Avengers: Infinity War digs into Thanos’ motivations, but it also introduces a rather gaping plot hole while doing so. This issue doesn’t exist in the comics, where Thanos has a very different reason for collecting the Infinity Stones.
[Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.]
Why Thanos is collecting the Infinity Stones
Thanos is a Titan, and he watched his home world die due to a lack of natural resources. There were too many people, but not enough food to feed everyone. His solution was simple, fair and brutal: He would kill half the population by random drawing. The rich and poor alike would be killed according to chance, and the rest of the population would have a chance to live in a world of plenty.
The other Titans didn’t go with his plan. We don’t really find out what happened next, but Thanos’ planet is a burnt-out husk by the time we visit it in the film.
In Infinity War, Thanos is on a mission to scour the galaxy and destroy half of all life to make sure no one has to go without. He’s done so by traveling from planet to planet with his army and the Children of Thanos … but he could save a lot of time and energy by collecting the Infinity Stones and literally snapping his fingers to get the work done for him. It’s a solution to a problem only he sees — or, as he points out, one only he has the will to take responsibility for.
He sees this as an act of mercy. No one else wants to make these same life-or-death decisions as natural resources run out, and everyone will get to go to bed will full bellies. The world will be grateful to him for bearing the burden of this horrible choice.
But none of that makes a lick of sense.
Thanos had another choice
The Infinity Stones make Thanos more or less omnipotent. He’s in control of everything by the end of Infinity War, including time itself. Yet he spends the most part lamenting the choice he has to make, and the heavy toll it’s exacting on his soul.
But he does it anyway. Thanos snaps his fingers, and half of all life in the universe is snuffed out. The film ends with Thanos watching the sunrise, a peaceful smile on his lips. But why?
If he’s in control of each aspect of existence at this point, why not spare everyone and just double the amount of food in the universe? Why not increase the amount of natural resources so that everyone can have enough water and shelter? Why kill trillions of life forms to save the rest, when you can just snap your fingers and save everyone?
The movie would go pretty differently if Thanos had just told Iron Man that his goal was to use his power and wealth to provide for all of creation, because that’s pretty much what Iron Man is trying to do on Earth anyway. The Avengers would still likely try to stop him; I don’t think Captain America and the rest would be comfortable with one being having unlimited power.
It’s not that Thanos’ motivation doesn’t make sense, but his solution is completely nonsensical. Why kill everyone when you can just as easily provide for them? This would even give him a reason to collect the Infinity Stones, because he can’t create food or resources that don’t exist in the universe, he can only kill people to relieve the tension. But he could provide by bending reality to his will with the infinity gauntlet and making more of anything. Getting the stones together would allow him to stop killing, and save everyone.
Why take the path of most resistance and kill so many people?
Thanos in the comics had a clearer goal
Thanos wasn’t worried about providing for people in the original comics, because he had a much different goal in mind: to get the attention of Death. Yes, Death.
“The Death of the Marvel Universe can manifest physically in a number of ways, but often appears as a humanoid female, even if skeletal,” our own Susana Polo explained. “Death appeared to Thanos in his youth, presumably because of his obsession with death and nihilism, and the two formed a relationship — a relationship that apparently hit rocky shores when Thanos was first defeated by the Avengers. Since then, Thanos has been characterized by his desire to make a tribute to Death on a cosmic scale — i.e., cause a truly staggering number of deaths — in order to win back her affections.”
It’s why Thanos gives the camera that creepy grin at the end of his first post-credits scene in the original The Avengers: If challenging the Avengers is to court Death, he’s into it. Courting Death is, after all, the reason he’s doing all of this in the comics. It’s basically a Dad joke.
This makes sense. Thanos has to kill a ridiculous number of life forms to get Death’s attention. Killing people is kind of Death’s whole thing, in fact. That motivation makes way more sense when it comes to Thanos killing as many people as he can as quickly as he can. There’s no contention there, because his goal makes sense within the context of what he’s trying to achieve.
But Thanos’ goal in Infinity War, to provide for the world’s starved population, doesn’t really match up with his desire to collect the Infinity Stones and kill half the universe, outside of the script’s need to make sure he’s a supervillain.
He could have saved everyone and achieved his purpose; he just chose not to, for dramatic reasons.