The Tragedy of Thanos

This article was originally published on May 9, 2018 on Cinephile's former website.

As a caution this article is filled with spoilers! 

Growing up I never read a comic book.  My awareness of comic book characters and some villains came due to my love for the X-Men (1992), Spider-Man (1994) & Batman (1992) animated series and watching Lois & Clark (1993) on TV.  The premise was always the hero would use their super-cool powers to stop the bad guys that had the annoying dialogue.  The formula was consistent and without fail I knew the heroes would win the day.

Fast forward to my teenage years into adulthood there has been an explosion of new superhero films from the X-Men (2000) to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002 - 2007) trilogy to Nolan's Dark Knight (2005-20012) trilogy, the modes of storytelling was different, but again the hero/villain formula remained intact; even in the MCU* and DCEU* rebooted films.  Never did the villain or their journey come to the forefront of the films I witnessed, which remained true until I saw Avengers: Infinity War (2018).  I realized the formula was changed when I found myself emotionally invested in, from what I understood to be, the scariest villain to grace the pages of a Marvel comic. 

What makes a villain?  How does someone become evil over time?  Or was the evil always present?  The people in said evil person's life, did they ever help teach them to answer to what's good?  If they did, is true evil defined by ignoring what they learned to be good? 

In my review for Avengers: Infinity War (2018) I dubbed the superhero movie as a space opera.  My choice of categorizing the film as such is based on the central character of the story, Thanos himself.  The Avengers take a back seat and we follow Thanos, the anti-hero, as the hero in this tale.  A melodramatic story of a lost soul who ignores what is deemed good by life surrounding him in order to fulfill and redefine good on his own terms.

The Titan carries the weight of his home planet being destroyed, ignoring chances to create balance, he suffered much loss and is undoubtedly filled with an everlasting regret.  I found myself at times torn, because the being that was molded throughout the story-line of each film as being the most evil of evil, I became compassionate and sympathetic toward his antagonizing journey.

I witnessed a charismatic side to the monster that roamed planet to planet enacting his balance in cruel and torturous ways.  Young Gamora and her mother hide in fright, hoping to not be discovered, but their cover is blown by the shrill of Gamora's cry.  Much like we've seen of the Holocaust in the 1940s, people are lined up and executed, but young Gamora, who cannot find her mother, is comforted and protected by Thanos.  The mass murderer shows that he has a heart and shields the child from witnessing the bloody massacre happening all around her, then eventually adopting Gamora as his own daughter.

We fast forward and Thanos is still adamant about his mission to collect all the infinity stones.  He learns through torturing his one of his daughters, Nebula, that his beloved Gamora knows of the soul stone's location.  He plays on Gamora's love for her sister to coerce her to reveal the location of the soul stone.  I found it jarring that he did not physically abuse Gamora to find what he needed and I think in these moments I began to unconsciously realize the truth.

After revealing the location to the stone, Thanos and Gamora voyage to Vormir where they are met by Red Skull, who is now the keeper of the soul stone.  Once Thanos learns of what price he must to pay in order to retrieve the stone, we see him filled with remorse and heartbreak.  A poignant moment as he ponders and Gamora scoffs, because it is her belief that Thanos loves nothing.  Looking at his daughter as she berates him we know that he does love and his decision has been made.  My heart broke for him and my heart broke for Gamora, because all the time she spent hating her father she never knew his love.

A sacrifice that grand, flinging the one thing you love the most off the side of a mountain, I knew he would see his task through all the way to the end.  Mass genocide at the snap of his fingers, yet I still felt sad and sorry for him.  He finally sees his daughter in her younger form again, she asks him if he finished his task, to which he answers "Yes," "What did it cost?" She asks.  With remorse Thanos replies, "Everything." 

The great tragedy of the MCU*.


Are the actions of Thanos justified to fulfill a greater purpose?  But who is that purpose great for?  The ones who survived?  Should the survivors be thankful for the new order and balance?  Or has Thanos completely missed the mark?  I answer my own questions based on my own beliefs.  True sacrifice is not giving up what you love, but giving up oneself so all can benefit from the greater purpose.  Thanos may think his work is finished so he can finally rest, but he has left the worlds in grief and despair.  I believe the traumatic events must be rectified and Thanos will have to answer for ignoring the good around him and redefining purpose & balance just so his burden can be satisfied.   

*Marvel Cinematic Universe *Detective Comics Extended Universe

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