In intense online discussions of the Avengers film franchise, one topical thread seems to come up again and again: the idea that Thanos did nothing wrong. The ethical defense of the Mad Titan started out as little more than an MCU meme, but it has since evolved into a veritable online movement.
Few characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have made a greater impact than Thanos, and that’s not just because he eradicated half the universe. Thanos has connected with fans in a way previous villains haven’t, setting the bar incredibly high for whichever unfortunate Phase Four big bads have to follow in his footsteps.
Actions speak louder than words, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to Thanos. Despite being one of the most powerful beings in existence - especially once he starts collecting Infinity Stones - the Mad Titan seems to go out of his way to avoid ending lives unless he absolutely has to.
Sure, he fells Heimdall and Loki when they threaten his plans, and Gamora and the Vision as part of his quest for the Stones. Redditor /u/Jicompho notes, however, that after arriving in Wakanda, Thanos carefully abstains from wiping out the Avengers, even though he could:
Thanos seems to not like [taking lives] without a reason, and no one he fought threatened him enough to give him a reason. Given his twisted sense of fairness and balance, he likely wanted as many of them alive as possible when he got all the stones. That way their fate could be decided in an unbiased way.
One of the most mysterious conversations in the series occurs between Thanos and Tony Stark, in which Thanos professes to know of Stark and his time as Iron Man. As Thanos tells Stark, “You’re not the only one cursed with knowledge.”
Speculation about what he means by that line has been intense. On the surface, it may just be a reference to Thanos’s “knowledge” that his mission is the only way to save the universe, which is why “the hardest choices require the strongest wills.”
Redditor /u/theHerbieZ has a more direct take on the quote:
The Infinity Stone in Loki's staff showed Tony a vision of the future. I believe that same Infinity Stone is what gave Thanos his vision... They are both driven by knowledge of a future they were shown... Thanos knew when someone else has been driven by that Stone.
Either way, Thanos is motivated by his belief that he’s doing what he must - even if he really doesn’t want to.
Thanos's belief in his methods is genuine, and there isn’t a hint of doubt in his dialogue or actions. He truly believes what he is doing will benefit the universe as a whole, and he isn’t shy about putting a positive spin on the horror of his actions.
Redditor /u/AuntHottie highlights the interaction between Tony Stark and Thanos after the Mad Titan appears to have seriously harmed the founding Avenger. They note that Thanos’s dialogue is both incredibly honest and a palpable reflection of his conviction in the mercy of his mission:
The best part for me though is when he tells [Tony Stark] “half of humanity will still be alive.” The way he says it was absolutely in the tone of, “Hey, look on the bright side.” He was legitimately trying to make Tony feel better, trying to make him understand that what he’s doing isn’t wrong. He’s giving him hope that some of his loved ones will survive.
Countless comparisons have been made between Thanos and the worst dictators of the real world. Even the label of “dictator” may be a bridge too far when it comes to Thanos, though, and such comparisons appear to be way off base.
According to Redditor /u/cranky-alpha, Thanos just doesn’t possess the same selfish motivations as the dictators of the world:
Thanos, unlike the other villains of [the] MCU and real world, never wished to rule the universe... Moreover... Thanos left it all to chance, [slaying] rich and poor... children and adults alike. A completely just and random system.
As Thanos himself says, his plan is to eliminate half of all life in the universe and then “watch the sun rise on a grateful universe.” And that’s exactly what he does - retiring to a quiet, rural life instead of ascending to some galactic throne.