The Centr of Controversy
I really didn’t like Avengers Endgame
I spoil a lot of stuff in here, but I didn’t like it, so if spoilers ruin your enjoyment of it I think that’s good actually.
I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like Avengers Endgame but I thought I’d just let it slide. See, the thing is, I didn’t even want to have this conversation. Nobody likes to get yelled at by angry fans for having a differing opinion, and who wants the hassle of going to a movie they don’t even really want to see? But see then I heard about the fat suit. Allow me to save you some time if you’d prefer to not read this: I didn’t like it.
I wouldn’t say I hate the MCU because I like plenty of their movies and TV shows but I would say that some of my critique often falls into the subjective. I had, of course, minor nitpicks like “what does the gay guy going on this second date do now that his husband is undusted” or the mixed time travel mechanics. What about the people who moved on? Are we going to get a tearful Castaway “I’m sorry but I remarried” scene? Has half of Peter’s class already graduated?
Additionally, the final battle lacked tension for me, both because I am not very interested in MCU action scenes which tend to put me in mind of watching someone else play a videogame but also because Endgame had made their final villain a past version of Thanos lacking any actual connection to the Avengers. He feels entirely different from the Thanos in Infinity War. This Thanos perhaps sums up my critique here most succinctly when, in response to Scarlet Witch telling him he killed the man she loved, he bleats: “I don’t know who you are.”
People tend to accept these criticisms. There is an ‘agree to disagree’ mentality that some fans will take on those things, and I appreciate that and try to extend the same courtesy. You are allowed to watch whatever movie you want to watch, you are allowed to like whatever movie you like, you are allowed to be moved emotionally by things. You are allowed to like things, you are allowed to find things meaningful, you are allowed to feel.
Sometimes a movie may use a harmful and damaging trope, maybe something based in a stereotype that’s been used to justify some fucked up oppression historically and currently, and when that happens, even in a thing you love, you have to know, acknowledge, understand, and ultimately reject that harmful trope so it doesn’t poison your love or, through it, you.
I didn’t like Endgame. I thought it was bad for a myriad of reasons. Hawkeye’s storyline unnecessarily involves gross racist ideas about predominantly non-white countries descending into chaos that go largely unaddressed in the film, as do the ecofascist undertones you’ve probably already recognized. I also couldn’t help but view the movie with the knowledge we pick up on the internet about who is leaving the MCU, making the character deaths feel melodramatically goofy and like executive-level calculations. The sad parts made me laugh and the funny parts made me sad. But fat jokes always make me angry.
In a way, it was fat hate in the MCU that brought me to this exact moment where I tell you all that it doesn’t matter how much Avengers made you cry or cheer or laugh, it doesn’t matter how much it means to you. The fat hate in the MCU is not okay. Not even when it’s in the “good” movies. Not even when it’s in something that is personally meaningful to you. It’s as not okay then as it is not okay in the things you don’t care about. Fat suits are never okay, not as an “educational tool” and not as a prop for a narrative device that has no altruistic justifications.
It ultimately doesn’t matter if Thor’s storyline was personally relatable to you and made you feel “seen.” In that situation, more critically than in other situations, it is important that you know that fat suits are not okay and that you know this wholly and unwaveringly. Even if it doesn’t bother you, it is important you say, loudly, that fat suits are not okay. Now. With that said.
Let’s talk about fat Thor.
Following their defeat by Thanos at the end of Infinity War, each of the Avengers is dealing with a sense of failure. Thor’s sense of failure in particular is vocalized by Rocket. “He thinks he failed. Which he did but honestly there’s a lot of that going around.”
