If you’ve seen Avengers Endgame, you probably know what I’m talking about. In the grand scheme of things, Thanos did nothing wrong. For everything that Kevin Feige and his MCU have done, for all the heroes and villains they’ve introduced, and for the record-setting hauls at the box office, none of it would’ve been possible if not for one of the most compelling villains Marvel has ever produced.
Good characters and good villains are the ones that stop you in your tracks and make you think about them. They create a debate about how “good” they are. Although debating how good a villain is may seem absurd, it actually isn’t. Good villains don’t come around too often. They make you empathize with them. They make you believe that what they are doing isn’t necessarily wrong…or, at the bare minimum, question if what you believe is right.
Thanos’ story is fairly well known
Thanos is a member of beings known as the Deviants. The Deviants are an offshoot of the Eternals, and the Eternals are perfect beings created by the Celestials. For context, the Celestials are the highest order and power within the Marvel Universe. Deviants, while eerily similar to Eternals, lack their outward appearance. This means that the Eternals have what could be defined as a perfect appearance, whereas Deviants are often grotesque and misshapen. For example, Thanos is a Deviant, and his brother Starfox is Eternal.
Thanos hails from one of Saturn’s Moons, Titan. He is the child of Titan’s King, Mentor, and Grandchild of Kronos. Of all the beings born of Titan, Thanos was one of the few to receive the Deviant gene. The first time Thanos’ mother saw his face, she tried to kill him.
As Thanos aged and changed, so too did his morals and values. Whereas Eternals stood for peace and harmony, Thanos became interested in death. Not the process of death but rather the physical embodiment of Death. That is, after meeting Death, Thanos became obsessed with her. From then on, Thanos vowed to do whatever it took to win her affection.
Thanos’ bizarre hobbies led him to be exiled by his people
Over the next many years, Thanos’s understanding of magic, mysticism, and sorcery caused his father to banish him from Titan. Filled with hatred and rage, he left only to return with an army big enough to level Titan into the ground. It should be noted that he also began to absorb Cosmic Rays around him during this time. The absorption transformed him from a normal Deviant into one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe.
With his army by his side, Thanos delivered his promise to return to Titan. Once back, he leveled it. As a consequence of his attack, millions, including his mother, were killed. With no place to call home, Thanos continued to live out his life, trying to prove his love to Death.
In the MCU, Thanos’ backstory is different
The MCU version is slightly different in a couple of ways. First, he’s not really given a backstory, although his power is about the same. And second, rather than trying to prove his love to Death, Thanos craves balance. This means that he goes from planet to planet, decimating half the population. And why? Thanos sees population overgrowth as a detriment to the Universe, and the only way to correct it is to wipe half of it out.
Don’t let that sway your opinion of the Deviant, however. As different as the two versions may seem, neither is what truly makes them different. Not even close. What separates the two is that one believes himself to be a savior sent down to cleanse the Universe. The other one, for lack of a better word, does not.
Thanos as he appears in comic books, is a genocidal maniac bent on proving his love to another through mass destruction. He is motivated by his own desires and does not care about others. The Infinity Gauntlet story, the same one that the MCU is based around, sees him amass the 6 Infinity Gems. He does this not to create balance but rather to prove his love. Again, this version is motivated by love and all that he gains from it.
The MCU’s Thanos is the exact opposite. He’s driven by a desire to correct what has already happened. He sees that the Universe’s population has reached a tipping point and that it cannot sustain itself anymore. Although he already goes from planet to planet, cleansing half of the population, the pace at which he does it is not fast enough. According to Thanos, creatures and beings starve, water is in short supply, and catastrophes happen because the Universe cannot produce enough resources. He sees that the only way to survival is to cull the population in half.
What makes Thanos different from the rest of the villains?
This very thought…this very notion makes Thanos different, not only from his comic book counterpart but from so many other villains throughout history. MCU architect Anthony Russo said of Thanos, “Even though he’s despicable on so many levels, there’s a part of Thanos that is very empathetic.” And it’s the empathy that makes Thanos so compelling.
