The Mad Titan with a heart of gold.

Warning! Full SPOILERS follow for Avengers: Infinity War. Check out our SPOILER-FREE review right here. 

It’s no easy task to humanize a Mad Titan that wants to wipe out half of the universe’s population with the snap of his fingers, but somehow, the writers of Avengers: Infinity War found a way to make Thanos compelling.

For a studio that’s been known to produce less than stellar villains over the past 10 years, Marvel’s track record is quickly improving with its last two theatrical releases. Black Panther’s Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and Thanos (Josh Brolin) are positive signs that Marvel is learning how to take their antagonists’ character development seriously.

Since Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight back in 2008, audiences expect more from their favorite comic book characters. The more complex the villain is, the better. Thanos, while not as groundbreaking as Ledger’s Joker, is still a fascinating character due to some smart choices made by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script. Let’s take a look at what made Thanos such an effective villain.

A Unique Philosophy

Thanos’ way of thinking about how to bring balance to the universe is obviously abhorrent, but when he shares his reasons for wanting to do so, it’s easier to understand where he’s coming from. For one thing, Thanos isn’t going after one particular nation, planet, or species. In his mind, Thanos is saving all beings from overpopulation, which is what led to the destruction of his home planet of Titan.

According to Thanos, he was ostracized for his radical ideas, but when he tells his adopted daughter Gamora about how her home planet is now flourishing after he killed half the population, his ideas begin to make sense, even if he’s going about it the wrong way. It’s not like Thanos is doing this to bolster his own ego. Just before the credits roll, we see a content Thanos looking over a beautiful countryside, alone. There are no servants or admirers telling him what a good job he’s done. Thanos is a man who had a singular purpose and is happy to watch the sunset and reflect on his triumphs without the applause of an adoring crowd.

A Loving Father

One of the most impactful moments in Avengers: Infinity War took place on the planet Vormir, where Thanos had to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to possess the Soul Stone. Before Gamora’s tragic death, she laughs at Thanos because she thinks that there is nothing in the universe that he loves more than himself. Sadly, Gamora was mistaken. The grief on Thanos’ face is evident as he drags Gamora off the edge of the cliff.

For Thanos, his quest is more important than anything else, since he truly believes it will save the universe from destruction. However, his drive to succeed doesn’t mean he lacks empathy. Towards the end of the film, after Thanos uses the Infinity Gauntlet to complete his task, a younger version of Gamora asks him what it cost to achieve his goals. Thanos simply replies, “everything.” He understands all that he’s lost in the process, but for him, there was no other way. Thanos’ story is a tragedy.

Physical Prowess

While we’ve focused mostly on Thanos’ philosophical views for why he’s a memorable villain, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a pretty amazing warrior too. Even without the Gauntlet’s full power, Thanos easily stood up to Captain America, Hulk, and many more Avengers without breaking a sweat. Thanos needed to be the ultimate bad guy who is not only brilliant, but can also kick butt when he needs to. The purple Titan even showed respect for his enemies, like when he informs Tony that he’s heard of him and hopes that people will remember him after he’s gone.

For a guy who’s sometimes referred to as “mad,” Thanos keeps his temper under control most of the time. When the Avengers meet Thanos again in 2019, Thor should take the warlords’ advice and aim for the head instead of the chest.

Where does Thanos rank among the MCU’s top villains for you? Let us know in the comments.

David Griffin still watches DuckTales in his pajamas with a cereal bowl in hand. He’s also the TV Editor for IGN. Say hi on Twitter.

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