SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains potential spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War. Read at your own risk!
Creating an iconic villain isn’t the easiest thing to do, though Hollywood has certainly generated its fair share of them. From Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs), Ivan Drago (Rocky IV) to Hans Gruber (Die Hard), the T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) and Agent Smith (the Matrix trilogy) — heck, we’ll even throw in the shark from the first Jaws movie — movies have introduced some of the most memorable evil-doers in all of pop culture.
But while superhero movie genre has also contributed some key figures that left us with a similar sense of dread thanks to the likes of Terence Stamp’s Zod (Superman II), Jack Nicholson’s Joker (Batman) and Heath Ledger’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight, it’s been a while since a comic book adaptation has featured a truly chilling, larger than life villain.
Despite the genre’s still-growing level of popularity, comic book movies have often been criticized for failing to deliver bad guys who shake the moral core of their audiences. This makes Avengers: Infinity War co-director Joe Russo’s ambition of turning Thanos into the next Darth Vader, probably cinema’s most iconic villain, all the more bold. Looking the work he and his brother Anthony have done thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, there’s little reason to doubt that they’ve got a plan to achieve their goal, and as long as they hit the following markers, they may well be able to turn Marvel’s Mad Titan into the villain of all villains.
In Star Wars, the Death Star is a space station that has the power to obliterate entire planets. According to the Infinity War footage screened at the D23 Expo and Comic-Con International, Thanos doesn’t need a Death star; the villain was shown pulling down a planet while wielding the Infinity Gauntlet. Now, the Russos need to make sure the film delivers more of this level of cosmic evil. We’ve been teased with Thanos grinning and lurking in the shadows for far too long. Now that he’s here, we want to see him getting his metal-sheathed hand dirty, and not giving loquacious speeches.
Of course, he still has to assemble all the Infinity Stones before we get there. This, of course, is the perfect opportunity to showcase what Thanos is capable of. Instead of giving the Children of Thanos (aka, the Black Order) all of the superhero-smashing fun, the film needs to show the trail of destruction Thanos himself is capable of leaving in his wake. Thanos is a walking, talking weapon of mass destruction, and causing cosmic chaos in his personal quest to acquire power would position him perfectly as a destroyer of worlds.
A Cosmic Level of Intimidation
When The Avengers debuted in 2012, Thanos surprisingly popped up in the post-credits with a subtle smile. Since then, however, we haven’t really seen much of him. Guardians of the Galaxy offered some limited speaking time, while the Age of Ultron post-credits saw him frustratingly declare that he needed to find the Infinity Stones himself. Though intended to build anticipation for his full-on arrival, this drawn-out process has seen him lose momentum in the eyes of some MCU fans. Remember how Darth Vader made folks cower in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Likewise, Thanos shouldn’t have to say a word to leave you scared, and right now, he’s no more threatening than any other MCU villain.
Thanos creator Jim Starlin’s esoteric stories of the villain obsessed with death should be brought to life in Infinity War, along with hints of the more aggressive yet pragmatic depiction we’ve seen from later writers, presenting a grounded, “human” villain… who just happens to be a powerful Titan who views everyone as beneath his god-like status. Thus far, given Josh Brolin’s disposition and his character’s lack of armor, Thanos resonates as an arrogant villain based more on philosophy than the ability to physically strike fear into our hearts. This needs to be tweaked early in the film, so when he gets blood on his hands, it doesn’t feel like he’s another run-of-the-mill MCU villain (see: Kaecilius, Malekith, etc.). In the comics, Corvus Glaive (Thanos’ Black Order general) tried to usurp his master while Thanos was missing; when Thanos returned, Glaive was so afraid of punishment, he killed himself. That’s the kind of intimidation we need to see on the big screen — someone who inspires people to reward their own failure in the most excruciating manner possible.
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