humanity-shearing snap. Five years later, the movie finds Thor hidden away with his Ragnarok friends Korg and Miek, playing video games and inciting trolls, drinking too much and letting himself go. His physical self reflects his internal turmoil; he isn’t caring for himself anymore. Which is really sad, and surprisingly realistic for Marvel. Thor is a solider returned home from war, and he’s finding that his old life doesn’t fit him anymore. It’s such an honest reflection for how many war vets feel when they attempt to reacclimate to civilian life. But then they ruin the whole thing by playing it for a laugh. As Thor walks into the room, the camera goes straight to his beer-bloated belly. Prompted, the audience laughs. He is shirtless so we can see the extent of his mortification. This man is hurting and Marvel wants us to laugh.
This dilutes the very worthy and valid message about mental health and how we all struggle with it. If we took away the fat suit punch line, we’re left with a deeply conflicted man who is really suffering. He’s lost his family twice now – The Avengers were his family, and not only are half of them turned to dust, but he has exiled himself from the rest. And when he finally does rejoin them, Tony Stark doesn’t ask him how he’s doing, he makes a joke about his appearance. True enough: often even our close friends and family miss the signs of depression. And who would think it of such a strong man? And yet we are all fallible. Pain and trauma are the great equalizers of men.
Let’s remember for a moment that Thor’s other family, his real family, are also dead, but every single one of them – mother, father, brother Loki, that pesky half-sister Hela, even his best pal Heimdall – died before the Snap. So they’re not coming back no matter what happens in Endgame. And he’s lost his home, Asgard, literally blown to smithereens, along with much of the population, which is then halved again during the Snap, which also took Valkyrie, his one remaining link to home and past.
So it’s nice that Thor gets a moment with his mother, who immediately knows that she is being blessed with a visit from a future-version of her son. She doesn’t waste time asking about his appearance or about her own safety, she wants to know about his pain. They talk about the true nature of a hero. She gives him strength. He begins to heal.
Chris Hemsworth brings a lot to a role that he’s had to stretch and adapt over the 8 years that he’s played him. You wouldn’t expect a comic book hero to be the role that shows an actor’s versatility, and yet here we are. Hemsworth has compassion for Thor. Even while the audience is invited to laugh at him, Hemsworth doesn’t want to make him the joke. Thor puts on a show for his friends, unwilling to let the mask slip and show his true vulnerability. But we see it. Sometimes just in the pain that flashes across his eyes, or the defeated slump of his shoulders, formerly so square and erect.
This is a movie, so Thor’s arc movies quickly, as it must. But it’s not shown to be a quick fix, nor complete. These wounds take time to heal but they can heal, even if Thor will never be the cocky god we knew before. Not that we’d want him to be. This new Thor may be fat, but he’s also learned so much. He knows now that other people’s worthiness doesn’t take away from his own. He can share in the heroics comfortably, and even pass the torch. And that’s why I liked the scene as he’s preparing to fight Thanos: he calls on the gods to ready him for battle. They do, but not by restoring him to his former glory. They outfit his new body. They braid his unkempt beard. It is THIS Thor who defeats Thanos when the old one could not, so let’s not laugh at his body, let’s celebrate his accomplishments, let’s shore up his mental health, let’s rejoice in his triumphs and share in his loss. He is finding his way through trauma. Thor is a god, but he’s having a very human response, and I wish ours in turn could be just a little more humane.