How Thanos Can Solve the MCU’s Villain Problem

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column entitled: “Will Thanos be the Downfall of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?” While admittedly hyperbolically titled, the thrust of the argument is sound. Thanos has been, thus far, chronically underdeveloped as a character. In light of the fact that he is, by all accounts, not meant to be merely a run-of-the-mill Marvel villain, but rather the overarching big-bad of Phases I through III, this chronic underdevelopment is very troubling. Today, however, I’m going to follow-up that piece with a book end column, and detail ways in which I believe Feige and Company can, and probably will, nail Thanos as the pre-eminent cosmic badass he should be. More than that, I would go so far as to say Thanos can be the antidote to Marvel’s villain problem (if Baron Mordo or some other villain don’t solve it first—which hopefully is what happens). So, without further ado, here are some distinct ways Thanos can knock your Captain America themed socks off.

To start, the first real time we see Thanos in action can not and should not be in Avengers: Infinity War – Part I. Yes, we’ve technically seen him in post-credits scenes in both Avengers movies and in Guardians of the Galaxy, but for the most part he has been a relatively sedentary character (like literally sedentary, floating around in his flying space throne). There is a reason that Loki has been the best villain of the MCU thus far—it’s because he’s been developed as a character over the course of multiple movies. We know his backstory. We know his quirks. We are familiar with his fighting/manipulation style. Most importantly, when it was time for him to be front and center as the villain in The Avengers, we had already been acquainted with him from Thor. This allowed Whedon to skip a lot of exposition, diving right into action and further development of Loki’s character arc. Thanos hopefully gets a similar treatment, with a key role in either Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. My money’s on the former, but here’s hoping it’s at least one of the two. We need a proper introduction, and soon.

I didn’t even mention one of the primary ways in which Loki has nailed his villainous role though: well developed motivation. He’s jealous of his brother, resents his adoptive father, and wants to gain power. That’s it. Indeed, maybe I over simplified it. But that encapsulates more or less why Loki does what he does, and it allows the audience to understand Loki’s actions and (maybe) relate to him as an anti-hero. This isn’t to say Loki is a simple character—he’s not. The best villains are complex. And yes, some of the best villains are so multifaceted that their motivations aren’t clear at all, but rather a matter of debate (Walter White, for example)? But there has to be development enough to allow for debate and allow for complexity. Thus far, Thanos’s motivations are anything but clear, yet alone debatable. He wants unlimited power through the Infinity Gauntlet, but why? What has driven him to pursue this? This is detailed in the comics, but it hasn’t been explained yet in the movies. It needs to be soon, either in Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, or very early on in Avengers: Infinity War – Part I.

We also need a reason to react to Thanos as an audience. We need to hate him, be intimidated by him, be fascinated with him. Anything. Heath Ledger’s Joker was arguably the best comic book villain ever adapted on screen in the history of movies. I believe that. And part of the reason is the visceral palette of emotions he evokes from the audience. Disgust, hate, fear, fascination. It’s all there. Thanos must evoke a similar visceral response from us. I have proposed, and would still argue, that Thanos needs to kill one of the key Avengers, preferably Captain America. Just as Coulson’s death at the hands of Loki united the Avengers, Steve Rogers death at the hands of Thanos can drive the Avengers apart, only to be reunited in Infinity War – Part II. It gives us a rock solid reason to hate Thanos. I would also propose that Thanos be revealed as the mastermind behind the birth of Ultron. Ultron’s origin was never quite made clear—something caused that computer program to finally succeed where both Bruce Banner and Tony Stark had failed repeatedly. Why not the tinkering of Thanos through the mind stone? This twist would further solidify Thanos as an intimidating puppet master, worthy of our admiration.

Those more familiar than I with Thanos’s nitty gritty would be able to detail how to tackle his finer points (fighting style, personality, etc.). But these are broad strokes that Feige and Company can follow to nail Thanos. As I said in my first column, I have faith, certainly, that it will happen. Marvel has too good of a track record thus far for me to doubt them. But we’ll see.

(Daniel Strunk)

Heroic Staff

Heroic Staff

Heroic Special Activities Division Agent Trainee Program