The Marvel Cinematic Universe's biggest mistake in 11 years and 21 movies is humanizing Thanos as the villain in Avengers: Infinity War. The MCU kicked off more than a decade ago with Iron Man in 2008, and Marvel Studios is gearing up to release Avengers: Endgame, which is said to conclude the story the entire franchise has been telling so far. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige termed the first three phases of the MCU the Infinity Saga since they built to the events of Infinity War and their aftermath.
Avengers: Infinity War was the beginning of the end, finally introducing a villain who'd only been teased in the MCU previously: Thanos. In the cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos used all six Infinity Stones assembled in his Infinity Gauntlet to snap away half of life in the universe. As a way of building to that momentous event in the MCU, Infinity War focused on Thanos just as much as the franchise's heroes, developing the Mad Titan enough so he wasn't a one-note villain.
However, though Avengers: Infinity War works to humanize Thanos and evolve him from a soulless threat into a three-dimensional villain, there were unintended consequences of how that depiction of the Mad Titan works amid the larger MCU. Prior to Infinity War, Thanos is largely developed through other characters' relationships to him. Infinity War, in a manner of speaking, attempts to redeem Thanos enough to make him compelling, especially in the sequence where he acquires the Soul Stone, but it winds up putting the MCU in a terrible position that it seems unlikely they'll be able to get out of in Avengers: Endgame. So, humanizing Thanos was the MCU's biggest mistake.
- This Page: The MCU Failed to Develop Thanos Before Infinity War
- Page 2: Thanos Is (Almost) Irredeemable; Gamora & The Soul Stone Humanize Him
- Page 3: Why Humanizing Thanos Was The MCU’s Biggest Mistake
The MCU Failed to Develop Thanos Before Infinity War
Before making his official debut in the first scene of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos was largely relegated to post-credits scenes of various MCU movies, starting with The Avengers in 2012. The one exception is, of course, Ronan meeting with Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy. But even then, there's not much to be gleaned about Thanos' character from that scene, just like there's very little characterization in the post-credits scenes aside from establishing Thanos as a menacing villain.
The majority of Thanos' characterization in the MCU prior to Infinity War is delivered second-hand by various characters, particularly in Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In the first Guardians, viewers learn that both Thanos' adoptive daughters, Gamora and Nebula, hate him and betray him. They go to great lengths to make sure Ronan - and, by extension, Thanos - never gets his hands on the Power Stone. Gamora tries to sell the stone to the Collector, then gives it to Xandar to protect, while Nebula switches allegiances to Ronan when she learns he'll kill Thanos with the stone after decimating Xandar. It's also in Guardians that we learn Thanos is responsible for the deaths of Drax's wife and daughter, using Ronan to terrorize Drax's home world and, it's implied, a number of other worlds.
Then, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 dives deeper into the trauma Gamora and Nebula underwent as children of Thanos. The movie reveals Thanos would force the sisters to fight as young girls and when Nebula would lose, Thanos would replace a piece of her with a cybernetic enhancement, essentially torturing the young girl. In the film, Nebula reveals she resented Gamora for winning so much and for not being a proper sister, but the two come to recognize the abuse each other faced from Thanos and are able to begin moving forward with a less combative sisterly relationship.
It's through Gamora and Nebula's trauma, as well as Drax's grief over his family, that reveals most of what MCU viewers know about Thanos prior to Infinity War. He's someone who murders women and children, who uses someone like Ronan the Accuser to do his dirty work, who pitted two young girls against each other in combat and tortured whoever lost. Although Drax finds a little bit of peace in killing Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy and Gamora and Nebula are able to forge a new bond over their shared childhood trauma, it still paints a very clear picture of Thanos. And that picture is of an unrepentant monster. But Avengers: Infinity War tries to walk that characterization back.
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019