Four years ago, Thanos was revealed to be the mind behind the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and since then, his main mission has been given to us: Unite the Infinity Stones. However, Thanos has been granted little to no screen time, and as a result, we still don't know why he's doing this. In an attempt to find an explanation for this, I'll be delving into the source material.
[Spoilers from the Infinity War story arc and the MCU films]
The Importance Of Thanos's Motive
At this point, it's obvious that Thanos will have assembled the Infinity Gauntlet by the end of the first half of Avengers: Infinity War. That's the end game and Disney/Marvel have teased it since the Infinity Stones were first officially mentioned. But, a well-known and extremely powerful villain such as Thanos cannot simply exist without a motive to impress upon the viewers his importance. As I noted in a previous satirical article on villains, the key to a great villain rests in their motive.
Please take a minute to take in all that this image has to offer. You get a sense of power from him not only because of his imposing figure or the gauntlet, but the look on each hero's face (see them in the stones?). This image serves to show Thanos as an intimidating villain. Now, imagine you just learned that this villain's entire motivation spawns from the fact that he had trouble making friends growing up.
That's just an example, yet that everyday occurrence severely diminishes the intimidation of the character. Yes, it grounds him as a realistic villain; however, you're less inclined to fear him. It's important to establish a motive that fits with the personality being established and the comics do that extremely well.
Thanos's Potential Motive
Speaking directly from the comics. Death is the focus of Thanos's murderous activities. He wants to impress her and the only way he knows how is to kill and gain more power for the sole purpose of killing even more people. I can empathize with this kind of motive — as can most people — since absolute devotion to someone you care about is an extremely human dilemma. He lives to please Death and the only way he can think to do that is by killing whole planets and anyone who stands in his way. However, his ultimate goal is to go for the Infinity Gauntlet because that can grant him absolute power. In doing so, he became more powerful than even Death and she rejected him.
Here we see the hubris exhibited by Thanos; he will go to great lengths to please the person he cares about most, but fails to understand what it means to take something too far. Add to it the fact that he desires immense power for the sole purpose of murder and you've got an inferiority complex perpetuated by Death's rejection of him. These revelations cut pretty deep for me and being able to more easily relate to this villain makes him that much stronger as a character.
And yet, this may not end up being his motive. This image gives you the pain that is felt on both sides of a toxic relationship. The fallout of such a relationship would be undoubtedly devastating, which leads to the more likely motive for Thanos: He kills for himself and no one else. Death no longer matters, he's above killing for her. Instead, it's all about him and he has nothing to prove to anyone. The embodiment of betrayal and heartbreak, Thanos's rage makes him an even more powerful villain because he no longer has the weakness of proving himself to Death.
This also stands as a stronger motive for Avengers: Infinity War because of Thanos's shift towards acting independently instead of relying on others to assist him. Having been failed by Loki and Ronan the Accuser, Thanos wants to get his plans done on his own without anyone else to hinder his progress.
This method works more if Thanos gets a bit more of a feature to explain why he is the way he is and has time to delve into a backstory. It would require more time than just "I kill to please Death," but it would fit the character that's been established already.
How Does This Fit Into The MCU?
After several decades of stories, the Marvel Universe has quite a bit of regions to it. We've seen the cosmic side, the main heroes, the mythology, and soon we'll be introduced to magic. However, the Marvel Universe also has given life to nonentities — ideas that have a physical representation in the world of Marvel Comics. Death is just one of many possible nonentities to introduce to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This is Oblivion, another such nonentity. There are several others, but Death, Oblivion, Eternity, and Infinity are considered their own grouping. These four could open the door to transition towards the more metaphysical beings of the Marvel Universe like The Watcher. I wouldn't say they'd be villains or heroes or their own teams, it would just add some level of depth to stories that involve characters like Doctor Strange or the Guardians of the Galaxy since actors in both properties have contracts extending beyond Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So there's my theory on Thanos's motive for Avengers: Infinity War. We obviously won't know for another two years; however, it's still interesting to try and speculate on a topic that hasn't really been addressed. I've noticed a lot of speculation on where the Infinity Stones will make an appearance and who will appear in the films, but no one has really considered what will be going on with Thanos. If you're looking for a potential plot breakdown of Avengers: Infinity War, you can check my article here. As always, I'm open to your suggestions in the comments and I look forward to starting a conversation with a fellow fan or theorist.