One of the biggest questions fans have coming into Avengers: Infinity War is whether Thanos can deliver. The villain of Infinity War and presumably the untitled Avengers 4 has been teased since 2012’s The Avengers, and has been pulling the strings behind the scenes throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe since that time. And yet, audiences still don’t really know who Thanos is or what he wants, beyond Infinity Stones. There’s a lot of groundwork that has to be made up in Infinity War to make him an intriguing antagonist, and it sounds like the filmmakers and actor Josh Brolin are up to the task.
Last year, Collider’s own Allison Keene visited the Atlanta set of Avengers: Infinity War along with a group of other journalists, and she spoke with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who not only wrote Infinity War but also The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier, and Civil War.
As one can imagine, a big topic of conversation was Thanos and how they juggled bringing the character to the screen. As McFeely revealed, Infinity War could kind of be viewed as Thanos’ origin story in a way:
“One of the big challenges is how to make sure he’s not just a relentless machine collecting stones like he’s going shopping. So we want to give him a full weighted emotional story. You can kind of say this is Thanos’ origin story, so that he will get the weight of any of the previous heroes in terms of the decisions he has to make in order to get what he wants.”
Adding emotional complexity to the character was key, and Markus says Thanos would not consider himself a villain:
“Villain is a derogatory term that Thanos wouldn’t agree with. Another one of the things we set out to do in this was, if Thanos is just a bad guy, then you’re dead in the water. It’s just a bad guy, you know? You get bored pretty quickly after he’s torn off the first few heads, and we have two movies. […] Hopefully you’ll come away from this the same way you do in the comics. He started off as a rogue villain but he’s his own thing now. Where you go, “I can’t say he was wrong.” (laughter)
Going further, Markus says they drew inspiration from comics writer Jim Starlin:
“Part of it is motivation, where if you have a villain who just wants to kill somebody or just wants to take over the world because it seems like a fun thing to do, or has been paid by the Russians to take over the world…run for President to take over the world … That guy isn’t very interesting. He’s pathetic but, we take this from [Jim] Starlin. Thanos is an amoral philosopher. He’s not the Devil – although he does sometimes have the Devil standing next to him. We wanted that all the way through. To have a villain with understandable motivations and emotions. Thanos has family. Thanos has two daughters that we know of. Thanos has eight million backstories in the comics but they’re all kind of sad.”
McFeely revealed that his two favorite villains in the MCU are Loki and Kilgrave, owing their success to a mix of screentime and familial relations with the protagonists of those stories.
“So Thanos will get the benefit of both of those things, [screen time and familial relationships]. He’s got daughters that he clearly has to deal with, and James [Gunn] did a nice job of setting the table for us, but we’re certainly going to run with that. And screen time. Very often, in the screen writing weeds, we’re trying to get a character up and off the ground and so the bad guy tends to be a foil for the development of the hero, and that’s not the case here. If anything, it’s the opposite. Our heroes are foils for the villain, whose story we need to tell at large.”
That’s not to mention the umpteen heroes Markus and McFeely have to juggle, and it’s up to directors Joe and Anthony Russo to bring this all together on the big screen. Will they succeed? We’ll find out when Infinity War hits theaters on April 27th.