(Not actually spoilery, just discusses the basis of Thanos’ actions in the movie.)
They say a story is only as good as its antagonist, and I’d add, a story is only as good as the motivations of its antagonist. Black Panther was perfect because the motivations of Killmonger mirrored very real, very important issues of our world. The Winter Soldier worked because ‘we’re using an algorithm to analyze people’s internet activity to collect data about citizens and subtract all freedom from them’ is quite a familiar thing, so is white men in position of power disregarding others’ bodily autonomy and abusing them. In Iron Man 3 an American white man seeking profit convinced people that the enemy was a made-up islamic terrorist. In Thor Ragnarok Hela represented the militaristic past of a society that grew wealthy with imperialism – her motivation was literally death, but that mirrored the blood-thirst of imperialistic nations.
“I need to kill half the population because resources are scarce, there’s too many people so they live in poverty, if there were less people resources would be enough for people to live comfortably – but don’t worry, it’s not evil, because I’m going to kill with equality, rich and poor alike!” is a shit motivation, which utterly, incredibly misses the point of why poverty exists and how scarcity of resources works.
People aren’t poor because there aren’t enough resources for them. People don’t starve because there’s not enough food. (Before you argue, maybe that’s the case on other planets in the Marvel universe: stories exist for us on earth.) Resources aren’t scarce in themselves, scarcity of resources is artificial. It’s a matter of power, discrimination, profit, who has the weapons and controls the ways to manipulate people’s imagination. Of course, if half the planet’s population were to die suddenly (think of some dramatic event like the epidemic that killed a third of the population of Europe in the span of a few years), there would be some drastic consequences on the immediate term, but not necessarily positive for who survives. It’s no longer the 1300s – the economical issues aren’t the same, I’m not going to go in depth because I’m not an expert and I don’t want to say something wildly incorrect, but in short, the problem with our planet is not that not enough cereals pop up from the soil, it’s a deliberate devaluation of labor and non-privileged human life. That’s not automatically solved by diminishing the population, because labor does require less people than in the 1300s, so less people wouldn’t necessarily mean higher contractual power. But that doesn’t really matter, that’s not the point. The point is that “overpopulation” is a problem not in itself, but because of how resources are distributed, and that depends on power structures.
But Marghe, you could say, Thanos is the antagonist, so we’re supposed to assume that his ideas are bad. Yes, but the movie does never address why his ideas are bad other than a generic ~killing billions and billions of people might not really be ethically great, dude~. When he expresses his ideas, the characters just dismiss them as crazy, because killing innocents en masse is bad. No one really addresses the fact that less people doesn’t automatically mean more resources for the ones who remain, or that poverty isn’t the fault of people who suffer from it. Gamora argues that it’s better to be poor but ‘free’ and with your loved ones, but the idea is that your loved ones dying and an evil dude using you for his evil plans is bad, which is a pretty obvious concept and politically irrelevant.
What’s politically relevant is the unspoken concept underlying. The idea that poor people are poor (especially in certain areas of the world) because they make too many children, leading to overpopulation compared to resources, is very real and widespread in racist societies – a lot of Europeans, for instance, believe that ~Africans~ (as Africa is supposedly a homogenous place where people are automatically poor and children starve, and also neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism are not a thing, actually exploitation of African countries has never been a thing, right?) are poor because, forgive the crudeness, women won’t keep their legs closed and they make too many children. It’s their fault they’re poor, they’re stupid and won’t think that if they make too many new people they won’t be able to feed them! (I wonder where anti-contraception propaganda comes from, uh? Oh, wait) Even someone like Macron expressed that idea recently, despite France still draining money and resources from its former colonies. But nooo, it’s the Black people’s fault for being promiscuous and stupid.
So, yeah, your antagonist’s motivations suck, Marvel. Also, mind, it’s not a matter of the unrealistic-ness of magic stones or whatnot – I can make a suspension of disbelief for all the things in the MCU from Steve’s serum to vibranium technology to the Hulk to Asgard and gods and talking raccoons and all. It’s a matter of the underlying implications of the character’s motivations. From a merely logical point of view, halving the universe’s population won’t solve the universe’s problems, because the amount of people isn’t the problem. It just makes no sense – it would make sense if the narrative actually addressed it, if someone said ‘wait Thanos that’s not how things work’, but it doesn’t happen. What we’re left with is the idea that Thanos’ solution is not good (killing innocents=bad), we aren’t led to question his idea of where the problem lies.
And this is why I find it totally abhorrent that in promo interviews it was said that they wanted to make him a relatable villain. It literally makes me throw up in my mouth a little.
Also, using people’s misery as a justification for letting them die or outright genocide is not an innocent concept. Throughout history many oppressors have justified the treatment of oppressed people with the oppressed people’s poverty. “We’re improving their lives” has been used as a justification for colonialism, slavery, wars. “They’re so poor and it’s unacceptable!! We need an intervention, it might be a little rough at first and it might require some sacrifices but eventually they’ll be thanking us :))))” sounds familiar?
If the movie had actually framed Thanos’ intentions on this kind of level, it would have been very interesting, actually – Thanos as a metaphor for imperialistic oppression – but nothing about the movie suggests they wanted us to really read the story as an allegory for that. The concept of genocide is thrown there without a real political corollary of implications around it.
Also note that “genocide” doesn’t mean “killing a lot of people”. Genocides in history are deliberate attempts to wipe out a certain group of people that is identified though real or supposed ethnical, national, religious traits and othered by convincing everyone else that those people are subhuman. Killing people indiscriminately is not a genocide, it’s a slaughter. By calling Thanos’ actions a genocide, you’re also emptying the concept of genocide of its meaning.
The movie started on an interesting note, in my opinion, by making that goon of Thanos sound extremely creepy (rejoice, blah blah) which suggested a sort of "religious” coding of Thanos’ cult-like group, but that ended in nothing, and in fact it did seem like they were making a very botched attempt at making Thanos sort of “understandable” – oh he doesn’t want people to live in poverty!! Well neither do I, but I don’t want billions of innocents to die, so maybe we’re not really the same.
Plus, of course, the very “poor Kylo Ren, his dad died, he feels so sad :(((((” scenario. Not relatable.
… incidentally, while I naturally tend to be interested in, gravitate towards and care about the motivations of or sympathise with villains, Kylo Ren and Thanos are two current ones that actually feel abhorrent and unsympathetic to me (and partly because they feel too close to some of the current reality) , and it kind of weirds me out a bit that they both actually seem to be intended to be relatable villains by TPTB…
This is Marvel’s attempt to make a sympathetic villain on purpose.