SPOILER ALERT: Warning, this article contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War. Proceed at your own risk.
If you’re of the thinking that many of the villains in the Marvel movies are weak, Infinity War’s big bad may have come as a pleasant surprise. Here’s a bad guy who moved us. But it’s not just because he shed a tear that we’re reassessing Thanos’s positioning as a tyrant. There’s plenty to support the idea that Thanos is more hero than villain. Just take a look at the evidence.
His goal is to SAVE the universe
Not destroy it. Thanos isn’t after global, universal or even multiversal domination. His primary interest is not claiming all the power and riches for himself. What he wants is to halt the destruction of the planets caused by overpopulation and create abundance, while eradicating poverty and ultimate, inevitable annihilation. He wants to restore balance.
A bad guy capable not only of love, but also of sacrifice in order to do what he believes needs to be done for the greater good, you can’t help but start to question his standing as the villain of the piece. He’s not after wealth or power as ends in themselves, like other bad guys. We’ve already established that.
Rather, he’s basically the ultimate eco-warrior, willing to step up and do what it takes to save the universe. He even has proof that his plan will work – Gamora’s home planet is now thriving as a ‘paradise’ since his visit years ago. During which he wiped out half her people, sure. But they were a race struggling for survival and apparently doomed to destroy themselves.
I saw a movie with thanos(the hero) and a group of villians trying to stop him
— Sebastion Heilman (@SebastionHman) April 30, 2018
MCU Thanos = Tragic Hero
Comic Thanos = Tragic Villain
Both are fantastic
— (Eric) (@TheManofSalt) April 30, 2018
Indeed, his motives aren’t far removed from those of Doctor Strange, who we consider one of the good guys. Strange makes a point of saying in Infinity War that if it was a choice between saving Tony Stark and protecting the Time Stone, the latter would win every time. He essentially makes the same decision as Thanos – to sacrifice the few to save the many. We know this isn’t what actually happens when he’s put in that position — but that’s all because he has a master plan. More on which later.
But if you’re not yet convinced, and Thanos’s plans still sound a bit despotic maniac to you, let’s explore further.
What makes a good guy?
The Avengers and the other superheroes they join forces with have always been positioned as the good guys within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But they’re a long way from Christopher Reeve’s Superman, who cleans up mess, saves individuals in peril and intercedes in large-scale disaster. Indeed, Superman’s chief concerns are largely something they don’t consider. Like Thanos, perhaps, you could say they’re bigger picture kind of operators.
Their collateral damage includes the avoidable death of civilians and other citizens they clearly see as expendable. As well as the destruction of buildings, vehicles and whatever else gets in their way. This got them in hot water with the authorities – understandably. In Captain America: Civil War, the team was severely ticked off, and they were slapped with an order to discontinue their operations unchecked. This led to internal warring as some were keen to carry on without authorisation, while others felt they needed to abide by the terms of the Sokovia Accords, which put the government in control of their comings and goings.
And then there’s the fact they’re responsible for creating a villain because of their actions. Albeit indirectly and inadvertently. Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture is a guy who, like Thanos, it’s also possible to identify with. He’s a man so totally hacked off with working hard to scrape a living while the very people responsible for creating death and destruction profit from cleaning up the mess afterwards – aka billionaire arms manufacturer Tony Stark.
Thanos’s deeds might yet be undone
Firstly, there’s presumably nothing that Thanos does that can’t be undone. Once you introduce the completed Infinity Gauntlet into the equation all bets are off. If anyone else gets their hands on the metal glove, all stones and their powers are there for the wielding. Meaning that time can be reversed, minds can be changed and reality can be altered.
I don't understand the "the movie feels incomplete" sentiment everyone is saying. Consider Thanos as the the protagonist. A hero who has to go through obstacles and go against adversaries to save the universe.
— D-Piddy 🎭 (@_dpiddy) May 2, 2018
Doctor Strange looks likely to prove himself the key to undoing the events of Infinity War in Avengers 4, engineering proceedings so that the outcome is the one of the 14m + he foresaw in which he survives. And presumably, he’ll achieve his “end game” with the help of the Time Stone.
Add into the mix the notion that Thanos could yet have a change of heart about what he’s done and you’ve got a redemption arc on your hands. At the end of the comic book, the Titan becomes a farmer “scraping out a living from the soil”, and does indeed come to realise that he’s better off. We even saw a reference to the comic book ending in the final shot of the film, which mirrored the comic book panel. FANDOM Managing Editor Chris Tilly writes about it in detail here.
Bringing the Avengers back together
The other thing that Thanos does, of course, is reunite the warring factions of the Avengers. Without the threat that Thanos poses, Tony Stark might never have been able to rise above the revelation that Bucky Barnes killed his parents and that Cap kept it quiet. Promoting a key message that it’s important to put aside differences and work together towards a common goal. Thanos healed major rifts here.
Thanos is the hero we need but don't deserve.
— Kishore Hari (@sciencequiche) May 1, 2018
As audience members and Marvel fans, we’ve got to be grateful to Thanos for allowing the Avengers to let bygones be bygones – nobody’s interested in seeing the division that was introduced in Captain America: Civil War go on and on. We like it best when they’re all pals, don’t we? Bickering, bantering pals maybe but pals nonetheless.
Infinity War is the beginning of Thanos’s story, and if we see him as the main character in the film as FANDOM Entertainment Editor Drew Dietsch argued here, there’s every chance that Part 2 of the story, Avengers 4, will see Gamora’s father redeemed. Especially if some of his questionable actions can be undone. With a big question mark raised in the MCU over what constitutes a hero, perhaps we’ll see Thanos ultimately stepping with both feet into that hero role come the story’s conclusion.