Thanos has been a looming threat to the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the end of The Avengers, yet while he's popped up here and there, he hasn't made his presence known to a majority of the MCU's superheroes. As far as big bads go, he sure is threatening, but Thanos' goal in Avengers: Infinity War is far from clear. During a sit down with reporters on the movie's Atlanta set, directors Anthony and Joe Russo explain more about Thanos' eventual endgame as the Avengers' greatest villain, in an attempt to clear things up for fans (well, at least a little).
First things first: all those MCU fans that have been frantically trying to keep track of the six Infinity Stones on screen have not been waisting their time. Audiences who have been keeping up with the MCU and the theories around it know that the Infinity Stones hinted at throughout the films are hugely important. And, though it hasn't yet been spelled out in the films, it's common knowledge that Thanos is after all six — the Space Stone, the Reality Stone, the Power Stone, the Mind Stone, the Soul Stone, and the Time Stone. "It's the bedrock of the film," Joe Russo says of Thanos' quest to them. "A key driver of the film."
Before Thanos can get all six Infinity Stones, though, he's going to have to face some Avengers. As the MCU stands pre-Infinity War, the stones are scattered across superheroes. In space, The Collector has the Reality Stone (aka the Aether) and the Nova Corps has the Power Stone, but on Earth, all the other stones are currently in the possession of various Avengers. Vision has the Mind Stone literally in his forehead, Doctor Strange has the Time Stone, and the Space Stone (aka the Tesseract) is presumably in Loki's possession. However, before fans start thinking that the entirety of Infinity War will be the Avengers trying to protect themselves and their stones from Thanos, they should take a step back.
Joe cautions fans against seeing the Infinity Stones as Thanos' real goal, calling them "MacGuffins" during the set visit. "I think that traditionally in movies there's a MacGuffin, sometimes the MacGuffin is a person, sometime's it's a thing," he says, alluding to Doctor Strange and Vision. "So we have quite a few MacGuffins in this movie that have different relationships with two different people... So there are a lot of characters that will come into direct conflict with Thanos."
For those familiar with the MCU but not so up to date with story structure, a MacGuffin denotes an object or person or mystery in a story that sets a plot into motion, but doesn't necessarily mean much when it comes to the central conflict. Coined by famed director Alfred Hitchcock, the MacGuffin was one of his favorite tricks to getting protagonists into perilous situations. (One could argue that the entire first act of Psycho, for example, is just one giant MacGuffin.) If we are to take the Joe at his word, that means that the Avengers' personal ties to the Infinity Stones are MacGuffins and not the main story of Infinity War, that means that they are merely a way to bring Thanos and the Avengers together.
But if getting the Infinity Stones from the Avengers is not Thanos' main goal, then what is? Presumably, he's after some kind of intergalactic domination. Harnessing the power of all six Infinity Stones, Thanos could bring people back from the dead, bend time and space, destroy worlds in the blink of an eye — in other words, it would make him almost impossible to defeat.
One almost hopes we never find out what Thanos' goal is once he gets the Infinity Stones, because whatever it is, it can't be anything good.
Additional reporting by Rachel Simon