Avengers: Infinity War is a great movie. While it may not have the historical relevance of proving Marvel Studios crazy inter-connected universe experiment correct like the original The Avengers in 2012, it does offer something very different than what was expected of this Summer… late Spring blockbuster. And that is…
[NO SERIOUSLY, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE]
[SERIOUSLY, LAST WARNING]
… the villain wins.
You can make the argument that the Joker won in the Dark Knight trilogy or Zemo’s plan to break apart the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War succeeded, but Thanos has done what neither of those antagonists could ever do – completely reshape the Universe. Not just a city, not just a singular enemy, not even the whole world, the ENTIRE UNIVERSE! Thanos obtains all six Infinity Stones, snaps his fingers, and 50% of the universe’s population is reduced to ash. He did it. He succeeded…And we’re supposed to be okay with it.
Avengers: Infinity War is perhaps the only superhero movie I’ve seen where the main character is the antagonist. The Russo brothers spend more time developing Thanos than any other character in the film. We come to understand the cold calculating mind of the mad titan. Unlike his comic book counterpart, who is driven by a macabre lust for Death herself, Thanos of the MCU has watched for God only knows how long as civilizations grew so uneven and unbalanced. The rich dominate the poor and everyone needs food and resources that are finite. As this strain grows, entire planets collapse in on themselves and fall apart – including his own world, Titan. Thanos concluded that the only way the Universe could continue is if the scales were balanced. He called for a drastic cut in the population to ease the strain on natural resource. He does not seek to favor any certain group, random and impartial to social standing. He was labeled a “mad man” or “insane”. He’s neither. One who is “mad” or “insane” has no grasp of right and wrong. They don’t know what they’re doing is evil. Thanos completely understands how ruthless and violent he is, but he deems it necessary to serve the only logical solution to balancing the universe – reducing the inhabitants of the Universe by half.
When you boil it down, thinking on a purely logical level, if that is humanly possible... Thanos has a point. There will always be far too many mouths to feed and not enough bread. There will always be a select few who hoard the wealth of a populous will the rest struggle and scrape by. The universe is not balanced and Thanos seeks to balance it. Now that having been said, his methods are what make him villainous. His desire to balance the universe does not manifest itself in any form of benevolence. It is made manifest in violence, which only begets more bloodshed and pain. That is what makes him a “bad guy”, the fact that his methods lack any empathy for those not closely linked to himself. He has respect and even compassion for his enemies – his interactions with Tony and Wanda prove that – but he feels nothing akin to emotional connection to anyone, save for his adopted daughter Gamora… whom he’s forced to kill to obtain the Soul Stone. Some might fight it cheap to have this figure we have only seen slaughter and kill for his goals suddenly care for another person, but it matches his character and it’s why the Avengers lost to him. Thanos is acting on what he feels is the only logical answer to balancing the Universe. Every single one of his thoughts and emotions are devoted to this plan and that is why he succeeded. When cold calculating logic takes precedent, it can be very effective. But as Gamora asked Thanos after he re-shapes the Universe, “What did it cost you?”
Before I go any further, please do not misunderstand. I am a staunch advocate for logic and reason in our society. The methodologies of the Enlightenment thinkers are the backbone of Western civilization in my eyes and the advances made in science and mathematics that have its roots in Eastern philosophies are essential to our way of thinking. What I am driving at with this is that when we divorce logic from the human element, the element of emotion, or vice versa, we tend to fall into tunnel vision.
If I may use a thought experiment I’ve seen online before. Two people are dangling from a cliff, as the rock face slowly crumbles. Stranger walks up to help, but only has time save one of you. The two people are yourself and a doctor. Whom should the stranger save? Pure logic would dictate the doctor, because the doctor can save human lives. If I may be the 70 billionth person to use the quote from Star Trek II, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Now you can poke several giant-sized holes in this experiment – what if you’re a doctor yourself or what if the doctor has a history of malpractice – that can make the thought experiment fall apart. The postulate I have set up itself is flawed because of all the variables. But what if I changed the experiment just a hair? Say instead of a doctor, the person hanging from the cliff next to you is a politician you don’t like? Or a big business executive? Whom should the stranger save then? Logic dictates that, unless you are in the same standing as they are, they could, hypothetically, do more good in the world. As much as we may disagree with politicians of the opposite party, they are in a position of authority with the ability to help countless people in times of crisis. And while the shady often cutthroat dealings of corporate America hang the rest of us out to dry, they can, again hypothetically, boost the economy and create new jobs. Once again, you can poke holes in this regarding the character of the person hanging on the ledge with you, which is drawn from our emotions regarding those hanging next to us. So, which wins out in the scenario? Logic or emotion?
Going off pure logic is not possible, because humans are not purely logical. While the intricate processes of the natural universe do run on their own systems, they lack the discerning power of choice that humans possess, thus entering uncertainty and randomness into the Universe. One cannot be the sole arbiter of existence. And that’s what makes Thanos so interesting.
He’s the only being with the power and perhaps the vision to be purely logical… and it’s terrifying.