It is a common refrain after the release of a new Marvel movie, "I loved it, but the villain wasn't great." The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have always been hero-centric and with a few notable exceptions, the villains have often been largely forgettable. This hasn't really held the MCU back in any way, but the villains are rarely a selling point. Avengers: Infinity War is different. This time, the villain is the main attraction.
The MCU has been building Thanos for a long time. Even before he appeared, a brief tour of Odin's vault revealed a look at Thanos' jewelry-studded glove (which wound up being a fake). The villain revealed himself in proper in the mid-credits scene of 2012's The Avengers and since then it's been off to the races. Thanos showed up a couple more times, but with Infinity War announced and on the horizon, the specter of the big bad has loomed over everything. We've known that one day our heroes would have to fight the Mad Titan. No character, hero or villain has had this kind of build or hype behind him in the first decade of the MCU and, therefore, Thanos has to deliver.
There is an argument to be made that given how long he's been teased, Thanos is underdeveloped at this point. We've been told he's dangerous and the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, but we haven't seen much of it yet. All he needs is a killer outing in Infinity War to live up to his promise. Thanos is the most powerful MCU villain so far by an order of magnitude and Avengers: Infinity War is the biggest MCU film to date. Thanos not only should be a great Marvel villain, he must be. Here's how he can live up to the hype.
He Has To Kill People
Let's not beat around the bush here, Thanos has to kill people, and not just nameless red shirts on the streets of New York, either. He has to kill Avengers, people we know and love. To live up to the hype, Thanos must be lethal. He needs to take out someone important, and there are a lot of candidates who we think might be on the chopping block. In the trailers, we've seen Thanos in battle with Captain America and Iron Man and Thor doesn't look to be having a great time either. And having Thanos' minions do it isn't enough, Thanos has to do it himself. I don't want a hero dying in the thick of battle with multiple enemies. Thanos must deliver the killing blow in single combat. Or, in lieu of that, give an execution-style order to one of his minions. Dark? Yes, but there is no better way to make him feared and hated and everything we want him to be.
Thanos is an almost mythical villain seeking the power to wipe out half the universe, so it goes without saying that he should be scary. To do this, Thanos needs to seem like a real threat, which shouldn't be a problem. Through his actions, we need to see that Thanos is a terrifying villain, and one who does some truly evil things. The Mad Titan should have a presence every time he comes onscreen, like the Predator or the shark in Jaws. This dude should be a big purple nightmare. The Russo Brothers, in the boldest of claims, have compared him to Darth Vader times 10. The Darth Vader from A New Hope and the end of Rogue One is practically a horror villain, and this is exactly the kind of intimidating screen presence aspiration that they should be shooting for with Thanos. Even if he's only Darth Vader times 2, Thanos will live up to the hype.
Be A Fully Fleshed Out Character
Who is the best MCU villain to date? Loki is generally cited. Tom Hiddleston's trickster god has played a huge part in the MCU as villain and anti-hero and it's his personality that makes him so compelling no matter what side he is fighting on. For Thanos to be as memorable as we want him to be, he should have a personality and his motivations should be clear. He doesn't need to be charming like Loki and the audience doesn't need to empathize with his reasons like Killmonger or Magneto, but we should at least be able to understand Thanos. We need to know if the Black Order follows him out of fear or love and what happened that made him who he is. Josh Brolin is a fantastic actor and with plenty of screentime he should be able to bring all nuance and menace necessary to make Thanos a fully developed character and not just another generic bad guy.
He Has To Be Smart
When you think about the villains of the MCU, those who have done the most damage haven't always been hulking brutes. The most effective villains have a bit of cunning to them, and that's what Thanos needs. The Russo Brothers have already said that Thanos is stronger than the Hulk so we know that he is a physical threat, but if he is smart and calculating too, that will make him the total package. In the trailer, Tony Stark can be heard saying that the advantage they have is that Thanos is coming to them, implying they can formulate a plan to stop him. But what if Thanos is two steps ahead of them and he surprises us, outmaneuvering the Avengers at every turn, just by virtue of being a true tactician. Emperor Palpatine was a powerful force user to be sure, but he won because he was playing chess while the Jedi were playing checkers. Thanos should be a chess grandmaster.
This one is pretty simple and it's actually one of the rumors about Infinity War that we think will happen. If the credits roll on Infinity War and Thanos is still alive, victorious, he will have done what no other MCU villain could: ended on top. One of the big questions about the next two Avengers films is how connected they are and whether or not Thanos has a two film arc. Maybe he's collected all of the Infinity Stones and this film ends on that iconic finger snap, or maybe he leaves our heroes battered and broken. Either way, just by emerging victorious Thanos will deliver on his hype. No MCU film has featured this many heroes and no villain has ever been strong enough to justify such resistance. For even the combined might of all these heroes to still not be enough, will make Thanos a villain for the ages and deliver on the Mad Titan's considerable hype.