[Potential MILD SPOILERS for Guardians of the Galaxy ahead!]
That the Mad Titan himself, Thanos, has a role to play in Marvel Studios' upcoming film, Guardians of the Galaxy, has long been regarded as a given, if only because a number of the movie's confirmed villain-types traditionally have ties to the character, in the Marvel comic books. The question is how significant a role will Thanos play in the plot of Guardians - a question that's become all the more intriguing, since we now know that Josh Brolin will be portraying him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thanos made his big screen debut during a mid-credits scene featured in Joss Whedon's The Avengers, where actor Damion Poitier portrayed the character via motion-capture; another mid-credits sequence, this time attached to Thor: The Dark World, planted yet another seed that looks to lead to the famous Infinity Gauntlet story (a comic storyline featuring Thanos) being explored in Avengers 3, down the line in 2018, most likely.
There've long been rumors that Thanos will make an appearance in next year's Avengers: Age of Ultron, though the general outlook right now is that it will be James Spader as the eponymous power-hungry android, who serves as the primary antagonist in Whedon's sequel (while Thanos watches from afar - literally, quite possibly). First, though James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy movie will plant a few more seeds - the kind that establish how much influence Thanos is having, both on the events that unfold during Marvel Studios' first expedition deep into the unexplored cosmic realms of the MCU - and developments in the larger universe, in general.
Vulture is claiming to have the low-down, with regard to not just how Thanos will figure into the storyline for Guardians, but also how much screen time he'll have in the film - not to mention, what form he shall appear in:
Though Thanos didn't appear until the very end of The Avengers, Vulture has learned that he'll emerge in the first act of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Thanos will be communicating remotely via hologram for most of the film — a move the Mad Titan likely cribbed from the equally enigmatic Emperor Palpatine in The Empire Strikes Back — though he does show up in the purple flesh for a scene that also features Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), who do Thanos's bidding and serve as the primary adversaries in Guardians.
Still, though Thanos is only briefly glimpsed throughout Guardians, his presence is palpable throughout: Characters reference him often and fearfully, and he has familial ties to Gamora (Zoe Saldana), our green-skinned female lead.
Keeping in mind that the above details aren't confirmed, they're nonetheless in line with our previous expectations for Thanos' role in Guardians of the Galaxy. As mentioned before, it doesn't seem as though Thanos will play any major role in the Avengers sequel - though his influence may be felt throughout a la Guardians - so there's no reason for Gunn's movie to spend too much time on establishing and fleshing out the character, like what the first Thor installment did with Loki (before the latter served as the main antagonist in Whedon's first Avengers movie).
The trick, of course, will be for Guardians of the Galaxy to emulate Empire Strikes Back and portray Thanos as an Emperor-like manipulator who's pulling the strings on the film's central villains - allowing his presence to be unobtrusive to the film's stand-alone narrative, yet still somewhat essential (beyond just building the shared universe further). So long as Gunn's cosmic superhero adventure can manage to pull that task off, then introducing Thanos at that stage could benefit both the film and Marvel Studios' larger movie-making plans.
Now, the question is, will Brolin be doing some motion-capture work for his role as Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy - or will it just be voice-acting only, for now? We're hoping it's the former, frankly, because the sooner we get to see leaked images of Brolin pulling expressions like this, the better.
Guardians of the Galaxy opens in U.S. theaters on August 1st, 2014.