The Marvel Cinematic Universe catches a lot of flack for its frequently underwhelming villains, but most viewers would agree that Avengers: Infinity War provided a pretty strong exception in the form of Thanos. After several years of building the Mad Titan up, Josh Brolin’s portrayal made good on the hype with an antagonist that felt formidable yet strangely sympathetic.
One of the more interesting dimensions of the despot is how the motivations for his genocidal plan go beyond simple greed or hatred to suggest a twisted and sincere set of principles. It’s a side to the character that co-director Anthony Russo addresses on the commentary track for the new Infinity War home video release, explaining how Thanos regards his own cause as something selfless and just.
“That’s I think, one of the most unnerving things about Thanos, is that there is a nobility in him, you know? It’s not ego, it’s not power,” Russo explained. “He basically looks at himself as a servant and when he’s finished with his service, he rests.”
Of course, as many have pointed out previously, if Thanos was simply looking to make this world a better place by fixing the ratio of population to resources, you could argue that he could have chosen to double the amount of resources in the universe, removing the need for countless lives to be lost.
Co-director Joe Russo responds to this idea elsewhere in the commentary, and his answer suggests that while Thanos may have some nobility in him, he also isn’t immune to the influence of petty emotions.
“Well, he was told ‘no’ to an idea that he had that he felt was the only solution, and then was proved right to himself when that solution was not acted upon,” Joe Russo said. “So his messianic complex — he is now committed to following through on the idea he had many many years ago. He is not a stable — although he appears stable at times, he is not a stable individual.”
Perhaps it’s this combination of mental instability and a steadfast set of principles that makes the Avengers: Infinity War lead such an intimidating opponent. And now that Thanos has accomplished everything he set out to do, we’ll get to see where the Mad Titan goes from here when Avengers 4 hits theaters on May 3rd, 2019.