Thanos Represents Permanent Change
The legendary Marvel villain holds a lot of weight symbolically, too. Avengers: Infinity War is the beginning of the end for what began in Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whether anyone's ready for it or not. As Thanos himself puts it, “Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.” The battle with the Mad Titan represents a wave of change within the MCU, bringing the very future of the series into conflict.
There's no questioning the success of the MCU and what it's achieved as a franchise. Infinity War is the pinnacle of a long line of movies that have replicated the shared universe feel of the comics and translated it to the big screen. But being a movie franchise has hampered some of its story-telling ability. Multi-picture deals and the announcement of entire movie slates years in advance has meant that creators are working against the Marvel Studios machine itself to cultivate drama and stakes the audience can buy into. Keeping us invested when we know the cast have X amount of films left is no simple task, leaving co-stars like Rhodey in Captain America: Civil War or new faces like Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron who take the brunt of substantial hits for the good guys so the main stars can remain able-bodied for their next venture.
Thanos embodies the possibility that, for the first time, anyone can go. The contracts for the old guard of the MCU - Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, etc. - end with Avengers 4, and despite what the directors and writers might say, it's difficult to imagine any of them leaving otherwise. They, and we, have to come to terms with the fact that their stories are ending and that the MCU, being the multi-billion dollar enterprise it is, is going to continue without them. Thanos' plan of removing half the population of the universe so it can thrive isn't just for the people in-universe, it's the reality of what everything's been building towards. Thanos is the end of the road, and it's time for some to get off so the ride can continue.
The blunt force trauma of Thanos making short work of Iron Man and Captain America is about instating that gravitas and making it matter. The Mad Titan is here to remind everyone of the transient nature of this kind of franchising. Nobody can play a role forever, no matter how defining, and as Thanos tells Tony after near-mortally wounding him, it all comes down to hoping they're remembered as the world carries on. Thanos was inevitable – we've known since 2012 – and despite this, nobody is quite ready for these icons to get battered around and an ending in which they lose, not least the heroes themselves. But Thanos had to succeed, because these stories don't matter in a world where only the good guys win. We can't believe in the remarkable power of hope if there isn't something out there standing for hopelessness.
And as one last gesture to what Tony Stark started in 2008, it's once again down to him, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor (and a few friends) to do what seemingly nobody else can. Black Panther and the Guardians are gone, Spider-Man is gone. Thanos, the arbiter of an indifferent universe, has already won and taken the world to a point beyond salvation. Now the Avengers must face their looming demise if they want to avenge it and earn their place in history.
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019