The Complex God: Mental health and accusations of fat-shaming in Avengers: Endgame

SPOILER WARNING for Avengers: Endgame

Franchise films and cinematic universes are perhaps most often associated with their expensive action set-pieces and CGI battles, and many franchises have fallen because too much of an emphasis has been placed on this. That is where the MCU is special. It has some incredible action sequences and set-pieces, of course, but its success, at least in my opinion, derives from some of the best written and developed characters that the big screen has ever seen. Prior to the MCU, you’d be forgiven for interpreting the term ’superhero’ as an overpowered god-like person who always triumphs over evil, would never be seen with as much as a hair out of place and always head sure. Yet, here we have the MCU with its three leads: Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Thor. All have their differing psychological troubles and all of them handle it in their own ways, very much like how people deal with such problems outside of the big screen. Bearing all of this in mind, I feel like some of Thor’s major character changes in Avengers: Endgame have been misinterpreted. Spoiler warning ahead.

Following the ending of Infinity War, half of all life in the universe has been decimated by Thanos, and this hits Thor particularly hard. For the whole of Infinity War Thor is driven by his anger and desire for vengeance after Thanos kills half of his Asgardian people and murders his best friend and only living relative before his very eyes. Thor gets his chance right at the end, but he doesn’t do enough to stop Thanos from finishing his genocidal quest. So as Endgame begins, Thor is already in a negative head space and this is re-enforced as the heroes learn that Thanos has made the snap irreversible by destroying the stones. Thor swiftly does as Thanos had previously taunted him, and goes for the head, killing Thanos. Although Thor has achieved what he sought out to do in Infinity War, he feels no sense of fulfilment, no triumph, because it was too little too late. Everyone had already failed, and Thor felt that more than the others. But why am I recapping all this, you probably already know all of this? Well, it’s vital to understanding exactly the place Thor is at in this film. Following the 5-year time jump, we meet eventually meet Thor after Banner and Rocket travel to the New Asgard where it is revealed that his hair is long and straggly and, most noticeably, he has put on some weight. Some have deemed Thor’s changes as ‘fat-phobic’ and his ensuing role in Endgame as fat-shaming, and although I understand that some people might be offended, there is more to the story.

Yes, jokes are made about Thor’s changed appearance; Rocket describes him as ‘melted ice-cream’ and, when travelling back to 2013 Asgard, his mum tells him to eat a salad. But to deem his role as simply a cheap way of comic relief is to underestimate Thor’s character development and draws attention away from his struggle with grief and guilt. The events I’ve just described have a deep effect on Thor, and for the first time in a superhero film we see what happens when the heroes completely fail. That failure is immense for Thor, a God who, as he tells Rocket in Infinity War, never fails to defeat his enemies. He and the other heroes fail on an extraordinary scale, leading to Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe. Thor’s appearance is symbolic of how some people might deal with mental health. While I’ll admit the jokes that come of it are cheap, one of the film’s writers, Christopher Markus, states that the main focus regarding Thor was always his emotional development. What’s more, perhaps the most important point regarding this is that Thor is in a much better place by the end of the film because of his meeting with his mother and not from losing weight, with his appearance remaining the same. Crucially be knows he’s still worthy, as proven by Mjolnir. Thor in Endgame shows that all these heroes, just like real people, have self-destruct buttons, but also that people can recover.

The MCU deals with mental health well, until now it’s primarily been through Tony Stark’s PTSD and anxiety. His anxiety is a clear part of his motivation, and is what makes him a relatable and human person. Now we have how Thor deals with his guilt, also showing how different people react in different ways. I’m not saying that people aren’t allowed to be offended or interpret something as offensive. I just feel that in this case the intentions behind Thor have been misinterpreted by some, which takes credit away from the MCU’s superb storytelling and approach to mental health.

By Matthew Moorey

Image courtesy of Grunge