After showing up during the mid-credits of The Avengers, fans were hoping to see (and finally hear) more of the big bad villain Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy - Marvel's first space-based feature - and it was only recently confirmed that we will. We knew we'd learn a little more about Thanos through his allies, the antagonists in Guardians of the Galaxy, but with Josh Brolin cast as his voice and his flying throne appearing just briefly in the 17-minute IMAX preview, we're going to see him brought to life for the first time. So, what's he and the other villains of GOTG really up to?
Not to dissimilar to Apocalypse, the Marvel Comics villain to be introduced in 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse who believes simply in survival of the fittest, Thanos has no time for the weak and he wants ultimate power. The obvious path we can see forming from the Marvel Studios stories so far going out of there way to introduce Infinity Stones/Gems as the big MacGuffins - and the first Thor introducing a certain Golden glove in Odin's Vault on Asgard - that what we're seeing is building up to an adaptation of the Infinity Gauntlet storyline from Marvel Comics. Acquiring all six Infinity Gems (including the Tesseract from Phase 1 and the Aether from Thor: The Dark World) and placing them in the Infinity Gauntlet gives its user unlimited godlike power and that's what Thanos once used in the comics to eradicate most life in the galaxy.
When we spoke with Karen Gillan on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy at Pinewood Studios last September, who plays Nebula, the adopted daughter of Thanos, she confirmed the essentials about her character and the other antagonists.
"Well basically she is a lieutenant of Ronan the Accuser, a daughter of Thanos, and sister of Gamora. They are on this holy mission to kind of cleanse the galaxy of all that is weak. That is her ultimate objective and what’s been drilled into her as a kid. So she is brainwashed by these people, and she just wants to impress, and achieve, and be as strong as possible. That’s her ultimate goal."
As for Thanos' henchman, The Other (who we met in The Avengers) seems to simply lives to serve Thanos, but Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) - who is the primary antagonist in Guardians of the Galaxy - isn't evil for the sake of being evil a la Malekith in Thor: The Dark World. His people, according to Disney's official description of the character, share a violent history with the Utopian-like planet Xandar we've seen in the trailers, home of the Nova Corps and a big part of the film.
A Kree radical, Ronan continues to fight an ancient war between his people and the Xandarians. Ronan has struck a bargain with the Machiavellian Thanos—retrieve a mysterious artifact, and in exchange Xandar will finally be eradicated. Ronan leads his army to hunt down Peter Quill and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy when they come between him and his genocidal goal.
While director James Gunn describes Ronan as "bad as bad can get, a complete and utter sociopath who enjoys the pain of others," actor Lee Pace who brings the character to life in Guardians found what Ronan represents to be interesting and "universal." He continues, "and that has made the character so iconic through the years in different forms. He’s the judge, he’s the accuser and he’s brutal."
Ronan has been portrayed in his limited exposure in the marketing and from descriptions of him from cast and crew in interviews as someone to be feared, someone who is a "psycho," but his reasoning remains a mystery and like the Marvel Comics, it's possible he's misunderstood when we first meet him and if he returns in future movies, maybe he won't be the villain in the long-term like in the books.
As for the other antagonists, Nebula - like fellow adopted-by-Thanos sister Gamora - is a lieutenant of Ronan the Accuser, aiming to please. The adopted sisters ultimately serve Thanos as galactic-class assassins but Ronan is their mentor of sorts. Failures and weakness are punished severely as we learned from the Guardians of the Galaxy prelude comic, and the cybernetic implants and limb on Nebula is a result of Thanos' harsh rule.
The other antagonist is Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou) who is a hunter for hire and ally of Ronan, helping catch Peter Quill to get the powerful orb for Thanos. Ronan has a deal with Thanos to get him the orb in exchange for the destruction of Xandar so we have a pretty clear idea of his and Korath's goals are, but for Thanos, it really is a holy mission of sorts - as Karen Gillan describes - to wipe out all that is weak. His quest to find the Infinity Gems will help him accomplish this.
If you recall, when Thanos is introduced, his servant (The Other) warns him of the danger Earth's heroes could potentially represent and that to challenge them would be to court "Death." To that statement, Thanos smiles since in the comics, Death is personified as a character and Thanos wishes to please her, no matter the cost. That's why he wants to destroy the galaxy. That's quite the holy mission.
Of course, as we learned from speaking with James Gunn, there are more cameos, namedrops and Easter Eggs in Guardians of the Galaxy than in any other Marvel movie ("times four") so we could meet some other potentially villainous characters who may factor into other stories down the road.
Guardians of the Galaxy is directed by James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel as Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, with John C. Reilly, Glenn Close as Nova Prime Rael, Benicio Del Toro as The Collector, and Josh Brolin as the voice of Thanos.
Guardians of the Galaxy opens August 1, 2014, The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, Captain America 3 on May 6 2016, and unannounced films for July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.
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