The other night, my wife and I watched Thor: Ragnarok. I’d seen it in the theater when it was released last fall, but Sue had never seen any of the Thor movies. Normally, she’s not a fan of superhero flicks, but I told her this was more of a science fiction film than the typical superhero film is (even though many superheroes are aliens or have abilities beyond the realm of our current science, or both). So she agreed to give it a try, and we both enjoyed it.
Amid all the spaceships and weird aliens and battles and other assorted acts of mayhem, there was one scene that I remember caught the attention of every woman in the theater when I saw it there, and it caught Sue’s attention, too, from what she said later. That was the scene where Thor, played by the Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, wakes up from his epic battle with the Hulk and doesn’t have his uniform top on.
Now, a guy can look at this scene and admire Hemsworth’s build from the perspective of a guy. (A straight guy, anyway.) Hemsworth was 36 when he filmed the movie, and he stands 6-3 and weighed in at 220 at the peak of his training. As you can see from this video clip, his training regimen was pretty intense: Training for Ragnarok.
In this article, Hemsworth’s trainer talks about the regimen he has used with the star to prep him to play the God of Thunder: The Thor Workout.
Other film stars, both male and female, have trained extensively for roles that are heavy on the action. Ben Affleck’s prep to play Batman is legendary (although it wasn’t enough to save his marriage), and Alicia Vikander went at it hard to play the lead in Tomb Raider, just to name two. This is a relatively new development in Hollywood. In days of yore, stars would rely on stunt doubles to carry the action for them on screen. That doesn’t happen nearly as often these days. Tom Cruise, for instance, is famous for doing virtually all of his own stunts in the Mission: Impossible films, and sometimes he incurs costly injuries in the process.
Anyone who goes to the gym knows that it’s a chore some days just to get there, much less to work out. Then, once you’re inside, you have to decide how intense you’re going to be. I’ve been fortunate in the past several years to be able to work with some great trainers. Last year, I worked out hard at my own gym, Olympic Fitness, and with Tony Bergman at his gym, 4everFit, to recover from knee replacement surgery and get ready to trek the Salkantay Trail in Peru. Six months to the day after the surgery, Sue and I climaxed 50 miles of hiking over five days with our ascent to Machu Picchu. (You can read about that epic trek on Sue’s travel blog, Your Next Journey.) But I’m the first to admit that there are some days when I just don’t want to be there, and once in awhile I’ll decide that today, I won’t go. But that doesn’t happen very often. With a lot of inspiration from my wife, who stays fit and healthy and looks 20 years younger than her actual age of 61, I work out regularly, because I’ve seen the benefits of fitness. And, I don’t want her thinking about Chris Hemsworth any more than necessary.
But this post really isn’t about training to play a superhero. It’s about that certain scene. It occurred to me that there was really no good reason to have the scene in the first place, except for this one: it shows Hemsworth topless.
If if had been a woman…
So, what’s the big deal? Hemsworth isn’t the first well-built Hollywood star to parade around on film naked from the waist up, and he won’t be the last. You might call the scene gratuitous, which the dictionary defines as, “uncalled for, lacking good reason, unwarranted.” Thor had been knocked unconscious in his fight with the Hulk, then presumably carried back to this room. At some point, somebody had removed his uniform top, because he didn’t do it in the fight and it wasn’t torn off. In fact, it was intact and lying nearby. After a minute or so of wandering around, Thor sees the top and puts it back on. So why not have him wake up fully clothed? What was the point of the topless scene?
To show off his buff body, of course. Superhero films are known for drawing mostly a male audience. Although hard statistics are not easy to come by, one article I read said that the audience for Marvel superhero movies tends to be about 60% male. So, having Hemsworth go topless is obviously an attempt to lure more women into the Cineplex. I’m not sure what it says about women if they would be persuaded to put down their money for a movie ticket just to see the hero without a shirt for maybe one minute out of 120 or so, but doubtless there would be more than a few for whom it would be a tiebreaker in their decision on whether or not to go. (For the record, Sue had no idea the topless scene would be in the film, and I didn’t tell her ahead of time, not wanting to influence her decision one way or another. In fact, I had forgotten about it.)
