Warning: spoilers for Avengers: Endgame ahead!
One of the more surprising changes in Avengers: Endgame comes from the God of Thunder. Ever since Marvel introduced Thor to fans in 2011, he's been known for three main things: his bravado, his cheery optimism despite damning odds, and his god-worthy physique. The Asgardian has gone through many changes over the years, going from a Shakespeare-inspired trouble child in his titular debut to a comedic breakout star in Thor: Ragnarok. But the Thor in Endgame is a very different man than the one we've come to know, and it's a decidedly different take on the popular character. Which is exactly how the Russo brothers wanted to direct it.
"Thor is an exceedingly tragic character who was built from the time he was a boy to be a king," Joe told Entertainment Weekly, explaining how the directors wanted to portray Thor's grieving process. "He's broken and that's who he is moving forward. What would happen if that character became extremely angry and started to punish himself and didn't care anymore? What would happen to him?"
Their answer? He would be a complete wreck, both emotionally and physically. When we see Thor in the beginning of Endgame, he's clearly battling some intense personal demons. He's basically lost everything by the end of Infinity War: his entire family is dead, Heimdall is killed in front of his eyes, his home is gone, and his people are at the mercy of the Mad Titan. And at the end of it all, despite gaining a new eye and a formidable weapon, he isn't able to save the world. Even when he eventually gets the opportunity to kill Thanos — and takes it, aiming for the head — it doesn't give him the fulfillment he longs for. What happens to a man when he fails to save the world? That's the question that plagues Thor to the point of breaking him.
"He's broken and that's who he is moving forward."
When Thor makes a reappearance after Endgame's five-year time jump, he's radically different in both personality and physical appearance. Killing Thanos hasn't healed Thor; if anything, it's worsened his battle to vanquish his demons. Unable to deal with the weight of all the death and destruction, Thor retreats to New Asgard, a settlement in Norway where the remaining Asgardians live after the destruction of their home planet. Instead of ruling over his people as they adjust to a new life, Thor isolates himself with Korg and Miek and spends his day drinking and playing Fortnite.
When Rocket and Bruce travel to New Asgard to recruit Thor for the Avengers' time heist, they meet a shadow of the man they once knew. His hair (and beard) is dirty and knotted, he's wearing a ratty old bathrobe, and he's gained an actual beer belly. And despite very obviously needing a therapy session — or several — Bruce wrangles the Asgardian into their scheme to find the Infinity Stones.
For a majority of fans, the visual of Thor being bigger isn't the problem, though some do have an issue with seeing another actor in a fat suit to get a laugh. It's the way Thor's physical signs of PTSD are treated as a joke. Rocket actually refers to Thor as "a melting ice cream cone," and it isn't the only time that Thor's intense grief is shrugged aside to get a laugh.
Talking about #AvengersEndgame, this is the only thing I'll say about, because I want my friends to know this and not end up surrounded by hundreds of people roaring in laughter at them: a character gains weight due to PTSD. It's a complete and utter joke repeated several times.— Aloïs 🌻🌈 (@_adropofred) April 24, 2019
But the Russos insist that the jabs aren't meant to turn Thor's situation into a farce. "Even though there's a lot of fun to be had in the movie with his physical condition, it's not a gag," Anthony said. "It's a manifestation of where he is on a character level, and we think it's one of the most relatable aspects of him. I mean, it's a very common sort of response to depression and pain."
"That's the reason why we didn't end up turning him back," Anthony added. "It's an experience that stays with him."
While the jokes about Thor's weight are liberally sprinkled throughout the film, the true redeeming quality is Chris Hemsworth's dedication to depicting the god's struggle. He expertly presents a warrior attempting to put on a show of confidence and nonchalance, whose breaks in bravado are deep and heartbreaking. Though he's clearly just going through the motions during the planning stages of the time heist, his run-in with his mother on Asgard is the first emotional progress he makes in the film. Her words on failure and the true meaning of heroism renew a bit of his hope and idea of self-worth — he's even able to call Mjolnir to him for the first time in a while. And instead of being magically restored to his formerly god-like physique when he suits up for battle, Thor's unkempt hair (and, sadly still present, beard) is braided and his costume is fitted for his new body. It's a gratifying moment of self-acceptance that doesn't go away with movie magic.
By the end of the film, Thor is a little more confident and self-assured — but he's still searching for his purpose. He hands over the reins of royalty to Valkyrie, leaving her as the leader of New Asgard, and boards the Benatar with the Guardians of the Galaxy. We don't know what will come for Thor after this, especially since Hemsworth's contract with Marvel is about up, but it would be interesting to see how the god goes about his journey to find inner peace.
Despite the fat jokes in Endgame that border on cruel and unnecessary, Hemsworth's nuanced exploration of trauma brings a complexity to the character that goes from a combative, arrogant f*ckboy to a lovable rogue just getting through it like the rest of us. He isn't automatically fixed in the end, but we definitely want to see what's going to happen next. Maybe we'll see more in Guardians of the Galaxy 3? Read the directors' interview with Entertainment Weekly in full here.