So far Marvel’s roster of villains has been good enough. Outstanding examples are few, but they rarely detract from the quality of the film and have never been so bland, poorly motivated, and misinterpreted as to match up to Jesse Eisenburg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor!* Most appear for a single film, and are gone for good by the end because most of the heroes in the cinematic universe aren’t so foolish as to keep their rogue’s gallery imprisoned, they just go for full blown obliteration.
Two villains have never completely faded. Loki has stuck around as beloved fan favourite and loose moral canon, and because Tom Hiddleston is having too much fun with the role. The other has yet to take his place in the front lines of action, but has been pulling the strings of Loki and Ronan the Accuser, and perhaps more since the earliest days of the Cinematic Universe. The Mad Titan, Thanos.
My knowledge of the comics is moderate, I know enough about Thanos to know that he pales compared to some of the greater monsters that haunt the universe where gods tremble before mortals, but that he has the potential to become nigh-omnipotent when properly equipped, but let’s ignore all of that, ignore everything we know about the Thanos of the MCU so far. Hells, I’m going to be ignoring most of the Infinity War trailer. I just want to focus on one line…
“Fun isn’t something one considers when balancing the Universe, but this does put a smile on my face.”
I have watched the trailer a dozen or so times for this line alone.
Knowing and presuming nothing, one can infer so much about the character from these eighteen words alone. And yes, I am going to break this down, practically word by word because it is such an elegantly written quote that I spent an hour writing notes about it and barely scratched the surface.
The biggest clue here is his reference to The Universe, already you can tell that this is a being of immense power, or at least immense scope, unwilling to limit himself to anything so paltry as a nation, a planet, even a single species. The last creature we saw with that kind of optimism was Ego the Living Planet who was a borderline god. “Balancing” the Universe also implies megalomania, and maybe a dash of tyranny if not outright apocalyptic levels of genocide. These are not the qualities of a hero, we have a villain of truly staggering proportions.
The fact that he describes “fun” as something to be disregarded gives him an all-business quality, something lacking from Loki or Ultron, who actively took time to enjoy themselves on the road to achieving their goals, perhaps to gloat, or just appreciate their situation. Thanos is dismissive of the idea, broadly, if not completely dispassionate, and that makes him far more terrible than any other villain to enter the field so far. Here is a Titan on a mission, something that he has been working towards for some time through his various operatives scattered throughout this – and possibly many other galaxies. He’s not here to stop and smell the roses…
But a moment or two for some sadism? What other kind of entertainment might appeal to the megalomaniac tyrant? Thanos enjoying himself for even a moment must surely mean that he has someone before him who is realising that they have lost, or perhaps is refusing to give up the fight despite the fact that it is completely unwinnable. Destroying a planet, enslaving or exterminating a population, these are acts that would bring no joy to someone with the Universe as their prize. Certainly no diversion we might consider “Fun” would hold any interest for him. But just a little resistance, watching hope die, that could put a smile on his face.
The choice of the word “Balancing” is of tremendous importance. A good villain should never see themselves as such, and the best believe that they are truly doing the right thing. Here we see a villain taking the role of arbiter, perhaps appointing himself as the sole agent of neutrality, and what he may consider the middle point at which balance may be achieved could be anything from bringing the forces of “good” and “evil” to equality, to completely exterminating all life so that normal, predictable physics can govern without the meddlesome chaos of biology to interfere. It’s ambiguous, but has no positive connotations.
When Thanos says “one considers”, those words are laden with implications. Referring to himself as “One” could be seen as impersonal, as though he considers himself unimportant in the ultimate goal he works towards, but to me it implies something far more grand. Has he done this before? We know that at least two heroes in the MCU have history with Thanos, Drax and Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy, suggesting that his activities reach far and wide throughout both space and time. Personally I think it suggests some connection to others who have done the same, perhaps former allies or affiliates like Galactus, Odin, or Cyttorak. We may never know, quietly I hope that the age of Marvel’s dominance at the cinema will draw to a close sooner rather than later, I’d hate to get bored of such an incredible achievement in media.
With Thanos set to feature across at least two films, and the rumour mill buzzing that he may be the first villain to kill a hero outright, could Marvel have found it’s crowning glory, and a villain that could stand on equal footing with the Joker as the greatest comic book baddies to hit the big screen? Only if the quality of writing remains as elegant as this. Whatever happens, the Avengers are doomed without Squirrel Girl.
* At this point I quietly hide Malekith under a box labelled “Never Happened”