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Fans are slamming Marvel after that Black Widow trailer

Marvel Studios has done it again... stoked the ire of some fans on the internet, that is.

While reactions to the first trailer for the upcoming Black Widow were largely positive, a certain subset of fans took issue with what they perceived as the fat-shaming of the Red Guardian, portrayed by Stranger Things' David Harbour.

The Guardian, real name Alexei Shostkov, appears at a couple of different moments in the trailer. Russia's answer to Captain America is portrayed as being perhaps a decade or two past his prime, and suffice to say that Harbour — never the trimmest of actors — didn't exactly get jacked for the role.

This is obviously by design, as we first see Shostakov flexing his (considerable) muscles in a mirror, then attempting to squeeze into his old suit. He does, then proudly announces to his "family" — Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff, Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova, and Rachel Weisz's Melina Vostokoff — that it still fits. "You got fat," Vostokoff needles him... but in the spot's very next scene, we see that the Guardian's added heft doesn't seem to be slowing him down much, as he single-handedly takes on the villainous (and extremely dangerous) Taskmaster.

The response from some fans online was highly reminiscent of the "Fat Thor" controversy after the release of Avengers: Endgame. Many were incredulous that Marvel appeared not to have learned anything from said controversy, including Twitter user @The_GothDaddy, who wrote, "The Black Widow trailer looks pretty good I'd like it more if Marvel learned their lesson with Thor and maybe considered leaving out yet... A n o t h e r... Dig at fat people."

User @Artists_Ali agreed, writing, "So I watched the Black Widow trailer. Is Marvel just gonna do wall to wall fatphobic jokes in all their movies now or....? Yeah that's gonna be a no from me."

There were a wealth of similar tweets to be found in the trailer's immediate wake, and while everybody is obviously entitled to their opinion, ours is that — as with the Endgame controversy — the approach to Harbour's character is being wildly misinterpreted. User @MediocreJedi (great name) contributed another critical tweet that touched on our reasoning: "Imma watch the hell out of #BlackWidow," they wrote, "but did Marvel learn ANYTHING from their Endgame Thor fat joke backlash? Most women I know find David Harbour hot. So, another fat joke? Signed, guy who can barely fit into his 21-year-old dress uniform but can still kick ass."

Is Marvel guilty of fat-shaming with the Black Widow trailer?

While one could certainly make the argument that Marvel didn't exactly think through the potential ramifications before committing to their portrayal of Red Guardian, we submit that those accusing the studio of fatphobia would do well to take a look at the broader context of the spot. Sure, the fact that Shostakov is old and out of shape, squeezing into his superhero costume only for his "family" to poke good-natured fun at him, is played for a laugh. Does this make the Red Guardian a buffoon, a punchline, like some in the Twitterverse are asserting?

Respectfully, we don't agree that it does. Again, in the very next scene, we see the Guardian in all his overweight glory engaging one-on-one with one of the deadliest villains in the Marvel universe — and everything about his appearance in this sequence, regardless of how many extra pounds he may be packing, screams "utter badass."

Those raking Marvel over the coals on Twitter obviously took away something different, and that's unfortunate — but we certainly didn't see Marvel encouraging audiences to point and laugh at the hapless fat guy. What we saw was much more along the lines of, "Sure, Alexei may be past his prime; he has to struggle to get into his old suit, and his family ribs him about it. But, look how awesome he is. He may not have the body of Captain America, but he can damn sure throw down like him."

To us, this is the exact opposite of fat-shaming, and we took a similar position in defense of Fat Thor (so named by fans, and later re-christened "Bro Thor" by Marvel). Yes, it was a shock to the system to see the God of Thunder having packed on the pounds, swilling beer and playing video games, and Chris Hemsworth leaned into the comedic aspects of his first onscreen appearance in that state. Yes, Tony Stark made fun of him; Stark made fun of everybody, every chance he got.

But Thor's extra pounds, and the profound depression of which they were a symptom, were not treated as a joke. In contrast, Odinson's descent into depression in the wake of his failure to stop Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War was treated with a great deal of sensitivity, and the entire arc was one which we would never have expected for the character.

With Red Guardian and Bro Thor alike, Marvel seems to be pretty darn consistent in its message, which is a timeless one: don't judge a book by its cover. You might be old, you might be chubby, you might be depressed; you can be any or all of these things, and you can still be a hero. That is a message anyone should be able to get behind.