james brolin thanos

Thanos has always occupied an unusual position in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was obvious from the very start that he was going to be a Big Deal. But despite that, the role wouldn’t actually be cast for nearly two years after he was introduced onscreen in ‘The Avengers’. I suppose being able to do that is the unsung benefit of performance capture. But I digress. When the role was finally filled, it was by actor Josh Brolin.

Now, Thanos is no ordinary heavy. While he’s the villain of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and its yet-untitled sequel, that status also positions himself as a sort of overarching villain for the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Suffice to say that’s a lot of narrative weight for any actor to shoulder. So what was it about Brolin that made the powers that be sit up and say “That’s our Thanos!”? Well, ‘Infinity War’ co-director Anthony Russo shared some insight into just that subject in a recent conversation with the Telegraph:

“He’s such an amazing performer and so uniquely suited to Thanos. What we were looking for in the character of Thanos is the strongest, most intimidating figure in the universe. While at the same time we wanted to tell a story about a character with a really complex and empathetic interior life. There are not a lot of actors that can give you both of those things. Josh Brolin is perhaps the best example that you can find where you have somebody who has a physical presence and brings that level of intensity and threat, while at the same time having another layer always at work underneath that, which is a very complex inner life and a lot of emotional depth and texture.”

What sort of inner life might that be? After all, for all their other successes, Marvel’s villains have been notably hit or miss. Some hints on that subject might be found in the character’s backstory, which notably differs from that of his comic book counterpart. Russo’s co-director and brother Joe summarizes it thusly:

“He’s from a planet called Titan. Many years prior to the film his planet was experiencing a cataclysmic shift. They were running out of resources, and they were overpopulated. Thanos made a recommendation that they exterminate half the population randomly in order to save the rest of the population. Of course, the Titans rejected his notion, branded him a mad man, exiled him, and the planet ended up dying. So he has taken it upon himself to go planet-by-planet throughout the universe and wipe out half the population of each planet as a way to correct the planet and bring it back into balance. Once he hears about the stones, he realizes that if he can get hold of all of the Infinity Stones he can control the entire universe. With a snap of his fingers he could correct the universe permanently by removing fifty percent of life from it. So these are incredible stakes for our characters.”

Directed by the Russo brothers from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ marks the culmination of a decade-long effort by Marvel Studios and sees the Avengers team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to take on Thanos. The film counts Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Holland, Karen Gillan, Paul Rudd, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olson, Sebastian Stan, and three gentlemen named “Chris” among its gargantuan cast. The long awaited movie is set to arrive in theaters on April 27, 2018.