Thor retreats from public life and his duties as king of the surviving Asgardians in wake of his failure. When we see Thor five years post-snap, we see him in an open robe with a naked fat gut and sagging pectorals, his hair and beard unkempt. His alcoholism in particular is noted as the cause for this weight gain, paired with a sedentary life of playing videogames and making death threats online (usual gamer stuff). He is lured onto the plane with beer. Fat jokes abound at fat Thor’s expense. His veins are filled with Cheez-Wiz. He looks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. His gut is focused on when he steps into frame, cueing the audience to the joke. Later in the movie through time travel, Thor is reunited with his dead mother for a brief moment. She tells him that if he can’t be who he is supposed to be and that he should be who he is. Then, the last words she will ever say to him on the day she dies, are “eat a salad.” The audience laughs. I stare in the dark and think about the fat wage gap while the audience howls around me.
This would not be the first time someone has tried to make Thor fat in the MCU. Taika Waititi, the director of Thor Ragnarok, commented that he had wanted to include a scene in Ragnarok with a chubby child Thor with a mullet that hadn’t made it into the movie. However, that past impulse aside, the timing of a Fat Thor in Avengers Endgame feels suspect.
In January of 2019, Chris Hemsworth launched his app Centr, a diet/workout/”lifestyle” app that includes branding on the website like blogposts titled The Thor Arm Workout. In a 2019 interview with Men’s Health, Hemsworth says that the app took about 2 years to make.
Hemsworth also, it seems, had a hand in shaping Thor’s fat suit. While it is difficult to ascertain who precisely had responsibility for the impetus to put Thor in a fat suit, according to USA Today “Infinity War” and “Endgame” writers Steve McFeely and Chris Markus said on the premiere red carpet that collaborating with Hemsworth was “instrumental” in redefining Thor.”
This would have been after Thor Ragnarok had finished filming in late 2016, which also lines up with Hemsworth’s timeline for the start of the fitness app.
Hemsworth played coy at the Avenger’s Endgame premiere but was clear that he had a hand in shaping the character’s narrative. And Centr hasn’t been shy about capitalizing on Endgame in particular. Torre Washington, Hemsworth’s vegan trainer who appears in videos on Centr, posted on Facebook “This Part of my JOURNEY has been so eventful and I am beyond grateful to be working with “THE GOD OF THUNDER” Chris Hemsworth[.] CONGRATULATIONS on “Endgame” I don’t think THANOS is ready for what Centr and the Avengers are bringing. “WHATEVER IT TAKES””
On twitter at @CentrFit the Centr app regularly references Thor and Avengers, sometimes cheekily as when they shared an article touting that the app would get one “fit like Thor in Avengers Endgame” with a winking emoji prompting some users to jokingly say they already have Thor’s Endgame body and they want his Ragnarok body instead, drawing an instant parallel between two bodies, a before and after narrative. Often Thor is referenced more generally with lines like “Before Chris wields the hammer” and mentions of his acting career featuring regularly.
In this way, Endgame’s fat Thor functions as a clever piece of advertising. People tell me Thor’s storyline is about trauma but I don’t think that’s it at all. I think Hemsworth may answer what Thor’s theme is about best when talking about the ideology behind Centr in this Men’s Health interview:
“The whole thing was about not becoming stagnant. That’s when your emotional and physical problems occur, I think. I wanted to create some-thing that embodied the three main elements of healthy living — the movement, the nutrition, and the mindfulness — and present it in a way that’s entertaining, functional, and also accessible.”
Consider Thor’s storyline from this angle. Consider how he starts in the stagnant spot of “King of Asgard” and consider how he breaks out of that as “new member of the Guardians of the Galaxy” by the end. Consider how Rocket, when we first see Thor says that he’s failed and that’s why he’s upset. Consider Thor’s mother saying he can’t be who he is supposed to be, he should be who he is instead. (Then remember her telling him to eat a salad again because GOD I HATE THIS FUCKING MOVIE.)
Thor’s storyline is about failure and stagnation manifesting on the body and Thor’s fat suit exists to remind us of Chris Hemsworth’s body beneath it.
Let me explain the anatomy of a fat suit to you.
