In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos' plan was very straightforward: completely the Infinity Gauntlet, balance the universe. That plan and what "balance" in the universe entailed made the Mad Titan the villain. Yet, as Thanos' plan unfolded on screen, so did his motivation for said plan and now we have to wonder if Thanos is really a villain after all.
Warning: major spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War beyond this point. If you want to remain unspoiled, you may want to stop reading now.
Let's just get this out of the way first: Thanos has done some horrible things. Even before Infinity War, the things we know about the Mad Titan don't inspire adoration or praise. He has gone around the universe invading worlds and murdering half their populations. It's something that we see, via flashback, in the movie as Thanos invades young Gamora's home world and has his forces kill people even as he takes an interest in the young girl. Even if he wasn't murdering populations he still wouldn't be a good guy. Nebula's horror story of being tortured as a child by him eliminates that possibility. Thanos isn't a hero.
However, when Thanos explains why he wants to wipe out half of the population of the universe, as much as it hurts to say it he had a point. You see, back before Titan was a devastated wasteland it was a lush, thriving world that had crossed a population line that couldn't be taken back. There were too many people living on Titan for the world to support them. Eventually there would be catastrophe and suffering and Thanos tried to warn of that. He even came with a solution: kill half the population, but do it in a completely random way, one that would be fair and not swayed by politics or preference. That plan didn't go over well, and Titan didn't follow it. In time, though, Thanos was shown to be right. The world collapsed under the weight of its population.
That experience led him to his quest to "save" the universe by removing the overwhelming burden of overpopulation. That's why he went world to world, killing people off. He even tells Gamora that her home world thrives now that the planet can support and sustain its reduced population. Children, he tells her, no longer suffer and go hungry. He plans to bring that same relief to the rest of the universe with a snap of his fingers once he completes the Infinity Gauntlet. That's right: Thanos wants to kill half the universe to prevent suffering and world collapse due to overpopulation and resource depletion.
On its face, the idea of overpopulation and resource fatigue is a real problem. If a world cannot grow enough food to feed the people living on it, terrible things happen. Starvation, disease, conflict -- they are all consequences of overpopulation. Thanos' desire to solve that and prevent suffering is admirable. However, there is a fine line between a villain and a visionary and in Thanos' case that line is not realizing that he could have used the Infinity Gauntlet to save or balance the universe without having to kill people. With all six Infinity Stones, Thanos literally had infinite options. He could have used the reality stone to change how the universe worked so that planets grew more crops or that populations were more efficient. He could have used the time stone to change things. He could have used the space stone to find worlds better suited to support some of the populations in the most danger. He had options. He had a lot of options.
Instead, he chose the "easiest" one, the one that required the least amount of work and netted the most horrific result. He snapped his fingers. Half of the population disappeared. Noble goal or not, his methods make him the villain, even if only by misguidance.
Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters now.
Do you think Thanos is a villain or a visionary? Let us know your thoughts in comments.