Warning: spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.
Thanos would fix Marvel's villain problem - if only his motivations weren't so dumb. The MCU's problems with its antagonists has been somewhat understandable. When you commit to making over twenty movies, with more on the horizon, you must adhere to certain film-making rules: keep the action going, raise the stakes each time, but don’t make the bad guys so dangerous that they capsize the entire franchise. From The Avengers onwards, it’s been clear that the series, as ambitious and far-reaching as it has become, has struggled to create villains who feel like viable threats without overwhelming the upcoming climax of Thanos.
There have been exceptions: Loki’s petty lust for power and conflict with his family made for some of the most interesting elements in the Thor movies, and it was always clear that he was never the true brains of the operation in The Avengers. Black Panther’s Killmonger proved an understandable threat in the context of that film’s culture and society, plus he made enough salient points that left some audience members rooting for him over T’Challa. Yet these baddies have been in the minority, especially when compared to one-note genocide-hungry bullies like Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy or the Dark Elf Malekith in Thor: The Dark World.
For a while, even Thanos felt bland and non-threatening, as the franchise held back on his true force until Avengers: Infinity War. In fairness, he certainly brought the big guns this time around, with a story arc that made Thanos both interesting and threatening. However, even during these heights, it’s hard to ignore how his central motivation – the driving force behind all chaos in the universe – is sort of stupid.
Like all good villains, Thanos wants power. Not just any power but all the power that the Infinity Stones provides: complete omnipotence over the Mind, Soul, Space, Power, Time and Reality. He wishes to use the six stones to commit a unique form of genocide: by obliterating half of the universe’s entire population, he claims that this will restore balance to life.
According to him, his home planet Titan was destroyed because they would not adhere to his wishes to cull one-half of the inhabitants, sending him on a quest to balance the universe. At one point, he tells Gamora that her home planet, one where he had already culled half of the population, was flourishing following his decision now that they no longer had to worry about overpopulation, famine, dwindling resources, and so on.
While it’s refreshing to see a villain who doesn’t simply want power for the sake of it, Thanos seems to possess no understanding, or at least no desire to understand, the ramifications of his desires. In Avengers: Infinity War's post-credits scene, we see what happens on Earth after he activates the Infinity Gauntlet, and the collateral damage clearly ensures that more than half of the population will die: immediately, pilots flying planes who disintegrate will take their passengers with them, regardless of whether the Gauntlet randomly picked them or not; car crashes will maim and kill more; then, longer term the problems with world conflicts and geographical strife will probably be exacerbated by the inexplicable decision. Nations and world faiths will panic and more chaos will unfold. There will be no balance on Earth, so why would there be balance anywhere else because of this choice? If Thanos truly believes his act is one of mercy, then it’s one with endless caveats attached.
His previous attempts to reach this goal throughout various films leading up to Avengers: Infinity War further show weaknesses in Thanos' motives. In The Avengers, Thanos gives the Mind Stone to Loki so he can lead the domination of Earth and claim the Tesseract; he gave up one Stone to get another. At the time, this could be explained away quite easily, but now that we know the stakes and the power on display, it feels more questionable.
Ultimately, Thanos’s motivations are something that cannot truly be executed with any degree of success. The universe simply doesn’t work that way. The half of inhabitants left behind will not thank him for what he’s done, and there is no way he will be able to live peacefully after that. Revenge will be sought, so how does Thanos deal with that? Does he choose to kill off another half of the population to keep people in line? At what point does it end? Thanos makes the stakes higher than ever for the MCU, but the reasoning doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. After all, what if there's an odd number of people in the universe?
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019