A Better Class of Villain: Loki in Thor and The Avengers

JULY / AUG 2012: BY CAITLIN HORTON

loki

Have you ever  watched something and thought “Boy, is that villain lame or what?!” This can lead to discussions on how a villain can be improved, by say, giving them a purpose other than standing there, filling up empty camera space. For example: Type 1 villain has numerous lackeys who do their dark and sinister deeds for them, which makes the viewer wonder just how bad they really are. If all they do is sit there preening, telling Lord so-and-so to go and kill the person who is plotting to overthrow them, they can (and do) come off as lazy, boring, and rather forgettable. Hollywood also loves Type 2: handing out villains that once started as the “good guy” and had some catastrophic, life-altering event take place that pushes them over the edge of sanity. Type 3 usually encompasses all other villains, including the ones that take forever to kill or have a device their soul is attached to. By destroying said object, the villain dies, leaving the audience wondering why they didn’t take better precautionary measures in the first place.

And then there’s the better class of villain category, or the BCVC, my own personal measurement system for baddies. This is Type 4, the one where the bad guy is really bad and seems to carry the torch of “I might wish I didn’t have to do that, but boy do you deserve it!” Loki Laufeyson from Marvel’s The Avengers and Thor is one of those kinds. Loki happens to be named after the Norse god of mischief, which gives a pretty vivid picture of his idea of a good time. He is also a little like the type 2 villain, who was once good but then turned evil. In Loki’s case, there was always the potential for him being good, if he had only gotten what he wanted as a child: love and admiration from his father. But he didn’t, so he became the mischief making villain of two immensely popular Marvel films.

In Thor, Loki is seen as the silver-tongued little brother of the mighty Thor and second son of Odin Allfather. Because Odin is always pre-occupied with Thor, he contrives a way to get his brother into trouble: urging him to start a forbidden war with the Frost Giants. Loki does this with the full intent to show him up and then calmly step into his shoes. Thor is cast out of his home of Asgard and sent to Earth to live as a mortal as punishment. Loki discovers more about his ancestry and the lies and deceit of Odin. Loki’s transformation from “jealous little brother” to “jealous really-big-pain-in-the-you-know-where” is complete when he tries to murder Thor and successfully destroys the home-world of the Frost Giants. In an epic battle, Loki decides to give up on his little boy dream of being praised by Odin and allows himself to be lost to the vacuum of space. This leaves Thor feeling responsible for every bad thing that happens in the film and effectively rends Loki’s relationship with his family for what seems like eternity. But is he done wreaking havoc on the universe?

Absolutely not. If you have a villain people love, why kill him off? Loki made a triumphant return in The Avengers, arriving on earth in a blaze of energy and smoke. Living up to his namesake, Loki wreaks violent mischief in Germany and later on, New York City. It is a vivid attempt to get noticed by Odin, with the pretense of ruling the people of Earth. Of course, some people want to stand up to him, namely an iron suit, a super-soldier, two deadly assassins, a demi-god, a Hulk, an eye patch, and a guy named Phil. That almost sounds like a bad joke, but Loki quickly discovers it isn’t and there are people on earth willing to be the brick wall to a speeding train. He spends half of the film finding a way to bring forth his loaned army and the other half contemplating Thor’s words of kindness and forgiveness.

Do villains ever listen to the hero? Sadly, no, and while Loki is one of the best super-villains to grace the big screen, he is also one of the most tragic. Trapped by his own lies and desires to be noticed and loved, he cannot find a way out of his self-made Pandora’s box. The actor, Tom Hiddleston is keenly aware of the complexities of Loki, and in recently filming a version of Henry V, made a fascinating comparison of the characters: “They seem, on the surface, like chalk and cheese, but Loki is about as close to Shakespeare as Marvel gets. He’s a prince, wrestling with kingship and responsibility, arguing with his father. And even though the production values are different and the films will look completely different, emotionally and spiritually, Henry and Loki are excavating the same territory.”

Few superheroes ever get such a villain (possibly Batman and the Joker share nearby space on the list). But Loki has something the Joker lacks, which are finesse and flair, heart and soul. He walks down a staircase as smoothly as Fred Astaire and commands attention from everyone, including the movie audience. Rarely has a villain ever been so brilliantly memorable and at the same time pitiable in his behaviors. It can only be hoped that The Avengers is not Loki’s swan song and he will, in fact, return to wreak havoc another day. Or maybe he will return with a change of heart and will come to fight alongside his brother rather than against him. Either way would be better than not at all, because in my humble opinion, the superhero universe won’t be the same without him! ■

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Caitlin Horton is a 20-something reader, seamstress, and history buff. She lives a life blessed in the knowledge that she is God’s child, and her life has a purpose within the scope of His plan. She encourages her readers to remember, every day can be like Bilbo’s “adventure” if you’re willing to take the “ordinary” and add some “extra” in front of it! She also blogs about her crafts!

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