Thanos works because his character is not a matter of good vs. evil or right vs. wrong. Instead, his character is a matter of opposing beliefs. Thanos, like him or hate him, makes you question the current state of affairs and what will happen due to them. No, you don’t necessarily have to agree with what he stands for, but you have no choice but to understand the reasons for his actions. And that’s why as the main antagonist of the MCU, he works so well. It hasn’t had a villain that can do that.
Thanos was different from anything the MCU has ever produced because he made the viewer question their morals. At his core, he wants what many, myself included, want…a world without suffering. By this very logic, Thanos did nothing wrong, right?
There are real-world parallels between Thanos’ vision and the current state of the world
Infinity War saw Thanos’ reason that Titan fell because of overpopulation. He claims his actions are a by-product of not wanting other worlds to suffer the same fate. And because of this, he feels compelled to fix the problem and not treat the symptoms. His thoughts aren’t without merit.
Many studies, papers, and other literary works have been written about the problem of overpopulation. People die by the millions because of starvation, inadequate access to drinking water, and disease spreading. We suffer…the planet suffers because we take what we want and think nothing of what it affects.
I’m certain that you’ve heard this before, but there is a thought that explains that the Earth is no different than an elevator. It has a maximum carrying capacity, and once the capacity is reached, problems arise. Since the Industrial Revolution, the worldwide population has continued to grow unprecedentedly. Just in the last two hundred years, the world has grown from a population of one billion to over seven billion. What’s incredible about this is that it took over ten thousand years to reach the first billion.
Thanos has watched the world tear itself apart and fears what will happen if the Universe is not held in check. In some regards, he’s no different than Tony Stark. Remember, it was Tony during the Civil War event who suggested that the team sign the Sokovia Accords to keep the team in check. He understood, just as Thanos does, that excess is dangerous. Think about it.
The entire Civil War movie was based on the damage that unregulated superheroes cause. Remember, the Avengers dropped a city from the sky, put three massive Helli-Carriers into the water, destroyed New York, and killed a King. They did all of this to prevent the suffering of all those around them. In a sense, they aren’t much different than Thanos. In fact, they inadvertently gave aid to Thanos’s cause. I ask you, is Thanos actually a bad guy? Does wanting to prevent suffering make him a villain? Is it safe to say that Thanos did nothing wrong? I might be reaching here, but I’m not so sure he
Thanos and the Avengers fight not because they inherently hate each other but because of their clashing ideologies. But that’s the interesting thing about the argument. The two sides aren’t that different. They both fight for the same thing…the protection of the Universe.
Much like Adam Warlock, Thanos is the MCU’s, Jesus Christ. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. His creator, Jim Starlin, filled his stories with religious undertones. Just look at The Magus Saga.
Thanos can be seen as the MCUs “Messiah”
Starlin’s work with Adam Warlock will go down as some of the best work to ever be put to paper. Through Warlock, he could comment on religious fanaticism and the consequences of blindly following the Church without actually saying he was doing so. Warlock dies so that others may live, then, when he’s most needed, rises from the dead to serve once again. While Warlock’s history paints him as Marvel’s Messiah, the MCU paints Thanos as their Messiah. Warlock believes that he should suffer so others can live. Thanos believes that some should suffer so others can live.
Thanos believes that he is the savior of the Universe. He believes it’s his divine destiny to assemble the Infinity Stones and use them to bring balance. His mission is not one of personal gain or achievement. Instead, it will benefit the entirety of the Universe. He believes that mass death means that those who died have done so with purpose. Don’t misunderstand this, however.
He knows perfectly well that his intentions are cruel. He knows that genocide of any kind is inhumane. However, the very element of inhumanity is superseded by the humanity that the inhumanity brings. If people die, people live. But this isn’t what makes Thanos terrifying. Thanos is terrifying because his will is unbreakable, and he will do whatever it takes to fulfill what he believes to be his destiny.
As he so proudly states, he is inevitable. A combination of all the above makes him one of the greatest villains in history. I’m not sure the world will ever see another Thanos. His calm demeanor and conviction for his cause
No matter which direction the MCU goes now that the Infinity Saga has ended, we should all be thankful that Marvel and Kevin Feige chose Thanos as their antagonist. His complexity truly drove the franchise for the better part of a decade. And without him, I don’t think Phases 1-3 would’ve been the success that they were.
So I ask you, is it safe to say Thanos did nothing wrong?