And suppose there would be women who would say, “Yeah, I heard he’s really built and walks around without a shirt, so okay, I’ll go.” Would any men say anything uncomplimentary about that? Not at all, because deep down inside, most men know that if there is a movie where a particularly attractive actress is shown topless, that’s the tiebreaker for him. It used to be that men could freely admit that, but not anymore.
Back in 2012, the film Star Trek Into Darkness premiered, the second entry in the rebooted franchise that follows the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and their starship, USS Enterprise. The movie was well-done and got very good reviews, except for one scene. Early in the film, Kirk (played by Chris Pine) finds himself alone with a beautiful young woman, Carol Marcus, played by British actress Alice Eve. She’s changing clothes, and tells Kirk to turn around. Of course he turns back to look at her, and the camera lingers on what he sees.
The scene was certainly gratuitous, although not as much as it could’ve been. Eve’s underwear is more modest–slightly–than a lot of bikinis we see on women today, and this is supposed to be taking place in the 23rd century, where presumably people will have even more liberal ideas about personal modesty than they do today. But the scene attracted a lot of attention, and not necessarily of the complimentary kind. Although Eve is certainly an attractive woman and keeps herself in great shape (obviously), many feminists howled about the necessity to show her at all in such a state of undress. She was not attempting to seduce Kirk, and there was no subsequent sex scene between them. It really played no part in the plot at all, and could easily have been shot with the camera from behind Eve, looking over her shoulder to see Pine’s startled (and somewhat embarrassed) expression.
It’s been more than six months since Thor: Ragnarok hit the theaters, and I’ve not read a whiff of any criticism of Hemsworth’s topless scene. But suppose the film had shown one (or both) of its major female characters topless? Cate Blanchett played Hela, Thor’s sister and the villainess of the movie, and while her costume was skin-tight and showed off a figure any 48-year-old woman would do a lot to have, nothing beyond a few patches of arm and side were bared, and only in her first scene, before her costume was upgraded. The other major female role was Tessa Thompson as the Valkyrie, who initially captures Thor when he’s transported to another world after his encounter with Hela on Earth. Eventually, the Valkyrie becomes Thor’s ally, helping him and his Avengers partner, Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), escape the clutches of the tyrant Grandmaster and his gladiator games. Thompson is also an attractive woman, but her costume, although form-fitting, was even less revealing than Blanchett’s.
Hollywood started showing its actors and actresses in various stages of undress a long time ago, so this is nothing new. Back in the sixties, it was big news (and big box office) when well-known actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Faye Dunaway and Jayne Mansfield stripped for the camera. Men got into the act, too. Sexuality is a theme the movies have explored, and exploited, since the early silent films, and there’s no sign of that abating any time soon.
But aren’t the times supposed to be changing? The #MeToo movement, which I’ve written about before, is supposed to be a tectonic shift in the way Hollywood treats its actors and actresses, especially the latter. But whether it turns out to be such remains to be seen. Certainly, major movies these days aren’t shy about showing nudity, and neither are many TV shows available on premium cable channels and Netflix. True, a superhero movie has yet to show any women naked or even just topless, as far as I know, although some of the actresses who have appeared in them, like Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow in the Avengers films), have appeared fully nude in other movies. Cate Blanchett, in fact, not only bared all but engaged in lesbian sex in the 2015 film Carol. Some actresses have been known to demand, and get, extra money to show their naughty bits, like Halle Berry, who pulled in an extra quarter-million or so for agreeing to be filmed topless in Swordfish, before she started playing the heroine Storm in the X-Men movies.
As a filmgoer, I don’t care for it when a movie is gratuitous in any direction. There was way too much violence, for example, in the climactic battle scene in Man of Steel and from virtually start to finish in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And if Thor: Ragnarok had felt it necessary to show Blanchett’s Hela in the shower, or Thompson’s Valkyrie seducing Thor, it would’ve been completely unnecessary, detracting greatly from what turned out to be an entertaining movie. It had a little too much humor for my taste, but audiences generally seemed to like hearing Thor crack jokes.