The fat suit operates in different ways on different bodies. On an already fat unknown extra, it exists to push the body further into the carnivalesque grotesquerie, a marginalization of the “superfat” over the fat, but one that many audience members may view without prior knowledge of the extra’s actual body size beneath the padding. On a known celebrity’s body, the fat suited body comes tethered to its thin counterpart in the “real” world. In an age of instant media, it is impossible for us to not know that Chris Hemsworth is not fat, not really. We know the “real” body is the thin one, and we hold that body in our mind, helpless to do anything but privilege it because we know the fat body we see is only temporary on screen. To paraphrase Thanos, the thin body is inevitable.
Before we go further in this conversation, a warning: I am assuming you already know that fat hate is bad in ways that don’t involve just the personal feelings of fat people. I am assuming you already know that there’s a wage gap and I am assuming you already know about the medical malpractice. I am assuming you already know many, many things right now. So when I talk to you about the systemic fat hate that fat suits reinforce, I am assuming you understand how that hate is systemic, how it works to oppress, marginalize, and even kill. I am assuming you have learned all of that already. I am assuming you know already what you would have learned in the beginner’s course.
There has been some argument as to the disruptive potential of fat suits in the past, the idea that they may denaturalize fatness the same way drag denaturalizes gender (K LeBesco, Situating fat suits: Blackface, drag, and the politics of performance, 2005, Women and Performance), but I disagree with this strongly. A material analysis of fat suits reveals plainly on their face that they do not benefit fat people as actors or as audience members. In those cases where a fat actor is made fatter by padding, those with similar bodies are denied place and agency on the stage, and made othered often by the narratives that employ these. In the cases of thin actors donning fat suits, as in the case with Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor, 1996), Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal, 2001), and, in this case, Chris Hemsworth in Endgame, a fat actor is denied a role while a fat narrative is embodied by a thin actor the audience simultaneously beholds as they view the fat suited body (KR Mendoza, Seeing Through the Layers: Fat suits and thin bodies in The Nutty Professor and Shallow Hal, The Fat Studies Reader, 2009, New York University Press, New York). In the context of ever-present news, Hemsworth’s fat-suited Thor is juxtaposed with the “hot promo photos” in the release of the Centr app. This creates a distance from the “real” for Thor’s fat body that allows the audience to both laugh at it even as they identify with it. Within Thor’s fat body, chiseled Chris Hemsworth awaits to emerge, just as many fat fans want to believe that within their own bodies rests the aspirational hyperreal beauty of a comic character just waiting to be unlocked and unleashed. Thor’s fat body is inextricably linked to his failure and stagnation within the narrative, but the promise of Hemsworth’s thin body waits, lurking within (and perhaps, it tells the viewer, in you too). This is not a story about trauma. This is a story about a guy in a rut with a gut. The hopeful ending is that Thor will return to his old body in GotG 3. Marvel movies do not function as discrete entities but as a franchise narrative and pretending that the lack of a weight loss montage in Endgame will mean anything going forward is, I hate to say it, laughable.
“The stakes were sort of as high as they could be but I think we found a great way to kind of have another version of- more growth (laughs) in the character,” said Chris Hemsworth punchably in an interview with The Cutaway. Then he goes on about how he thinks Thanos’s ecofascism is “a valid point”. Cool.
In a film focused on the transformation of the body, either from dead to alive or alive to dead, or short blonde hair to long red hair with blonde tips, or to a half Hulk and half Banner merged into one, fat Thor stands alone as condemnation, a parable of failure and stagnation readable on the body, to be laughed at, a pathologizing of fat as the consequence of ‘giving up’. Why anyone would want to defend this to me is beyond me.
The audience has extraordinary power to create meaning in a film and is often the arbiter of what a movie ‘says’ in the end. But the context of Hemsworth’s app and the apparent parallel development of it and the fat Thor storyline is troubling and throws into question for me any nobility read on the screen. The body on screen is a symbol for the audience to fill with meaning, but the intentionality of its placement shouldn’t be elided. The fat suit creates the sensation of a before and after image, and behind it waits Chris Hemsworth with the fantasy of that transformation acting as a brand foundation for his app.