HE to readership: Before reading this article, you may want to read two reviews of Avengers: Endgame — Anthony Lane‘s New Yorker assessment and another by The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. Consider their descriptions of Chris Hemsworth‘s currently-conceived Thor, and consider that if these guys are going there then so are hundreds of others. In other words, Hollywood Elsewhere isn’t guilty of spoiling anything. Once you’ve done this and thought things through, feel free to read on.
Beginning of “Fat Thor” essay: Positively or questionably, healthily or otherwise, films and TV shows have been doing their part to normalize obesity over the last…oh, decade or so. Shrugging it off, Jabbas are no biggie, they deserve dignity like anyone else.
In the old days Hollywood would cast portly types in order to nudge the funny bone. (In Michael Curtiz‘s Robin Hood there’s a whole scene devoted to Errol Flynn and his band of Sherwood Forest rascals making fun of the overfed physique of Alan Hale, who was merely stocky at the time.) But over the last decade the message has been “no judgment, no shaming, all sizes are cool and obesity is just…well, just another way of living and being.”
The first time I noticed Hollywood’s fat-friendly mindset was the appearance of “Russell,” the obese Asian-American boy scout in Pete Doctor‘s Up (’09).
Four years later Nebraska‘s Alexander Payne did his part by having Will Forte‘s David ask a plus-sized ex-girlfriend (Missy Doty, who also played the tons-of-fun waitress whom Thomas Hayden Church seduces in Sideways) if they can have sex.
In 2014 Mark Duplass played Melissa McCarthy‘s flirtatious love interest in Tammy.
The same year I took note of Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed‘s Feast, which is basically a charming corporate advertisement for the joys of junk food.
Not to mention the obvious conveyances from Amy Schumer‘s performance in I Feel Pretty, Danielle Macdonald‘s in Patti Cake$, Chrissy Metz‘s mom in Breakthrough, Rebel Wilson in Isn’t It Romantic, etc.
SPOILER: So it means something, I think, that Avengers: Endgame has (a) decided to have a few laughs by making Thor into a beer-drinking lardbucket with a walrus belly, but also (b) delivered a concurrent message that reckless eating and drinking habits aren’t all that cool, and that in the actual world putting on 40 or 50 pounds is a definite indication of depression, loser-tude and sloth.
In other words, directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are saying to the fatasses watching their film with large tubs of buttered popcorn in their laps…they’re saying “yo, we’re talking about you, bruh!” (At my Disney lot screening there were three or four fanboys who were much bigger than Thor.)
In short, Endgame is not only going against the Hollywood narrative of the last ten years but risking the wrath of plus-sized advocates.
An indication of trouble can be found in a marysue.com piece by Kaila Hale-Stern, titled “There’s a Seriously Problematic Depiction of a Character in Avengers: Endgame.”
Excerpt: “There’s a point in Endgame where we meet up with Thor. The God of Thunder, who lost his parents in short order, watched Thanos murder his brother Loki, and was helpless to stop both Ragnarok and the slaughter of his people by Hela and then Thanos, has been treated to unrelenting horror over the course of the last few movies. In Infinity War he’s fraught with grief and motivated by revenge.
“In Endgame, Thor’s trauma and distress manifest in his retreat from society and into, primarily, drinking. There was the opportunity for an Avengers movie, which will be viewed by millions, to explore mental illness, substance abuse, and the process of grieving with sensitivity or even just basic humanity. I know I’m not alone in saying that would have been a much-appreciated surprise; many of us would have felt seen by Marvel Studios’ biggest movie to date.
“Instead, Thor is depicted as one non-stop fat joke.
“Given a prominent beer belly, he’s introduced with his shirt off and the belly out in an obvious attempt at ‘parodying’ Chris Hemsworth’s customary shirtless scenes. If only it ended there.
“That’s the big reveal about Thor and much of his characterization in Endgame: the Asgardian is in a fat suit and/or enhanced by bad effects. The problem isn’t the depiction of Thor as having gained weight but the relentless and cruel way that Endgame treats this as something to be mocked, worse than the worst schoolyard bully.
“There isn’t just one jab in there, either. It’s a longrunning theme, intended to be hilarious, that Thor’s once-sculpted physique is different following his self-isolation after unimaginable tragedy. Ha, ha. Ha.
“Clearly some people do find Thor’s depiction humorous. We live in a fatphobic culture where larger people are subjected to derision in the media and seeing them derided is par for the course. The audience roared with laughter on cue at my screening. Social media has been full of people who love ‘Fat Thor.’ People I know and trust have loved ‘Fat Thor.’ But the ‘gag,’ as it were, strikes me as juvenile, outdated, and utterly unnecessary.”