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Exclusive: Thanos almost had a much bigger role in Guardians of the Galaxy

Ever since he was first introduced in the mid-credits scene at the end of the first Avengers film, Thanos has loomed large in the imaginations of Marvel fans. Now that both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame have come and gone, it's clear that the masterminds behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe had big plans for Thanos going back years. But just what those plans were definitely changed from that first appearance — and in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, they apparently changed quite a bit.

According to Charlie Wen, former head of visual development for Marvel Studios, there were plans to make Thanos a much bigger part of the first cosmic movie in the MCU.

"Thanos' role would have been significantly larger," explains Wen via email. "We would have seen some of the relationship [and] tensions play out between him and his kids [...] Ronan's role would have decreased, with Thanos taking on more."

Wen was responsible for bringing the earliest versions of Thanos from the comic book page to the big screen. And since the Mad Titan was going to be a major player for the growing MCU early on, Wen knew he had to get the details right to communicate that threat at a glance.

"Early on, Thanos was setting up to be a major climax for the MCU, but the first time I designed Thanos was for his first appearance in Avengers," says Wen. "His armor had to reflect the look of his iconic comic book origins (while being more practical) as well as a nod to his Chitauri soldiers in the film.

"Because he was going to play such a defining role in the MCU later, it was important to capture the look that fans know of him: an enormous bulky purple frame, bluish fabric, complemented by a golden armor in the shape of a slight crescent moon accentuating his shoulders, leading up to large slits along his chin, and finally capped by a helmet that reflects the shape language of his body armor."

But as time went on, Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon reportedly made the call to diminish Thanos's role in the early stages of the MCU to make for a more satisfying build-up over time. That meant changes to work being done on Guardians of the Galaxy during pre-production. And then, after making those changes, making even more changes.

"It was decided to cut Thanos out of Guardians completely in order to have a slower reveal of him," adds Wen. "It wasn't until right before the shoot that I was told that Thanos would have a role in the film, so designing him and his throne was pretty rushed. [...] I only had a couple days left to design him on his throne. I made some improvements from the first design, in which we saw the side of his face."

As for the throne itself, it's fascinating to look at some of Wen's concept art from throughout his tenure at Marvel Studios to see how the MCU's plans for Thanos and his throne evolved. For instance, in one concept image that Wen labeled "Ronan Ceremony," we see the Mad Titan holding court on a rocky throne, with Ronan and Nebula standing before him as an audience of aliens watch.

But that's not quite the scene we get in the film. When Nebula and Ronan appear before Thanos, there's no audience, and Thanos's throne is markedly different.

As to where Wen got the idea to create the floating platforms that made up Thanos's throne, the answer lies in concept art he did for a different Marvel Studios film just a few years earlier: the very first Thor feature. Since that movie was so early in the MCU's evolution, Wen worked hard to find as many different takes on the movie's important characters as he could — and that included this very sci-fi influenced version of Thor's dad, Odin.

That throne design didn't make it into Thor, but it seems to have found a second life under Thanos for Guardians of the Galaxy.

But enough about Thanos's butt — what about his face? Even though Josh Brolin played the character in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, it's easy to see that the character didn't really resemble the actor very much — at least, not to the extent that the Thanos of Infinity War did. There's a reason for that, explained Wen: during the pre-production phase on Guardians of the Galaxy, Brolin hadn't yet been cast in the part.

"It was on Infinity War that Josh Brolin's face needed to be incorporated," he tells us. "By then, I'd left Marvel, and my partner in crime, and co-head of Marvel's Visual Development Ryan Meinerding, did the honors and designed the version in that film."

With Avengers: Endgame setting records and revealing Thanos's fate to fans all over the world, it's exciting to wonder how different things could've been if Marvel Studios had stuck with their initial plans to give Thanos a bigger presence in the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Would he have ended up making as big of an impact? To that, Marvel fans can only say "What if..."

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