Thanos’ presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a subject of much debate among fans. He’s being set up as this big, looming evil shadow that hangs over everything, but while we’ve heard that he’s going to be the primary threat moving forward, up to this point all we’ve seen is him not blow up a planet and loan out his daughters to Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Sure, that makes him a dick, and he looks scary as hell, but there isn’t much to make you truly afraid of him. This has left many wondering why he’s even there, and what purpose he serves, and we’re not the only ones. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn also has issues with how Thanos fits into his movie.
The Mad Titan is obviously being set up as the villain in the two-part Avengers: Infinity Wars that is part of Marvel’s Phase 3 plan. According to Gunn, however, trying to shoehorn him into Guardians, where he doesn’t really belong, was the hardest part of writing the script. Talking to Vulture, he revealed:
There’s pressure with Thanos because you’re setting up this gigantic character that, in one way, isn’t really a part of your movie. His presence doesn’t really serve being in Guardians, and having Thanos be in that scene was more helpful to the Marvel Universe than it was to Guardians of the Galaxy. I always wanted to have Thanos in there, but from a structural standpoint, you don’t need him.
What Gunn appears to be saying here is that, it might have been fine to have Thanos in his movie, but he doesn’t particularly belong there, and lots of people agree. The deal between Ronan and Thanos primarily serves to complicate the plot and make it more convoluted than it needs to be. While his appearance gets compared to Palpatine showing up in The Empire Strikes Back, setting him up as a big bad moving forward, it doesn’t have the same impact or sense of menace here. You know that you’re supposed to feel the fear when you see Thanos, but you’re not particularly terrified.
Gunn also brings up another point many have noticed, that Thanos’ presence has an impact on Ronan’s role in the film. He didn’t want the main bad guy of the film to “seem like a big wussy” in the service of someone else. For my money, it’s kind of hit and miss on this front. You see how vicious and powerful the Kree warrior is, especially when he kills The Other, and threatening to off Thanos takes some stones, and not just Infinity Gems (sorry, I had to).
Still, I would have rather seen Ronan more on his own, less beholden to outside forces, and they certainly could have used the scenes with Thanos to develop Pace’s character in greater depth (he does have sweet dance moves though). As it is, he’s just a one-note antagonist. Even without Thanos appearing in the film, his presence would be felt. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are his adopted daughters, and he figures in that way no matter what.
While in reality it is a modest amount of time spent on the Thanos thread, Guardians of the Galaxy never sees much benefit from his involvement. Of course his presence will be felt down the road, but you can’t help but think that the time and space devoted to him would have been better used elsewhere. This is a minor quibble, and my biggest issue is that, having read many of the comics, I know how badass a villain Thanos can be, but right now in the movies, he’s just some big dude who doesn’t add much.