Spoilers ahead for Avengers: Infinity War.
First, let me start by saying that Thanos is a rude, bald b*tch, and I did not expect to hate him as much as I did.
To be honest, the idea of superhero villains has grown stale on me. Some sort of alien from far, far, away wants a special rock or a special weapon or a special wig and the entire universe is at stake. This happens in basically every superhero movie, and I’m over it. There’s nothing in this world I love like a good villain, and I feel they deserve just as much fleshing out and depth as the heroes going up against them.
Think Killmonger from Black Panther — is the world biased because Michael B. Jordan is fine as hell? Probably. But Killmonger is a good villain because of one key component: we know him. We’ve seen him before. Not on the big screen, but in ourselves, our brothers, our cousins, our friend. Black kids have been channeling their anger into fantasies of foreign homelands strong enough to take down systematic racism since the dawn of time, and that’s why even weeks after Black Panther was released, there were more thinkpieces on Killmonger than the actual king of Wakanda.
It was this same component in Thanos, despite being used on a much smaller scale, that took Infinity War to the next level for me. Now before we really dig into this, let me just acknowledge that the speculations I’m about to make are completely my own and could’ve been an absolute accident on behalf of the film's screenwriters. Often, anyone who tries to espouse speculation is met with swift replies of “It’s not that deep.” For this series, we’re going to pretend it is, in fact, that deep.
So. Thanos. Your typical, hardy-har villain has some precious rocks he’s gagging over because he believes he’s been called to do some real philosophical sh*t and destroy half of the universe. Whatever. Not my business. Thanos was a run-of-the-mill, boring villain until one character sliced her way into his path: Gamora.
After three movie appearances with not a flicker of interest for Gamora (outside of her beating the sh*t out of Chris Pratt), I suddenly can’t stop thinking of her. I can’t stop thinking of how, as a child, Thanos turned her head away from the slaughter of her own people, distracting her with a pretty knife as he explained his fondness for balance. I can’t stop thinking about how, even while throwing her off a cliff, he cried. I can’t stop thinking of these things because the humanization of Thanos didn’t exactly work the way the writers intended (honestly, if you pity this lavender lumberjack and his weird glove, seek help) but it worked. Not because I feel bad for this meth-fueled purple Teletubby, but because I hoped, even when I watched this biscuit-head hoe toss his own kid off a cliff, that his crying about it meant, deep down, he still loved her.
That’s a weird thing to hope.
Because I started to think that maybe Thanos, even as he turned her little chin away from the blood and slaughter, knew the plans he had for this kid, and knew it would f*ck her up — but continued on with them anyway. It makes me think of how our parents, even when they know how wrong they are for what they say or do, continue to say or do it anyways for the sake of ‘being the adult’ and ‘being right’. When was the last time your parents apologized to you? Part of that, I think, stems from the societal concept that parents can do no wrong, know no wrong, and should never admit to being wrong in an attempt to maintain order in a household. And maybe it works, for a time — just how it worked in Thanos’ realm for about two decades before Gamora got sick of his sh*t and, after becoming equipped to take care of herself as a grown woman, got the f*ck out of there and refused to speak to him again. Adult Gamora is the Gamora who left him, turned on him, and would rather sit on a dingy spaceship with a talking rat than deal with her dad for another second.
And Thanos doesn’t understand it. He fed her, right? He trained her, didn’t he? He turned her into what she is now. All her success, her strength, is his doing. Not once does he consider how far she’d gotten without him. Not once does he acknowledge what he put her through as wrong, because in his mind, like in the mind of many parents, her being alive to this point and turning out strong means he did his job and couldn’t have been a better guy.
This brings us, finally, to Gamora’s death. To meet your end at the hands of someone who spared your life is one of the most poetically f*cked-up things that could’ve happened to her. Let’s be real —I knew that Gamora was gon' get got, and her wack-ass daddy would be the one to do it. Initially, I honestly thought it was going to be a weak play on showing us how edgy and awful and bad-guyish Thanos is, and in a sense, the blandness of the scene and dialogue does. What screams villain like yeeting your own daughter off a cliff? But as I watched the film I realized this scene, this moment, and the dialogue between them could’ve struck much, much deeper.
Ultimately, Gamora’s death could’ve been a display of the way that abusive parents are so self-absorbed they’re willing to find comfort, peace, and desire — even at the expense of their own child — because they think they know what’s right. Think about one parent looking away while the other screams and beats their kid. Think about one parent pretending not to know what’s going on for the sake of the marriage. It’s not always easy to see when you’re being abusive or being abused, but throwing your kid off a f*cking cliff while you weep about it is a pretty damn thorough analogy of making decisions that serve yourself while your kids suffer for it because you think the end game is going to be worth it.
Thanos is a villain beyond saving, another common trope among these movies — but for us, the ugly reality is that he’s more. He’s a failing parent. He’s someone I wish could’ve been better, not just for the whole universe in tatters because of his wack ideals, but because of the little girl who suffered at his hand. He’s someone I wish could’ve looked at his kid and thought she was enough to make him stop. Gamora doesn’t get a quick evaporation with the snap of Thanos’ fingers, a death he calls “merciful." She has years and years of emotional and physical abuse, and is left on her own to suffer the aftermath and sift through it to try and salvage what she can of herself. Maybe I sound like too much of a sap to understand whatever “point” all the bro-dude comic sniffers will surely unload into my mentions — but isn’t that the point? To make your audience, no matter how brave or defiant or heroic they are, feel something they didn’t expect to feel?
It’s a heavy, dark theme — one that I think Marvel could have done a better job portraying. But again, making movies is hard, and having a full cast like this is even harder. For me, at least, Gamora and Thanos could’ve been one of the greatest and most tragic storylines of this film, but these people also paid our girl Scarlet Witch dust by writing that stale romance between the third Olsen twin and that wack dude with the forehead.
In the end, after the cultural phenomenon that was Black Panther, I hope we start to see a shift in these films. One that will be brave enough to explore the complexity of emotions and relationships in action films. One that uses these tired, played-out tropes to not only deliver exciting, blood-pumping stories, but the ones that hit a little closer to home with their viewers and do the feelings and characterizations of both heroes and viewers more justice.