The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a resounding triumph, but fans have one criticism: the villains. Marvel's focus has always been on their heroes, and the bad guys have usually been a foil for the heroes' character development. That's why many of the villains have essentially been twisted "mirror images" of the heroes; Iron Man takes on an industrialist in armor, Captain America battles a Nazi super-soldier, and a rogue sorcerer challenges Doctor Strange.
Thanos will be different. Avengers: Infinity War has been described as an "heist movie," with Thanos as the star and the Avengers as the obstacle. The Mad Titan is launching his most ambitious quest of all, to acquire the Infinity Stones, and Earth's Mightiest Heroes are the last thing in his way.
As part of a set visit for Infinity War, Screen Rant's Rob Keyes had the opportunity to talk to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely about the Mad Titan. They insisted that this time round, the villain stands center-stage. As McFeely notes, very often the bad guy is "a foil for the development of the hero." Infinity War will invert that; "Our heroes are foils for the villain, whose story we need to tell at large."
To Markus and McFeely, the MCU's best villains to date are Loki and Jessica Jones's Kilgrave. In part, McFeely suggests, these two characters shine because they're given a great deal of screen time. The viewers get to know the villains as intimately as the heroes, to care passionately about what happens to them. David Tennant's Kilgrave is as much the star of Jessica Jones Season 1 as Krysten Ritter's hero. In just the same way, Infinity War will devote a lot of screen time to Thanos himself. It will reveal the Mad Titan in all his glory, and take the time to develop him as a character.
Meanwhile, the second core aspect of these two villains is their "weird family relationships." James Gunn fleshed out Thanos's family dynamics in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; he revealed what it was like for Nebula and Gamora to be brought up by Thanos. "James did a nice job of setting the table for us," McFeely observes, "but we're certainly going to run with that."
Ultimately, the writing duo have based their interpretation of Thanos on Jim Starlin's origin character. They've chosen to abandon the two-dimensional villains, the ones who just want to take over the world, or to just kill somebody. Instead, they're choosing to present Thanos as a complex, nuanced character in his own right. As Markus describes it:
"Thanos is an amoral philosopher. He’s not the Devil – although he does sometimes have the Devil standing next to him. We wanted that all the way through. To have a villain with understandable motivations and emotions."
Given that's the case, it's easy to see why the screenwriters drew upon Loki and Kilgrave for inspiration. Those two characters are wonderfully developed, with motivations and emotions that resonate with viewers. It's true that those emotions may sometimes be extreme, and that their motivations may be sinister; but they're recognizable, and as such they make the villains strangely sympathetic.
Fans generally tend to agree that Loki and Kilgrave are the MCU's best villains. As such, it will be interesting to see how their portrayals have informed Thanos.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018