It's time to get real about Thanos Image: Twitter
What do Jeff Bridges, Ben Kingsley, Sam Rockwell and Robert Redford have in common? Besides stellar Hollywood creds and an Oscar each, they have all been failed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), in their search for a credible supervillain. The MCU has swallowed up the most bankable legends of the industry and has spewed out hollow shells of offenders. Okay, hollow might be too harsh, but from Iron Monger to the Vulture to Hela , MCU's supervillains have been anything but super.
That is until an extreme environmentalist named Thanos came along and snapped his fingers.
Thanos is basically an alien nihilist whose agendas vary massively in Marvel comics and MCU films — note that the Marvel comics has Thanos on the path of annihilation so that he could win the affection of Mistress Death. MCU's Thanos is just a radical activist who doesn't need placards to carry out his agenda.
But in Thanos, MCU finally succeeds in giving its fandom a villain of unquestionable significance, whose motives cannot be ignored. In the 18 films preceding Infinity War, MCU has used up some of the most fascinating Marvel characters and even better actors, and has got nowehere close to where it has wanted to be — supervillain-wise. Supervillains works very differently in comic books and cinema, and it was as if MCU was in denial.
How else can you explain the shockingly underutilised Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2? Or Michael Keaton in Spider-Man: Homecoming, who played all his cards right and yet fell victim to poor character writing? Or Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3 — okay that one really hurt.
Avengers: Infinity War misleads its audiences in introducing Thanos — like a bad gossip magazine. "He invades planets, he takes what he wants, he wipes out half the population," Bruce Banner tells Iron Man, but the Mad Titan is nowhere close to being that one-dimensional. Thanos is not some psychotic alien overlord who wants to annihilate for fun. Thanos explains that his home planet Titan surrendered to what is basically a population explosion and resource crunch. And if you talk to any environmentalist or Leonardo DiCaprio, they'll tell you that the earth is headed towards the same fate.
I will never hate a villain as much as I hate Thanos, it doesn't matter his background story, his motives, whether he is redeemed in the end or not, my hatred of him will never stop, it will only get stronger. pic.twitter.com/4zTollywPl— (@JHerondaleW) May 1, 2018
The relevance of Thanos's kill 'half the population' plan can be debated but cannot be negated, especially considering where we stand now. Thanos basically travels from planet to planet with his squad, and makes sure no planet has to go through what his home had to suffer — his pain, which is so profound, makes him terrifying and unyielding. Kind of what DC did with Joker — but on a very different scale.
If we listen to his reasoning carefully, we will hear echoes of the philosophy of 19th century clergyman and political economist, Thomas Malthus, who warned that if global population continued to grow faster than the available food supply, it would lead to worldwide famine.
Most MCU supervillains — from Hela to Loki, to Alexander Pierce or even Killmonger — could have reached great heights of significance, and relevance, if MCU had used them right. Thanos feels so right as the wrong guy because of his kill to save motive — something radical environmentalists often swear by. In 2018, Thanos stands as the perfect whimsy-free evil monster — yes, he's carrying out genocide, but he has the best context for it.
This is not to say, Thanos is entirely unselfish. He wants to attain peace by making sure people die in the right probability, and wants to be the architect of it. "I finally rest. And watch the sunrise on a grateful universe. The hardest choices, requires the strongest will," he tells Doctor Strange.
But Marvel Comics had Thanos as a rather fanciful villain who just wants to court Death, and stack up body counts to get her attention — in fact, the Avengers's post-credit scene had Thanos confirming this comic book agenda. But six years and a Paris Accord later, Thanos, whose genocide 'at random' will affect rich and poor alike, has a stunning credibility as a hardliner.