This article contains spoilers.
It’s been over two weeks since the release of Avengers: Infinity War. Spoiler-filled content has swarmed the Internet so pervasively, it’s quite impossible to avoid scrolling past such articles on your social media feeds. Thank god I caught the movie on its Thursday debut.
Last night, I encountered an article on my Facebook timeline that applauded Thanos, played by Josh Brolin as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first great villain, one with a relatable motivation and a remarkable amount of screen time to develop it.
I can’t say I agree entirely.
As the credits to Infinity War scrolled that day– I waited impatiently for the post-credit scene– I remember ruminating about the purple, gigantic extraterrestrial that had just wiped out half the universe’s population (and made a fool out of Scarlet Witch.)
His goal: Brilliant
To start, Thanos indeed had a notable amount of time onscreen, a significant number of scenes dedicated just to unwrap his sinister goal. He’s not your typical villain: one that wants to rule the world or seek vengeance for an irreversible undoing. You can reasonably say he’s truly trying to maintain order in the universe.
Marvel found a way through Thanos to raise the stakes of wrecking the living universe: start an intergalactic genocide. We’ve been desensitized to destruction porn in blockbusters: the endless Michael Bay fetishes, aka explosions, buildings collapsing, global flooding and even terraforming attempts. You can’t really go any further than that. Marvel didn’t bother with Thanos gratuitously blowing up cities into debris and rubble just to demonstrate his wrath. Even if it did, audiences wouldn’t care because we’ve seen it in movies countlessly.
His humanity: Brilliant
But what really got me thinking was that this alien giant, while evil and not human, is actually humane. He ponders, he cries and he even loves: something I’m not entirely convinced with when his sacrifice of Gamora successfully unlocked the Soul Stone, but alas, isn’t love a sick spectrum of the conventional to the unfathomable?
I was impressed with Marvel for approaching the development of this invincible villain that was quintessential to the success of the story, absorbing the overflowing heaps of criticism regarding the MCU’s previous villains. They succeeded in forging some empathy between villain and viewer. In other words, we know Thanos is not just another maniacal moron.
That said, I have to acknowledge that Thanos is not the MCU’s first humane villain. I’m sure most of us sympathized with the orphaned Killmonger in Black Panther.
His formidability: Brilliant
Back in 2013, my advertising lecturer shared her opinions of Iron Man 3 (which had then hit theaters), saying she knows Marvel’s villains are never daunting enough to convince you that they might actually win the day. She compared The Mandarin unfavorably to The Dark Knight‘s Joker, who while defeated at the end of the 2008 masterpiece, really convinced the audience that Batman was going to lose.
That’s what Thanos is for Avengers: Infinity War. Most viewers were convinced the gauntlet-wearing mastermind was going to acquire all six Infinity Stones at the demise of the Avengers and their affiliates. For me personally, Thanos was the direct opposite of my lecturer’s experience with the Joker: I actually thought Thanos would not complete his collection of gems, yet the purple guy ends up winning.
And yet, Marvel was careful to ensure that Thanos was not invincible. With the right strategy, he could have still been overpowered. He nearly lost when he was arrested while Mantis subdued his mind… but of course we all know what happened next.
His logic: Not so brilliant
But albeit all the praise I am willing to shower for Marvel’s carefully conceived super villain, only one little thing holds me back from giving him 100 marks on a test. The motivation to his goal sounded a bit stupid.
In the movie, Thanos reasoned that his aim of killing half the universe’s population would alleviate planetary resources and limitations. If half a population is reduced, the lucky randomized survivors would have more to work with and less internal conflict to endure, including war and starvation.
It all seem kinda plausible at first, but I was never once convinced that his plan was genius. Instead, it sounds like a plan of a lazy director from human resource who doesn’t know how to manage his employees, so he recklessly fires half of them.
Thanos’s motivation very evidently appears as retroactively fitted into his goal. He wants to exterminate half the universe, so I imagine Marvel’s writers huddled in a meeting room for hours trying to figure out why half and not all.
While Marvel has done brilliantly with Thanos, establishing empathy for the surprisingly humane alien mastermind and making him a formidable opponent that actually succeeded, they also gave him a really lazy frame of logic. I’m not saying Marvel themselves were lazy, but the motivation itself seemed so for an evil mastermind.
So Marvel is brilliant. Thanos is not.