The Thanos Initiative

Yes, this is SPOILERS!!!!!

Please, for the love of all that is holy, of you haven’t seen the movie yet, close this page, open another tab, book a ticket at the cinema nearest to you, go see the movie, process it and then open this page again.

Or like just see the movie. You really most definitely should.

So anyway, now we’re done with the obligatory warning let’s get into it then.

This might be the barest plot summation possible but it still kinda is necessary so here we go.

Thanos, the big baddie of this film, wants these big shiny colourful stones which can basically do everything to accessorize his fancy glove with and kills people we like to get them. During the course of the movie he fights against this group of people who have this really cool name which for the love of my life I can not remember(Asguardians of the Galaxy? Revengers? Something like that. I dunno). Eventually because Chris Pratt(or Crisp Rat whichever you prefer) decides that punching a guy to satisfy his personal vendetta for like a millisecond  makes more sense rather than taking away the source to almost all his powers and then potentially killing him after like 10 seconds more, everything collectively goes to the shit. Half of the people of the universe turn into dust including Cobie fricking Smulders. Damn you Thanos for killing Robin from HIMYM.

So there’s a lot of little tiny story developments witnessed over the last decade of the MCU advancing and culminating in this film. For example, Steve Rogers’ character development from a good man in The First Avenger to a ruthless soldier who thinks about his morals after kicking the bad guys’ teeth in as witnessed in this movie. There’s the actual physical character growth of Groot as well.

Groot: I am Groot.

Steve Rogers: I am Steve Rogers.

The focus of this piece however is the motivations of the most dangerous father in the galaxy, Thanos and the endgoal he wants from the very first time we saw him at the end of the Avengers grinning like a loon.

So as explicity stated by our friendly neigbourhood Titan Thanos, he seeks to exterminate half of the universe’s populations.

Thanos: When I’m done, half of humanity will still exist. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be… I hope they remember you.

The justification for this action is quite simple and logical in the eyes of Thanos.

Gamora: I was a child when you took me.

Thanos: I saved you.

Gamora: No, no, we were happy on my home planet.

Thanos: Going to bed hungry, scrounging for scraps? Your planet was on the brink of collapse. I was the one who stopped that. You know what’s happened since then? The children born have known nothing but full bellies and clear skies. It’s a paradise.

Gamora: Because you murdered half the planet!

Thanos: A small price to pay for salvation.

Gamora: You’re insane.

Thanos: Little one, it’s a simple calculus. This universe has finite its resources, finite… if life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.

Gamora: You don’t know that!

Thanos: I’m the only one who knows that. At least, I’m the only who the will to act on it.

 

Thanos: When we faced extinction I offered a solution

Dr. Stephen Strange: Genocide?

Thanos: But random, dispassion is fair for rich and poor a like. They called me a mad man. What I predict came unannounced.

Dr. Stephen Strange: Congratulations, you’re a prophet

Thanos: I’m a survivor

Dr. Stephen Strange: Who wants to murder trillions

Thanos: With all the six stones I can simply snap my fingers, they will all cease to exist. I call that… mercy.

Dr. Stephen Strange: Then what?

Thanos: finally rest, watch the sunrise on an ungrateful universe. The hardest choices require the strongest will.

So there we have it. Thanos doesn’t see himself as the ruler of a Universe or a conquering king. He considers himself to be a benevolent, albeit emotionally stunted God of an unthankful mass. Making the hard decisions where no one else can. Killing trillions to, well, save trillions. Hell, he doesn’t seek to bring pain and misery to others. He seeks to stop the pain and misery caused by their continued existence. Guys, Thanos is a good guy. All he wants at the end of the day is to lay back and relax having saved the Universe.

And to do this, he gives up the only thing he ever held dear to him ever loved. He brought Gamora up in his own image gearing her up to take over the throne he had. The balanced knife is the principle Thanos lived his life by and he sought to impart this to Gamora even as half her civilization died. Then he was asked to choose between his principles and his love. And Thanos weighed his being a benevolent God over his being a father and with tears in his eyes killed his daughter to obtain the Soul Stone and ensure that his life goal was fulfilled, just for the benefit of the galaxy.

I ask you this. Would any movie villain willingly give up something he held dear to him, the only thing he ever loved for something he perceived to be for the betterment of humanity. Thanos can’t be considered an ordinary supervillain. Hell, when viewed in a certain light he can’t be considered a villain at all.

In the comics,  Thanos was proudly nonredeemable. See, he had a weird thing for Mistress Death, who is the concept of death, personified as a desirable woman. And Mistress Death had done some accounting and noticed that there were more people alive at the time than had ever died. And if Thanos truly loved Death, she reasoned, he would balance the scales for her. So he gathered the Infinity Stones, and that’s where Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet—the series on which the movie is loosely based—begins. (You’ll notice that, in his first mid-credits scene after Avengers, he smiles when his adviser tells him that to invade Earth is to “court death.” Get it? “Court Death.”)

