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Thor's pain in Endgame makes him the most human, relatable Avenger
One of the great joys of Avengers: Endgame, for me, was how much of it I didn't expect. It's my job to keep track of these films, so I obviously had a semi-focused idea of what was coming, but even with that in mind, I found so much of the film refreshing when juxtaposed with the films that came before it. It was full of big moments and little details alike that I, either through willful avoidance of spoilers or pure dumb luck, didn't see coming.
Of all the surprises the film had for me, though, the journey of Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) was by far the most personally affecting. Somewhere along the way, my story and the story of a 1,500-year-old Asgardian prince who can summon lightning intertwined, and I found myself deeply moved. For me, someone who's been singing Thor's praises for years now, Avengers: Endgame is the film that truly made him the Strongest Avenger. Here's why.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for all of Avengers: Endgame below.**
For many Endgame viewers, Thor functioned as little more than comic relief and plot device, who managed to go back in time and get his hammer so Captain America could have a cool moment. For others, he functioned as a fat-shaming running "joke" that wouldn't end, a blockbuster-sized wagging finger that said to them that the simple act of getting a gut had rendered Thor a buffoon. This story is not about Fat Thor, but I will say that — as a heavy guy who's always struggled with weight and body image issues — I fell somewhere in the middle. Fat Thor made me laugh ... to a point.
What I was more interested in, though, was the point that Thor's sudden fatness was (often clumsily) trying to make as a piece of visual shorthand. The God of Thunder let himself go, but not just in the sense that he'd done little more for five years than chug beer and play video games. Thor's spirit was broken, his purpose lost, and his ability to simply accept himself and his actions crippled, by Thanos' victory. After a lifetime of triumphant victory in battle, the act of swinging his ax and chopping off the Mad Titan's head was utterly meaningless, and Thor was left with no choice in his own mind but to retreat into selfish isolation and fear. Here's how co-director Anthony Russo explained Thor's physical and emotional transformation:
"Even though there's a lot of fun to be had in the movie with his physical condition, it's not a gag," he 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."
Now, I am not here to diagnose Thor, or anyone else. I am not an expert, and I can only speak to my own experiences, but when I watched Thor's journey, I saw all the symptoms of my own darkest moments as an isolated, binge-drinking alcoholic (something co-director Joe Russo also confirmed), and I very nearly started to cry while everyone else in the theater was laughing.
Yes, this is that kind of story, but it has a happy ending, so relax.
Even in the face of tremendous loss after the events of Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War, Thor still had a purpose, something he could hold onto and use as a driving force: Kill Thanos at all costs. The opening minutes of Endgame render that purpose meaningless, even when he fulfills it — the execution is an angry act with no payoff. That purpose was Thor's crutch in the face of tremendous pain, and when it was gone, he retreated into silence. When Banner and Rocket go to find him, Valkyrie says the other Asgardians only see him once a month, and when they actually get to Thor's house, it's a mess. In the center of that mess is a fallen god without a sense of purpose to lean on, who'd rather not talk about his problems.
At my worst, seeing me once a month was actually pretty high-frequency, unless you were the guy at the liquor store, who saw me several times a week. I only allowed trusted friends to visit my house, cleaning it up just enough so maybe they wouldn't see what I was really doing, and while they visited the talk was never serious. So many of Thor's quotes line my experience.
I liked imagining what my life would be like when I finally got out of what I was certain was just a slump, and when I couldn't do that I would talk about my past achievements ("I killed that guy! Anyone else here kill that guy?" Thor asked his friends), because that was better than dealing with the current moment. If I did venture out, I had to have supplies ("There's beer on the ship"), because heaven forbid I feel like a person for five minutes or, in the later days, start shaking because I didn't have what I needed.
Yes, this is all very dark, but beneath the comedy — and friends, I was and am great at masking my disease with comedy — Thor's story is just as dark. Darker, even, with all the death and destruction around him. His fellow Avengers make him the butt of jokes, as some of my friends did me, in part because they have a job to do whether he's in shape for it or not, but also perhaps because they don't really know what else to do. Thor is still hiding his own pain, so how are they supposed to pull him out of it if even he won't admit it?
Then Thor does admit it, thanks to an unplanned encounter with his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) back on Asgard in 2013. Frigga knows she's looking at a changed version of her son, and not just because he's fat. He explains to her that he's failed at who he's supposed to be, and that's when Frigga delivered what was for me the most powerful line in the film.
"Everyone fails at being who they're supposed to be."
It's not immediate, but after hearing that — the lesson that all he can do is succeed at being who he is — Thor begins his climb back, with another key piece of knowledge: He's still worthy of wielding Mjolnir. He's still the God of Thunder. He's still a good person with a good heart and good intentions. He's just sick, and he needs to get better.
Thor's journey is different from his Avenging pals Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, because they both aspire to be something more than they are. They begin their MCU stories in a place that requires them to become something more. Thor begins his story with a literally mythic reputation and destiny, and then realizes he can't possibly rise to meet that because, Asgardian or not, he's perhaps the most human Avenger. He is crushed under the weight of his own expectations, and it is only by learning to accept that he'll never meet those expectations that he can grow beyond them into something that's perhaps even better.
I'm always going to be an alcoholic, and I wasn't supposed to be, but now I can say I'm a recovering alcoholic. I didn't set out on this path, but it's here and the only way forward is through. No matter what I do, no matter how great my life gets, that is who I am. I failed at being who I was supposed to be, because we all do, and all I can do is hold my hand out for the hammer anyway, and live on as the person I actually am.
After Thor has learned this lesson, he goes into battle for the first time and does not change back into hot, fit Thor by way of some Asgardian movie magic. The past is not erased. He remains the God of Thunder who lost his way, but now he has two weapons, a braid in his beard, and a new fire in his heart. He doesn't need to magically revert back to who he was to be a hero again.
He's still worthy. So am I, and so are you.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.