Fat jokes, gay characters, and the unavoidable backlash to Endgame
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Nothing this popular is going to make everyone happy.
Avengers: Endgame made some record-breaking bank in its first weekend at the global box office, with receipts from its first three days totaling more than Captain America: Civil War, Aquaman, or Spider-Man: Homecoming made in their entire runs.
Of course, as with anything hugely popular, there is going to be an inevitable backlash.
To this day, people still argue there was plenty of room for Jack on that piece of debris with Rose, Jurassic World and The Force Awakens are judged merely as updated remakes of Jurassic Park and A New Hope, respectively. And you'll be hard pressed to find a staunch defender of Avatar, despite it being the biggest box office hit of all time.
Sometimes, there is simply is no accounting for taste, and while we here in JOE are huge fans of Avengers: Endgame, the movie is clearly not without its faults.
Spoilers from this point on, readers!
So... we could nitpick about the disappearance of Captain Marvel, or the actual minefield of plot holes caused by the time travel, or the whole issue of Captain America's final decision, which would seem to involve him sitting back and allowing the events of the MCU to happen without his interference, or any number of other small foibles throughout (not to mention those hairstyles!), but instead we're going to focus on two of the bigger issues that have surfaced from the online reaction to the movie in the days since its release.
In the lead-up to the release of the movie, JOE sat down with Chris Hemsworth to talk about the evolution of his character across the MCU to date. He hinted at further evolution for the character to come, and while we hadn't seen the movie yet, our title of the video - Chris Hemsworth on the big changes for Thor in Endgame - proved properly prophetic.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Thor gets fat in Endgame.
When his new body shape is revealed in the movie, it is obviously played for laughs, as Thor's hunky, ripped physique was one of the defining characteristics of who he was.
However, now suffering from guilt and depression for failing to save his family, his friends, his planet, and then failing to stop Thanos at the end of Infinity War, Thor has retreated to the fishing village of New Asgard, drinking beer and playing video games all day with Meek and Korg.
He is wallowing in his own mental anguish, and it is manifesting itself physically. Initially, it almost played sensitively enough. Sure, Rocket makes fun of him, but Rocket makes fun of everyone. Banner handles his fractured friend with a required softness, and when Tony Stark sees him, he simply refers to him as "Lebowski", which seems more of a slight against his new perma-drunk vibe and unkempt fair.
But then we see Thor is emotionally reunited with his dead mother, and she requests that he "eats a salad". And the normally level-headed Rhodes, the snark-less Stark in a similar suit, suggests that Thor's blood is filled with "cheese whizz".
LOL, right? LOL?
Listen, not all fat people are depressed, and not all depressed people are fat, but this was clearly a case that needed a little more nuance to it than "OMG, Fat Thor!". When Stark returns from the depths of space, starved down to his bones, nobody makes a joke about how skinny he is. So why turn on a character that has seen his mother, father, sister, brother, best friend, and home planet destroyed in the last few years and turn him into a punchline?
That being said, there is a bit of a silver-lining to this, as when Thor finally does get his groove back, and Mjolnir returns to him, letting him know that he is still worthy, Thor returns to the battlefield, reinvigorated.
But there isn't a moment when, say, in a lesser movie, a bolt of lightning strikes him, and he's all super buff and ripped and topless again. No, Thor looks pretty much the same, but he has owned his failings and is wading into the fight, regardless, and some viewers took this finally being representation of who they were:
TBH speaking as a fat guy I found Fat Thor a comfortable representation. He's got fucking PTSD up the wazoo (like me) and has coping behaviours that people look down on (pretty much exactly mine) but fuck them. Hurting as he does, he still fights the good fight when he's called.
— Kay Orchison (@kayorchison) April 26, 2019
All I will say about #AvengersEndame is that I have never found Thor more relatable.
— Ned Cooper (@cooper_ned) April 26, 2019
So, while the take-off was dodgy, it turns out that they may have actually stuck the landing with Thor, which is more than can be said for the second major talking point from Endgame.
Two: The Grieving Man.
A few days ago, the Endgame directors The Russo Brothers discussed with Deadline about the first LGBTQ+ character in the MCU arriving in this movie.
Those who have watched the movie may be racking their brains trying to figure out who they're referring to. Was there a line by Valykrie or Sam or someone that mentioned a same-sex relationship?
Then you realise they were referring to one tiny scene at a kind of Post-Snapture Anonymous meeting, where Captain America is chatting to some fellow survivors, and we hear a man there (played by Joe Russo!) talking about going on his first post-semi-apocalypse date, and that date is with a man.
Was that... was that it?
As per the interview with Deadline, Joe Russo said "Representation is really important. It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them. We felt it was important that one of us play him, to ensure the integrity and show it is so important to the filmmakers that one of us is representing that.
"It is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity."
That is all well and good, but there is a big difference between representation, and just the acknowledgement of existence.
Representation would've involved having one of the major characters live an LGBTQ+ life, not just nod in the direction of a three-line background character.
The MCU is one of the most packed-out series of movies ever made, and statistically speaking, at least a handful of these superheroes (and supervillains!) aren't straight. For those who argue that the MCU isn't about sexual representation, then just look at Tony and Pepper. Or Steve and Peggy. Or Bruce and Natasha. Scarlet Witch and Vision. Bruce and Natasha. Clint and his wife. Peter Quill and Gamora. Scott and Hope. On and on it goes, the ways in which the MCU is pairing off its characters, but not one same-sex partnership?
And for those who think representation doesn't matter, they're clearly already being represented. Black Panther and Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are all proof that seeing "yourself" on the big screen often is reason enough for audiences to arrive in droves to these movies.
Again, there is a silver lining though, as revealed when JOE spoke to the Russo Brothers ourselves:
Anthony Russo told us that "Yeah, but while we can't really speak to what Marvel is going to do in the future, that is more for them to say, when they're ready. But we do know that diversity is a big part of how they're moving forward, and there are going to be some very, very exciting things coming on that front."
And Joe Russo adds, "Certainly, an LGBTQ+ character."
So, again, the first steps made were dodgy as hell, but it does look like they're heading towards more interesting, more stable ground.
When you take as big a swing as Marvel and Disney have made with Endgame and the MCU as a whole, there is always going to be some misses, but the biggest takeaway from it all is that it does look like they're willing to learn from the mistakes, and improve upon it with whatever comes next.
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