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How Thanos Knew Who Tony Stark Was In Avengers: Infinity War

We've all had a moment where we cross paths a stranger, give them the once-over, and heck, maybe even share a bit of eye contact before realizing we definitely know who they are — even if we've never formally met them. Though he's an intergalactic tyrant, Thanos (Josh Brolin) had this human experience in Avengers: Infinity War, when he instantly recognized Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as the Armored Avenger Iron Man when the pair brawled on the planet Titan. 

How exactly did Thanos know who Tony was? What kind of connection did the two form off-screen? And, maybe most importantly, did the two dudes ever sit down to share some shawarma like Earth's Mightiest Heroes did way back in The Avengers?

In the commentary track on the Avengers: Infinity War digital release, director Joe Russo revealed (via ComicBook.com) that Thanos recognized Tony as the person who foiled his scheme to seize power over Earth through Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in 2012's The Avengers

"He's aware of Stark from the original Battle of New York as the person who undid the plan," said Russo, referencing the scene in which Tony sets off a nuclear bomb in the sky

Essentially, the purple-faced Titan knew who Tony was in Infinity War for the same reason Tony detected an enormous threat was coming to Earth in The Avengers: they both, as Thanos says in the film, are "cursed with knowledge." 

As Russo noted, this results in a "sort of existential connection" between Thanos and Tony. While Tony spent years pouring blood, sweat, and tears into upgrading his armor to nanotech levels — the "cutting edge of what his mind can deliver" — and keeping a close eye on what lies ahead, Thanos did the same in devising a plan to wipe out half the universe's population in order to clear a path for a "better" future.

When the two have been on their own, their plans have gone relatively smoothly. It's only when the two face off — indirectly in The Avengers and directly in Infinity War — that each derail the other's forward momentum.

"The journey that Tony's been on as a genius scientist is [continuing] the evolution of his armor. This is the best it's ever gonna get for Tony ... and it still is not enough to beat Thanos. In fact, it barely keeps him in the fight," Russo explained. "Thanos is violent and cruel ... he doesn't spend a lot of his energy intentionally trying to murder people unless they are, in some way, a threat to his agenda. Almost no one ends up being a threat to the agenda except for Tony."

Infinity War screenwriter Christopher Markus also pointed out in the commentary track the major similarity between the Mad Titan and the (former) genius billionaire playboy philanthropist: the clever-minded men both have concrete visions regarding what a perfect future would look like, despite holding wildly different ideas about how to reach that end goal. Thanos wanted to go all killer and no filler, while Tony simply strived to pull a Daft Punk and work harder, do better, be faster, and become stronger. 

"You realize this interesting parallel between Thanos and Tony," said Markus. "They're both aware of something from an early point and constantly having to deal with being smarter. Thanos is a futurist as much as Tony Stark."

Surprisingly enough, though Infinity War didn't address Thanos' link to Tony beyond the mention that they both bear the burden of wisdom, this actually isn't the first time Russo has discussed the pair's connection. 

Speaking with The Telegraph India (via Polygon) ahead of the film's release in April, the director mentioned that "all the heroes" in the movie are Thanos' enemy, but the Mad Titan has "the most specific connection to Tony because Tony is a futurist, and he has predicted a threat like Thanos." 

Russo added that because Tony has ruminated on the impending danger for so long, he is "the most desperately driven, down to the core, to react against something like Thanos." Due to that fact, Tony "has a special connection to the threat that's facing him" — and that threat turned out to be Thanos. 

Getting down to brass tacks, Thanos and Tony have a heck of a lot more in common than one might assume — and the former even apparently holds the latter in high esteem, telling him near the end of Infinity War, "You have my respect, Stark." But this doesn't necessarily mean that we can view Thanos and Tony as fundamentally the same. After all, one's an Eternal–Deviant hybrid who commits genocide on a universal scale, and the other is an ex-military weapons manufacturer working hard to protect people and show Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) some love along the way. Not exactly equals, right?

Both Thanos and Tony will be back for Avengers 4, which may explore their relationship even further and could even answer that meat-centric question we raised earlier. (Hey, a Marvel fan can dream!)