Warning: This article contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.
“I don’t judge people on their worst mistakes.”
Avengers: Endgame is not just a great comic-book movie. It’s also a great movie period. It deals with delicate narrative themes of failure, loss, and grief. Even though I was awed by the spectacle, the visuals, and the superheroics what really got me was the handling of certain characters, such as Thor. There’s a moment when our hero, known for his muscular brawn, breaks down and has a crippling panic attack. In that moment, he was vulnerable. He was emotional. He was human. For the first time, I could relate to this Asgardian God more than I ever have.
When I was around eighteen years-old I had a similar moment of crisis. I nearly committed suicide. At seventeen, I was diagnosed with a debilitating heart condition called hypertension. Doctors told me my life would be very difficult. I would have to micromanage my stress, change my diet, and completely alter the way I live my life. I was just starting out. I was eighteen. The mere thought of drastically changing my entire lifestyle nearly gave me a panic attack in and of itself. Suddenly the future looked very bleak. I held a bottle of metoprolol tight in my nervous hands. I slowly snapped open the top. My heart was pounding. I put half the contents into my hand. My whole body started to convulse. This is it. Now or never. I looked down at the pills in my sweaty, shaky hands.
I took more than I should have. My heart started racing faster than I thought possible. I closed my eyes and tried to calm my thoughts. They were charging at me so quickly it was hard to process. I thought about my family. I thought about my friends. I thought about how disappointed they would be. I thought about how disappointed I was. Would Batman give up? Would Iron Man give up? Would any of my favorite heroes give up? I thought about the line. You know the one. As cheesy and corny as this sounds, I thought about the line “With great power comes great responsibility.” I thought about that word… responsibility. This was my responsibility to prove everyone wrong. To prove myself wrong. I couldn’t give up. Not now.
After a couple of long moments that seemed to stretch out into infinity, I put my fingers down my throat. I vomited what I had just swallowed. As I laid back, I thought about the life ahead of me. I decided not to feel sorry for myself. I knew there was a lot of work that had to be done. Not work in the traditional sense. I had to put in the personal work. I owed it to myself. That summer, I saw a movie called Iron Man. I saw a hero who was arrogant and self-centered. He was lost, not that dissimilar to how I was lost just months before. I saw him undergo a transformation. When Tony Stark tells Yinsin in that cave, “Thank you for saving my life”, and Yinsin replies, “Don’t waste it. Don’t waste your life.” it had a greater impact on me than I ever could have realized at the time. I shouldn’t waste my life. As ridiculous as this might sound, I knew if Tony Stark could survive a heart injury, then so could I. Then so should I.
As a kid growing up dealing with depression, superheroes helped me cope. They presented a reality where you could overcome adversity and come out the other end stronger and better. I grew up reading X-Men comics at a time where I was bullied almost constantly at school. When Bobby Drake comes out to his parents in X2: X-Men United it provided me with the inspiration to come out to my own parents. Reading Spider-Man comics and seeing how Peter Parker handled bullies with compassion and humanity offered me a glimpse of hope.
No matter how dark things may get, things can — and most importantly — will get better.
So, as I watching Endgame, I was just as surprised as many of you to watch Thor’s arc unfold the way it did. There’s been a decent amount of discussion surrounding how Thor’s personal journey has been handled in the film — namely whether or not Endgame fat-shames Thor, who gains a substantial amount of weight after losing to Thanos. I would argue Endgame doesn’t fat-shame Thor, but humanizes him. The comedic effect is the change in his appearance, and not in his appearance itself. When Thor summons Stormbreaker and Mjolnir at the end of the film, he doesn’t automatically resort to his old, muscular self. Thor is internally and externally battling depression, and that sadness is almost an enemy onto itself in the film.
The depression, that crippling sense of failure, haunts Thor just like it does almost every member of the team. Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, endures an extreme transformation at the hands of Thanos in Endgame. When he loses his entire family thanks to “The Snap”, he assumes a different and more treacherous identity: Ronin. When we see Ronin in action, he’s merciless, telling his enemy who begs for his life “you can’t give me what I want.” Clint, much like Thor in the film, is hurting. His pain, while not external, is internalized in his actions throughout the film. When Natasha and Clint reach Volmir in search of the Soul Stone, they realize one of them must sacrifice themselves in order to obtain the stone. When Clint argues what he’s done as reason to sacrifice himself, Nat tells Clint “I don’t judge people on their worst mistakes.”
This line feels significant. It’s significant because what makes Marvel characters so enduring, and so relatable, is that they all mostly started from a place of failure or loss. Tony Stark is an outlandish, arrogant arms dealer when Iron Man begins. As the film progresses, Stark learns humility at the hands of losing someone important to him. When we first meet Thor in the very first Thor film he undergoes a similar character arc. He wants the throne, but he’s not worthy. He’s cocky, overconfident, and reckless. As that film ebbs along, Thor learns his own humanity and what it means to be a leader. It feels only fitting that in Endgame, which acts as a final chapter in many of these characters’ arcs, Thor faces an internal crisis once again. When he summons Mjolnir and it comes to him, he breathlessly utters “I’m still worthy.”
As someone that deals with depression on a daily basis, I’ve asked myself that countless times, in different variations. “Am I still worthy?” As someone that has struggled with my own weight, I often look at myself in the mirror and question whether or not waking up the next day is worthwhile. As someone that has failed in life time and time again, I often ask myself deep down how I can continue without letting down those that matter most to me. When Thor’s hammer returned to him, it felt like a giant symbolic metaphor for his purpose returning to him when he needed it most.
For many of us, we are still searching for our purpose, for our Mjolnir.
Thor’s personal victory helped me realize my own worthiness. Yes, there’s still much work left to be done. I’m not perfect. I don’t have a chiseled, muscular body. I make mistakes. I fail. Sometimes, I fail the people around me, and sometimes I even fail myself. However, Thor’s journey was immeasurably uplifting. It’s so important that we see our heroes fail, sometimes more important than to see them succeed. It reminded me of a line from another major blockbuster, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. When Master Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, “Failure is our greatest teacher”, it brought tears to my eyes. It took the legend and the myth of Luke Skywalker and made him fallible. It made him a real person, a person who makes mistakes and most importantly — learns from those mistakes along the way. It made him human.
Failure isn’t something to be ashamed of. It isn’t something to hide from. It’s something to embrace. What makes Avengers: Endgame so important, so fulfilling, and so impactful is how it shows that our favorite characters can fail, and in that failure comes strength. If our heroes can fail, so can we. It shows how grief is an important part of growing and maturing. With that, the Marvel Cinematic Universe grows and so does the genre. Avengers: Endgame shows that these characters will still be allowed to fail, learn from their mistakes, and won’t ever lose that part which makes them human. For a movie about Gods, super-powered individuals and larger-than-life superheroes, Avengers: Endgame stands tall above the rest as one of the most human superhero movies of them all.
It also helped me realize something important about myself, and for that I will forever be grateful. I’m still worthy, and you’re still worthy, too.