Getting Thanos Right
Really, it’s all about efficiency and grandeur. The biggest strength going into Infinity War is how little we’ve actually seen of Thanos. The first time we laid eyes on him, he seemed unnervingly positive about having a set of superheroes to fight with on Earth. The second time it was a demonstration of his stoic belligerence toward poor Nebula, and the third was him deciding he’d “do it himself” while grabbing his Infinity Gauntlet. Each short glimpse at the hulking alien has been to further make him larger-than-life, to show that when he makes himself known, it means bad things are going to happen to anyone in his way.
The mythologizing is similar to how the Lord of the Rings trilogy treated Sauron. Over three epic films, the Dark Lord of Mordor is only put on-screen a handful of times. His eye, a burning beacon worshiped and revered by his armies, stands over the volcanic black-land of Mordor, watching all, waiting for someone to activate his ring so he can attack. In a flashback, it’s revealed he had a physical form once, and many died to bring him down. Now he’s literally ethereal fire atop a massive tower, a body more befitting of the way his notoriety and influence spread. Seeing that demonic eye was treated like a privilege or a curse by the movies themselves; any time we saw it we dreaded what was going to happen to the fellowship, especially as their mission was expressly to invade Mordor itself.
Thanos coming to earth has the same weight to it. This is a bad guy who only enjoys making himself feel powerful. He punishes the weak and employs others to do his bidding because most aren’t worth his time or energy. His army, the Outriders, are genetically-engineered parasite-assassins, highly efficient and ruthless. There is no reasoning with him, there is only indentured servitude or death, and now he’s on humanity’s doorstep. In Infinity War, meeting Thanos should be something won by first getting through his endless tirade of soldiers, something that only the foolish or the incomparably brave (or both) would attempt. We know the emphasis is on the ‘War’ in the title from the trailer, these battles should be an exercise in futility that makes Thanos look the arrogant, despicable tyrant and the Avengers the admirably unrelenting but ultimately human, and thus limited in their abilities, heroes.
In the teaser footage, Spider-Man and Iron Man are seen getting put down going one-on-one with the otherworldly hulk. The Russo brothers must tread lightly with how much of this is in the movie because over-exposure is a concern, especially early on. With the amount of special effects and green-screen Marvel use, their fight scenes have developed a cinematographic sameness in the movement and action beats. Thanos will look unremarkable the more we see of him, especially when fighting with characters we’ve seen go through the motions several times before. These tussles being brief, savage put-downs would set a standard of appropriation and domination – Thanos is here and until further notice, he’s in charge.
Consider Darth Vader in the original Star Wars. His introduction is troops blasting through a smaller vessel as he menacingly follows through to find Princess Leia. Later he telepathically chokes a man for challenging him. Vader himself isn’t in the film all that much but when he is, control of the scene is always in his hands and everything he does is decisive and in his favor. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Thanos is shown to be just as commanding. Ronan the Accuser grovels at his feet and Nebula, despite being ever-reminded that she’s the inferior daughter, remains dutiful to his every whim. Serving him is a privilege and a curse all at once.
Each of his scenes should be as striking as that tease, leaving the audience more afraid and more unsure of how anyone will defeat him. As this is the climax of the MCU and many contracts are ending, let Thanos be the epicenter of the uncertainty. Really put the power of anticipation on him, so when he’s visible, it’s all about what he’s going to do. Make his presence unbalance the scales and push any situation into disarray. This is the fate of the entire cinematic universe we’re talking about, survivors should be lucky to get out alive.
Someone’s going to die in Infinity War, that’s not a bold prediction, but who that is and when is of the utmost importance to how we view the wannabe-God as an antagonist. Too early and viewers can become apathetic, but at the right time he could be reviled. A fan-favorite like Loki, who we can assume gives the evildoer the Tesseract, getting double-crossed and murdered would be massive. Imagine if Thanos only appears on-screen a half-dozen times or less and one of them is to kill Loki without a second thought. Suddenly Marvel have made a villain that actually kills – and not just killed, but ended the life of one of the big crowd-pleasers. Audiences will resent him. They’ll hate him, they’ll cheer when Captain America beats his teeth out. And Marvel will finally have created a monster that will go down in the right kind of infamy.
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