In Joss Wheden’s 2012 film ‘The Avengers‘ Loki becomes the outright villain – an Asgardian pirate with daddy and brother issues galore. Loki plays at being a tyrant in order to get attention which unfortunately results in mass loss of life when his forces invade New York city. But if we focus on his character development, we can see how heartbroken, lost, and lonely he has become.
Fulfilling his narrative duty as the antagonist, Loki continues his role as a character foil for Thor. As such, Loki is destined to fail in order to advance Thor’s positive change character arc. But Loki gains interesting character dimensions while losing spectacularly in his first run as a super-villain.
After having lost the titles of most favored son and heir of Asgard to Thor at the end of ‘Thor’ (2011), Loki resorts to selfishness and power plays on Earth in ‘Avengers’. He still craves his father’s approval and equal status with his brother so badly that he’s willing to cast himself as Thor’s enemy. For Loki, it’s better to invade Thor’s limelight as the villain than be ignored and written off as a failed son.
“Thor: The Dark World” (2013)
Loki shines in Alan Taylor’s 2013 film ‘Thor: The Dark World‘, and nearly steals the show from Thor. As originally scripted by Marvel, this film was intended to be Loki’s last appearance in the MCU, but fans simply wouldn’t allow him to die (see ‘Saved By Test Audiences’ subsection below).
At the beginning of ‘Dark World’, Loki doesn’t get a warm welcome at home. He is apprehended for his crimes and the loss of life on Earth at the end of ‘Avengers’ and imprisoned on Asgard. When he arrives in chains to be sentenced by Odin, Loki clicks his chained heels together in a mock salute. He then says to Frigga in ironic tone: “Hello, mother. Have I made you proud?” When Loki asserts himself to his father by saying that a throne is his birthright, Odin savagely reminds him that his birthright was to die as the abandoned son of Odin’s vanquished enemy. Unaffected by the loss of human life on Earth, Loki yields to his darkest emotions as a result of bitter family dynamics and Odin’s harsh criticism.
But Loki’s adoptive mother is not fooled by his bravado. Frigga (Rene Russo) merely smiles when Loki says she’s not his mother because she knows that he’s lying… to himself. Seeing through Loki’s tough-guy exterior, Frigga gets right to the heart about what motivates Loki’s contradictory behavior: “Always so perceptive… about everyone but yourself.”
Even the silver-tongued Loki doesn’t have a response when he hears the bare truth about himself from the one he loves most – his mother.
Like Frigga and Thor, we still see the good in Loki and how much he still loves his family, even against his will. Odin and Thor attend Frigga’s funeral and then are able to carry on with their duties. Loki is the only family member shown to be openly grieving.
Visibly tormented by his mother’s death, Loki destroys himself and the furniture in his prison cell. And all this intense agony over the death of the woman he had earlier refused to acknowledge as his mother. (Loki will later confront his guilt over his part in Frigga’s death in the first episode of the Disney+ series.)
As Loki’s emotional volatility and deep love for his family surface again, a distinct pattern emerges. What un-glues Loki emotionally, and unleashes both his destructive and loving instincts, are the painful interactions with his family.
The Need to Be Needed
After Thor is forced to ask for Loki’s help to escape Asgard with Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Loki’s spirits recover and he’s mostly back to his usual charming, cheeky self. He takes a refreshing jab at Captain America’s righteousness and provides lively commentary on Thor’s flying abilities.
Released from prison and knowing that his brother needs him, Loki shines when his unconventional, out-of-left-field ideas are channeled towards helping Thor. Although Frigga and Jane Foster don’t let him off hook for his crimes on Earth, Loki doesn’t dwell on his failures. When Jane Foster slaps him across the face, he smiles and earnestly responds with ‘Ooo, I like her’.
Insight into Thor
Loki proves the truth in Frigga’s words when she called him perceptive. Nobody knows Thor’s weaknesses better than Loki. Although he enjoys poking fun at Thor’s ego, Loki is also capable of remarkable insight and compassion towards his brother.
Loki can see Thor’s sincere love for Jane but pities him, knowing that Thor will outlive her if she doesn’t die from the dark aether first. Thor refuses to accept his inevitable loss of Jane, so Loki presses his point, brutally but honestly: “You’ll never be ready. The only woman whose love you prize will be snatched from you.”
The brothers then clash over responsibility for Frigga’s death. Loki is clearly upset at Thor for not defending Frigga, and for locking him in a prison cell so Loki couldn’t defend her.
Saved by Test Audiences
Hiddleston’s nuanced performance has Loki balanced on a knife’s edge between his resentment towards his brother and redemption. Tom Hiddleston observes that Marvel’s original ending for ‘Thor: The Dark World’ was also the end of Loki. In the original version of the film, Loki truly does sacrifice himself for his brother, dies, and completes his redemption character arc.
But test audiences were convinced Loki’s death – written and performed sincerely as Loki’s real death scene – was a mistake. Their conviction that Loki had faked his death and was still alive somehow was so absolute that Marvel changed the ending to show Loki surviving the Dark Elf attack and impersonating Odin while sitting on the throne of Asgard.
The revised audience-driven ending of ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is an indicator that Loki was always destined for redemption by sacrificing himself for his brother – this is still Loki’s end in ‘Avengers: Infinity War‘. The fact that Loki’s motivations and loyalty to his family were still in question at the beginning of ‘Infinity War’ is testament to the nuances of Loki’s character and Hiddleston’s emotionally layered performances.
We want so badly for Loki to be good. But we love watching him look good while doing really bad things.
Read part 3 covering Loki’s character arc in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, plus a quick peek at ‘Loki’ the Disney+ series.
What are your opinions about Loki? Tell me in the comments!