Just how did Thanos recognize Tony Stark in Avengers: Infinity War, and does it actually set up a plot for the as-yet-untitled Avengers 4? There's a sense in which this was the strangest scene in Infinity War. Thanos, the Mad Titan, caught a glimpse of Tony Stark's face, and recognized him at once. "Stark," he snarled. When Stark expressed surprise at being recognized, Thanos responded that he isn't "the only one cursed with knowledge."
Tony Stark has lived in fear of Thanos for the last six years. In The Avengers, Stark caught a glimpse of an alien armada when he flew through a wormhole, and although that fleet was destroyed, he's always been convinced another alien invasion is inevitable. Thanos seems to know this, recognizing that Stark is "cursed with knowledge" of the Mad Titan's eventual return. But Thanos' words imply a strong parallel between the two of them, as though each carries specific knowledge related to the other - knowledge that is a curse.
Infinity War goes to great lengths to create some subtle parallels between Thanos and Tony Stark, but this is where they get explicit. No doubt the purpose of this scene was really to emphasize the personal conflict between Thanos and Stark. As Joe Russo explained, Thanos has "the most specific connection to Tony because Tony is a futurist, and he has predicted a threat like Thanos." In exactly the same way, Thanos fancies himself a futurist, and he has predicted a catastrophe that would destroy all life in the universe. Stark created Ultron out of his fear, and Thanos launched his insane quest to erase half the life in the universe in order to save the rest.
But this scene goes beyond that, and suggests a very personal enmity between the two. Just what is really going on?
- This Page: The Battle of New York and The Soul Stone
- Page 2: Are We Seeing the Ripples of Time-Travel?
Does Thanos Recognize Tony Stark From The Battle of New York?
The first possibility is simply that Thanos is a master of the Art of War. As Sun Tzu noted on Earth, "Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles." Thanos has no doubt triumphed in far more than a hundred battles, and that's probably not just because he believes in overwhelming force. Rather, as a master tactician, he's likely a firm believer in researching his enemies in order to defeat them.
Humanity proved itself unexpected resilient back in 2012, when the Avengers successfully defeated the invading legions of the Chitauri. And Tony Stark delivered the critical nuclear warhead personally, destroying the Chitauri mothership before returning to Earth through the wormhole. If Thanos has researched anybody on Earth, it's Tony Stark, the man who caused so much damage to his armies.
On the face of it, this seems like a satisfying explanation. But there are two major problems with the theory. The first is the fact that Thanos only recognizes Stark when the distinctive Iron Man helmet is damaged, and he sees Stark's face. Had this simply been an example of Thanos's research, he would no doubt have recognized an Iron Man armor. What's more, this doesn't explain why Thanos would view this kind of knowledge as a "curse." The scene really does feel as though something else is going on.
Does This Knowledge Come From The Soul Stone?
A second possibility is that Thanos knows Stark because of the Soul Stone. In theory, the Soul Stone could give the Mad Titan the ability to examine the soul of anyone he encounter - to peer into their hearts and minds and examine their motives. This would explain why he seems aware of the depth of Stark's "cursed knowledge." Some fans have suggested an extension of this theory, in order to explain why Thanos believes the Soul Stone to be, in part, a curse. They suggest that the Soul Stone actually grants Thanos the ability to see into the hearts of people he kills, granting him an empathy that - up until acquiring the Soul Stone - he lacked. That would be a neat explanation of why Thanos seemed more hesitant to kill during his battle with the Avengers on Earth; he actually experiences their thoughts and emotions, their desperation and pain.
This is a fascinating concept, but it's not actually alluded to in the film itself. The rest of the Infinity Stones shine at the moment Thanos uses them, but there's no telltale glow around the Soul Stone at the moment Thanos says this. So, if Thanos' knowledge of Tony Stark doesn't come from the Soul Stone, where else could it come from?
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019