Is Thanos the Secret Hero of Infinity War?
Avengers: Infinity War; it’s fantastic, go see it, stream it, rent it, borrow it, don’t steal it, I can’t condone that, but if you can find a cheap bootleg, by all means, throw down a shekel or two. The movie is the first of its kind, the culmination of 10 year’s worth of world-building on behalf of Marvel, which set out a decade ago to do something never before achieved in cinema. Boy howdy, did they ever do something special in creating the first cinematic universe. Infinity War, the epic, apocalyptic, multi-fronted action-thriller, is like the last surprise bite of still-warm fudge at the bottom of a Superhero Sundae – ridiculously delicious.
There’s nothing like seeing a beloved film on opening night with an enthusiastic audience. Every time a new character was revealed, the crowd went bonkers, and that’s a full 50-percent of the opening hour of the film – Who’s gonna show up next? For the record, my audience went buck wild for Steve Rogers and a close second was the Guardians crew.
I thought directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the Cohen Bros. of Community, were once again brilliant at the helm of the ship. The second Captain America was my favorite Marvel movie heading in, and the Russos didn’t disappoint in bringing their trademark hilarity to the forefront of this movie either. Which is super important when you’re telling such a dark tale. Laughter and love are our most powerful allies, and when laughter brings us joy and love allows us pain, we know we are truly alive. By creating these emotions over and again throughout Avengers: Infinity War, Anthony and Joe Russo give us their finest two-and-half hours. When it ended, I turned to my friends and said, “That took so much guts.” No other tent-pole in history (save for Empire) has ever had the nerve to end a movie in the fashion Infinity War does. It was the stuff of movie-magic, I tell ya, I seen it with my own eyes. I saw the kids with tears in theirs, and I heard the gasps when Iron Man was run through. The whispers echoed: “He’s not really dead is he?” These are the dreams of cinema. To be transported to an alternate universe, where the film’s stakes become your own, and you cease to know yourself. That’s what went down Friday night. I hadn’t felt anything like it in a long time.
Let’s now turn our attention to Thanos. I can’t heap enough praise on the writing team for how Thanos, performed with signature stillness by Josh Brolin, develops. It started occurring me at about the mid-point, perhaps it was Gamora’s flashback scene, when Thanos first shows his loving side, that this here is a villain with depth. John Truby talks about how the opponent needs to be believable and almost understandable in his desires. This gives the villain complexity and possibly allows for empathy. I was highly conflicted in how I felt about Thanos, because I’m cognizant of Earth’s exponential-population-growth problem. The grim idea of trimming the heard has basis in science, and if you can get past its macabre nature, there is logic behind its reasoning. Earth’s resources are indeed finite. On April 16th, just a few days ago, South Africa’s Cape Town ran out of water. Population growth is not indefinitely sustainable. So, from a scientific standpoint, it is easy to understand Thanos’ motivation.
Time and time again, Thanos declares his respect for his foes, and he honestly hopes they will be remembered well. Gamora’s death scene is perhaps the best reason to hate Thanos, but it comes with the conflict of knowing his heart felt love, and he would mourn her. These are the reasons we respect Thanos, despite being a villain. Beyond characterization, look at the plot. Who is really the protagonist of Infinity War? I would argue its Thanos. It’s his plot we are thrown head-first into, he is the inciting incident. His actions dictate the forward motion of the film – the Avengers react to what he is doing. We follow his backstory, and follow him to flashback – we already know the Avengers’ backstories. He wins every battle, fighting tooth-and-nail to overcome long odds, and win a prize that he considers righteous. At the end, we follow him to his sunset moment, which was his stated goal, and he stands on Truby’s plane of New Equilibrium, while his enemies suffer in defeat.
Is Thanos the Secret Hero of Avengers: Infinity War? Are the Avengers the film’s opponents?
Follow me to Crazy Town for a second and let your mind consider the following while imagining Thanos as protagonist, and the Avengers as antagonists:
Michael Hauge: “(The antagonist) is the character who most stands in the way of the hero achieving his or her outer motivation.”
Thanos needs the stones to stop the tidal wave of universe-destroying over-population, the only thing standing in his way is group of unstoppable foes with unbeatable weaponry, mutations and abilities that will make Thanos’ goal impossible to achieve.
Ronald B. Tobias: “The antagonist is a device whose purpose is to deprive the protagonist of what she believes rightfully belongs to her.”
Thanos doesn’t enjoy having the knowledge he has, but he has it nonetheless – he’s the only one who knows what’s coming, and because of that, he accepts his fate as the only one who can stop future calamity. He lives with the heart-breaking decisions he must make to ensure the universe’s sustainability.
Donald Maass: “Antagonist are those who work against your protagonist.”
Hulk is shot to Earth and immediately informs Doctor Strange of Thanos’ goal. Strange puts in motion a plan to thwart Thanos with the help of Iron Man. Iron Man reaches out to Captain America, and his thugs, who kill one of Thanos’ children. Gamora, Thanos’ adopted daughter, finally comes home for a visit, but instead of a friendly greeting for Pops, she attempts to assassinate him, then piles on with a rude son-in-law, who sticks a gun in his face. He’s just trying to do what he has to do, and these pesky Avengers will not leave him alone. Iron Man, Strange and Spider Man carjack his spaceship and kill his top assistant, it’s brutal. Black Panther, Thor, Captain America and Co. turn Wakanda into Pet Cemetery for Thanos’ beloved six-legged dogs. Even the little fellow from Game of Thrones is a giant headache.
James Scott Bell: “An opposition character (is someone) who has strong reasons to be opposed to the Lead character.”
And who wouldn’t have strong feelings when half the universe is in jeopardy? These are tough times, and tough measures are coming, but fate is fate, right? In order to save the universe, half must go. It’s a really tough spot to be in if you’re an Avenger, so, of course, you’re going to fight your butts off. But in the end, the hero always wins. The Avengers will put up a respectable fight, but the goal is Thanos’, not theirs – its his battle to lose.
Dwight Swain: “(The antagonist is the) Hero’s opponent. If he gets what he wants, (the) Hero can’t achieve his heart’s desires.”
In other words, Thanos won’t get it his sunset.
Thanos, of course, is the villain of Avengers: Infinity War. We root for his demise every step of the way, but a trip to Crazy Town offers a lesson we can take home with us. Because Thanos has so much depth of character, he transcends as a movie villain. His story is the engine of Infinity War, and indeed, the Avengers’ role in this film is to react to his every move.
But Infinity War is something new, remember, it’s a culmination of a decade’s worth of films that came before it, and we don’t need the usual world-building like we do in other movies – we’ve done that already, film-by-film. The Avengers don’t need backstory. Seen it. They don’t need goals. Achieved them. They aren’t looking for a fight. Fought them.
That’s why Thanos is, in many ways, our hidden protagonist. It’s why the writers needed a villain with complexity, one the audience wouldn’t despise out-of-hand. Not so much a monster, but a wounded-and-warped warrior. They nailed it. Avengers: Infinity War is more than just a special achievement in film, it’s the first step on the cinematic moon – never been done before. Nor has a movie villain ever been treated with such exquisite care by its writers. Thanos is complex, compelling, empathetic and capable of carrying the entire weight of the plot on his sizable shoulders.