Thanos’s genocidal mission makes more sense when he’s the leader of a death-worshipping cult. One of his many perverse attempts to win Death’s affections includes keeping Nebula in limbo between life and death. In the MCU, that meant replacing her flesh with robot parts, as she tearfully explained in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In Infinity Gauntlet, that meant something much more grotesque and literal.

 

I’ve been rereading Infinity Gauntlet and they are both very different characters. Comic Thanos is literally a mad god, drunk on absolute power and ego, and enraged and frustrated by his unrequited love for Mistress Death. MCU Thanos is driven, focused, complex and single-minded in his goal to ‘save’ the universe. The costumes seem to reflect that. The comic is much more befitting the self proclaimed ruler of all existance, while the MCU costume is much more practical, prefering to let his actions define him. I love them both, but I personally prefer MCU Thanos.

 

In the comics, Thanos was responsible for the destruction of his homeworld Titan; but in Infinity War, he made an honest attempt at saving Titan many years before. With the population ballooning and natural resources dwindling, Thanos made a logical but no less heinous suggestion: kill half the population at random so the rest can live. He was rightly laughed off the planet, but then again the planet did eventually die. This becomes the bad thing in his past that he vows never to let happen again, animating his quest to acquire all six Infinity Stones for want of killing half of everything so that no one will have to go sleep on an empty stomach. This is a choice only he has the will to take responsibility for, as he tells his adopted daughter Gamora before forcing her to lead him to the Soul Stone.

Part of what makes Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War so scary is that his “evil” plan makes a certain amount of rational sense: The greatest enemy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t Thanos; it’s overpopulation that will eventually lead to famine and ruin. By writing his own narrative, Thanos becomes the hero if he succeeds in wiping out half of the universe’s population from existence. Thanos isn’t a generic villain like Ultron or Steppenwolf who simply wants to destroy everything. He’s much more calculated, even logical in his approach, and more than 37,000 people in the real world agree with him enough to subscribe to a subreddit called /r/thanosdidnothingwrong. Even in moral philosophy, they’re probably not alone.

The base concept of utilitarianism(yup, I sorta did listen in my Political Science and Sociology classes in college) judges the morality of an action by the amount of happiness or unhappiness it produces. Most would say that mitigating many potential future disasters by manufacturing one gargantuan genocide sounds horrifying and bad, but to Thanos, who saw his own world die despite his warnings, it probably looks like a noble mission.

Midway through Infinity War, Thanos uses the Reality Stone on Titan to show Tony Stark what his home planet looked like in its prime before it consumed itself. Thanos accurately predicted that his race’s society would crumble due to a growing combination of resource scarcity and overpopulation. We see the ruin and extinction that occurred when his people didn’t listen, so Thanos then made it his mission to travel the universe systematically, halving sentient populations so they wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

Infinity War spends the majority of its screen time developing Thanos’s story to make him a more relatable character.  He gets the most screen time as the main character of Infinity War, and we spend so much time with him that you almost start to root for him. Say what you will about his villainy, but the fact that he was able to successfully acquire the Soul Stone confirms he did love Gamora.

On the pro-Thanos subreddit, the members saw him taking Gamora in as an act of compassion rather than one of kidnapping. Is this a warped version of what really happened or just moral relativism in action?

We see this philosophical conflict with utilitarianism dramatized within Infinity War. Vision wants to sacrifice himself to destroy the Mind Stone rather than let Thanos succeed in his mission. Some might call this suicide, but others would call it a noble utilitarian sacrifice that could save the universe. Scarlet Witch, Steve Rogers, and the other Avengers take a more classic approach to morality and immediately refuse to let Vision die — even though Wanda has to kill him in the end anyway.

Yet, because we — and Doctor Strange — know the eventuality that is Thanos’s success, these ethical debates seem pointless and shortsighted. We’re led to believe based on Doctor Strange’s comments about the “endgame” that letting all of this happen is the only way to save the universe. Letting all these people die in the short-term to ultimately reach a happy ending could be construed as no better than Thanos’s ethical theory.

My personal theory is that Thanos’ actions had unwittingly beneficial effect and if reversed in any way in the next movie, it might pave the way, due to overpopulation and other reasons, for the entry of a superbaddie who is known as the World-Eater, Galactus.

So ask yourself: Could Thanos be right?

And if you are still reading this article and are wondering how does this affect me personally, well, you can find out whether Thanos killed you or spared you on http://www.didthanoskill.me/. Full disclosure, I’m supposed to be dead at the time this article is being published. So yeah.

The Internet is a glorious place.