In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos will finally attack. And when we say "finally", we mean it; the Mad Titan has been a lingering presence for over half of the MCU yet has only a handful of appearances and minimal plot impact.
Thanos was first introduced in The Avengers, revealed in the mid-credits scene to have been behind Loki's assault on Earth, a bargaining chip so he could acquire the Space Stone. He returned in Guardians of the Galaxy, this time manipulating Kree warlord Ronan the Accuser to get the Power Stone in exchange for destroying Xandar. He eventually ditched underlings in Avengers: Age of Ultron's mid-credits scene, vowing to "do it" himself, yet has been completely absent in the years since, only popping up again during Thor: Ragnarok's stinger to (presumably) finally get the Tesseract off Loki.
While the exact passage of time in the MCU is unclear (long assumed to be in real time, movies have been completely out of order in Phase 3), it's been six years in the real world since the grinning purple giant was first seen and he's made next to no progress: he spent most of Phases 1 & 2 lurking in the shadows using puppets, and despite since vowing to start the Infinity quest hasn't made any headway. In fact, if you avoided any post-credits teasings, Thanos has technically only been seen once in a movie that's almost four years old. But is there a reason for this?
This Page: What Does Thanos Actually Want?
What Actually Is Thanos' Plan?
As revealed in the latest Infinity War trailer, Thanos' primary goal is to bring "balance" to the universe by killing half of those alive. He plans to do this by collecting all the Infinity Stones, giving him God-like power, and - just as in the comics - snapping his fingers to kill billions. We'll learn much more about Thanos' backstory in the movie itself, but that's the crux of what's going on: the Stones are a method for destruction rather than the pure goal.
That's still a bold plan, and one that explains why he first had minions do it: there's high risk in getting a single Infinity Stone, let alone the full six, and to make a stand draws direct attention to himself. It's easier to have Loki and Ronan - both of whom had their own, personal reasons to be getting their respective Stones - do the legwork then collect the reward afterward. Keeping in the shadows definitely worked: the only people aware of Thanos at all are the Guardians of the Galaxy thanks to Gamora's knowledge, and even then they don't seem to know what exactly the Mad Titan's up to; Thor went on a two year mission to investigate why the Stones had become prominent and didn't come close to uncovering the truth.
It's still conspicuous that once Thanos decides to actually make a move, he does nothing. It's possible that he has been carefully planning out his approach since Age of Ultron - he definitely knows that Earth, where the majority of the Infinity Stones are, is a task given the presence of the Avengers - but that makes his decision to attack now still rather random. Considering the positioning of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, it feels strangely convenient. Although those adventures may be the key.
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