Spoilers for Thano’s intentions ahead, but I’ve avoided mentioning any of the scenes or events from the movie that aren’t in the trailers.
Thanos is the villain, and we know what he wants. To bring balance to the universe by killing half the people in it. To this end, he wants to collect the six Infinity Stones and put them in a literal actual power glove that gives him godlike power over everything. With the Gauntlet he can, as Gamora says, “…do it with a snap of his fingers.” The film expands on his motivation a bit, talking about the finite resources in the universe, faced with ever-expanding populations. Thanos positions himself as benevolent, proposing Malthusian genocide as a form of mandatory population control. All at random, so it’s fair.
“When is it ethical to kill a whole bunch of people?” is a question that comes up a lot in second year ethics courses, and while there are a few schools of thought on it, none of them look favourably on the idea. Even moral anti-realists are more interested in the question of what to do if it seems necessary to kill a whole bunch of people, and how we live with that in the long term. Thanos isn’t so original, though. In the film, he’s essentially your “I’m bad so other people can be good” villain.
Celia, another Mad Art Lab writer, adds that the plan doesn’t even work. Having more resources present doesn’t create infrastructure to distribute them. More people doesn’t even mean more problems, when you take into account the ways that efficiencies improve to use resources. “Has he done a study?” she asks. “Could someone please ask him, or could I at least have the ‘Citation needed’ guy in the background of every scene in which Thanos is speaking?”
He is not asked, but does do a lot of punching and kicking.
This is a specific departure from the Thanos of the comics who, while a much more understandable villain, is indisputably weirder. Comics Thanos is in love with the literal cosmic manifestation of death. They met once, and he wants to kill half the universe to impress her enough for a second date. Happy to get a head start on it by killing anyone who gets in his way, the only thing that stops him is his own crushing insecurity. But strange as his obsession is, it’s totally in line with most other villains. His fixation is his gimmick motive, like Green Goblin hating Spider-Man or Doctor Doom wanting to be picked first in kickball ahead of Mr. Fantastic. We don’t really pay attention to it, it’s a mode for creating conflict.
The film asks us to pay attention to the motive, however. Movie Thanos wants the Infinity Gauntlet to manifest his will, and his will is to end half the life in creation. It sets up the conflict well enough, with the mightiest heroes of Earth and beyond assembling to oppose him. The only problem is that Thanos is a dingus.
The Infinity Gauntlet
The Infinity Gauntlet can do anything. The power we see in the trailers with only a few stones seems devastating. In comics land, it gives the wearer complete power over time and space. It’s used to kill lots of people, but also to bring people back from the dead and create entirely new people out of nothing. With all of the soul stones in the Gauntlet, its power is limitless. And for comics Thanos, this is great. It lets him do all his wacky villain things and forces everyone in the universe to have to come and deal with him, including Death herself.
But movie Thanos is trying to solve a problem. He doesn’t want to snap his fingers for fun, but to address what he regards as an ongoing issue. Josh Brolin sells the hell out of it underneath all the cgi, and there are some really great scenes. But if he assembles the stones, he’ll have literally infinite power. Space, time, energy, reality, life, death, all become toys to play with. Which means the solution to his problem would be at his fingertips.
Energy crisis? Create it from nothing. Turn asteroids into bread. Bullets into cheese. The fear of overpopulation isn’t a worry anymore because there can be enough for everyone. Out of room? Make more planets. The Infinity Gauntlet can do all this and more. Space now carries sound, and every sun plays Dirty Computer. It doesn’t have to stop at that, either. There’s apparently no less than three versions of Reed Richards who acquired a Gauntlet and essentially used it to end misery.
There are lots of complications that arise from situations like that, everything from the need for heroes in a universe essentially ruled by a benevolent god to the standard power corrupts, absolute power etc. They are all interesting stories that would make rad movies. But killing half the universe is an unimaginative and temporary solution when given ultimate power.
We are the real dingus
Thanos is a dingus. And Thanos is us. Thanos is skyrocketing military budgets while people struggle for humanitarian aid. Thanos is culture that mistakes force for power. Thanos is seeing the people at the bottom and blaming them for even being alive. Thanos is seeing the cost of life without ever witnessing its value. He’s every voice on television that tells you bullets fired in a war of conquest will make life better at home. He is the poverty of our imaginations.
What a dick.