The Thanos of Avengers: Infinity War is actually incredibly different to the comic book version. Visually, they're the same, of course; towering purple-skinned aliens who wield the unlimited power of the Infinity Gauntlet. But that's misleading; in reality, the comic book and cinematic versions of the characters are barely identifiable.
The Russo brothers have effectively created a film in which Thanos himself is the hero. As a result, they've carefully rewritten the Mad Titan's origin story, they've redefined his insane motives, and they've reworked his character. Their goal was to create a villain who, for all the horror of his plans, would still somehow be empathetic. It's a matter of record that they've succeeded; by the end of Infinity War, you genuinely feel for Thanos, who has paid so very much to achieve his goal.
Thanos generally seems to have been received as the best villain in the MCU to date. To some extent, that's an indication of the strength of Marvel's previous "villain problems." But it's also an indication of just how good a job the Russo brothers have done when it comes to adapting the Mad Titan. They've created what truly feels like the ultimate big-screen adaptation of Thanos, one who even his co-creator Jim Starlin is delighted by. Let's take a look at the different approaches.
Thanos' Backstory Has Completely Changed
In the comics, Thanos is the son of the Eternal A'lars, sometimes known as Mentor. The Eternals are an evolutionary offshoot of humanity, but some are born with the Deviant gene, transforming them into powerful, inhuman hulks. Thanos is one such Deviant, and his mother Sui-San sought to kill him as soon as he was born. She claimed she saw death in his eyes.
Thanos became one of the most intelligent beings on Titan, flourishing beyond all his peers. By the age of 12, Thanos had explored every inch of the frozen moon. By 13, he had successfully made his way to the burning core of Saturn. By 15, he had mapped the stars of a thousand galaxies. But even as he grew increasingly accomplished, he was unaware that he was being manipulated by a cosmic force.
Lady Death, the anthropomorphic representation of the cosmic force of death, began her seduction of Thanos. The Mad Titan soon began experimenting on his classmates, killing 18 people, including finally his own mother. He then left his homeworld, seeking peace in the galaxy, causing turmoil and chaos wherever he went. Thanos tried to find love in countless others, siring children across the universe, but eventually realized that only Death could satisfy him. When Thanos finally returned home, it was to ravage his own world.
The Thanos of the MCU is still the son of A'lars, still an Eternal born with the Deviant gene. But his entire backstory - and, by extension, the history of his homeworld - is completely different. In the MCU, Thanos was a philosopher who believed his people were in terrible danger. He believed that Titan's explosive growth in population risked exceeding the moon's natural resources. Titan, Thanos realized, was facing an extinction-level event. His proposed solution was a terrible one; that half the planet's population should be wiped out. Naturally, Thanos's proposal was rejected by Titan's rulers. Horrifically, Thanos's prediction came true; disaster struck Titan, and Thanos was the only survivor.
Thanos' Infinity Motives Have Changed
This changed backstory has radically transformed Thanos's motives as a result. In the comics, he is driven by an obsessive love of Lady Death. Thanos travels the galaxy indiscriminately, slaughtering everyone he encounters. The Mad Titan has committed countless acts of genocide, wiping entire races out of existence. This ultimately led him to take possession of the unlimited power of the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos believed he could use the Gauntlet to woo Death, that she would be attracted to his power. Even then, Lady Death resisted his charms. So Thanos chose to do the unthinkable. With a snap of his fingers, he extinguished half the life in the universe, all as a twisted offering of love to Lady Death.
Contrast this with Avengers: Infinity War. In the MCU, Thanos believes the entire universe faces the same threat as his homeworld. He believes explosive population growth across the universe will lead to the end of all life. In Thanos's view, he is the only one with the will to avert this. He's spent decades - perhaps longer, given he's an Eternal - traveling the cosmos, gathering armies, and ravaging every world he encounters. When the armies of Thanos visit a planet, half the lives on the world are extinguished. Learning of the power of the Infinity Stones, Thanos seeks to combine their power into the Infinity Gauntlet. His insane goal is to wipe out half the life in the universe - in order, he believes, to save the rest of the cosmos's life. The logic is insane, and rooted in his experience on his homeworld.
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