Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for the Loki Season 2 finale.
The Big Picture
- Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki in the MCU has allowed the character to develop and show a range that stands above other characters.
- Loki’s journey from a standard villain to a master manipulator in The Avengers unlocked his dynamic potential as a villain.
- The Thor franchise, particularly Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, showcased Loki’s comedic potential and set the stage for his eventual redemption arc in Loki.
With the finale of its recent (and possibly final) season, Loki allowed its titular character to finally reach his full potential, and he wouldn’t have been able to do so without Tom Hiddleston shepherding him through that journey. Over 12 years of films and television shows, Hiddleston has made Loki one of the most popular characters in all the MCU, if for no other reason than he’s been allowed to give Loki a level of development and range that feels nigh unmatched when compared to other characters. While this isn’t to say that no other characters have had good development, Hiddleston’s MCU run stands above everyone else’s in terms of giving us a character who is one cohesive person while also letting us see Loki from a number of different angles.
Loki, the God of Mischief, steps out of his brother’s shadow to embark on an adventure that takes place after the events of “Avengers: Endgame.”
- Release Date
- June 9, 2021
- Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Richard E. Grant
‘Thor’ and ‘The Avengers’ Are Where Loki Starts Out as a Standard Villain
In Thor, Loki is introduced to us as the brother of the arrogant yet well-meaning Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and it’s established that their relationship is relatively warm and cordial. Loki comes off as supportive and concerned about the potential of Thor and Asgard, but perhaps a bit too jealous that Thor gets all the praise. Things change when Thor gets banished to Earth by salty daddy Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for being too much of a hothead, and this gives Loki an opportunity to sidle up to Odin more.
It doesn’t go well, as Loki finds out that he’s not truly Thor’s brother; he was actually a Frost Giant baby that Odin stole in the hopes of forging a political alliance with the Frost Giants. This is the first moment that the Loki we’ll grow familiar with rises, a festering wound silently begging for proper care, as he pours all of his pent-up anger and envy into one of the most raw emotions we’ve seen in the MCU. Other characters have witnessed loved ones dying or had to relive traumatic memories, and still, few performances have matched Hiddleston’s begging Odin to admit that he doesn’t view Loki as equally worthy as Thor. While the rest of the film treats Loki as the standard villain of the week, it sets the groundwork for Loki’s edgy vulnerability being the key to having empathy for him.
When Loki was announced to be brought back as the main villain for the monumental team-up The Avengers, nobody could have anticipated what a drastic step-up in villainy we were going to get. Under the direction of Joss Whedon, Loki went from a baseline schemer to a master manipulator, conducting the Avengers into a spiteful frenzy with an ease that would make Leonard Bernstein blush. It’s here that Hiddleston delivers some of the most iconic Loki moments to date: his prophetic announcement of being burdened with “glorious purpose,” waiting the perfect amount of time to say “I’m listening” to dead air after Thor gets snatched in front of his eyes, and bombastically proclaiming himself a God “who will not be bullied” before the Hulk absolutely desecrates his dignity with a backyard beatdown for the ages.
Whedon’s penchant for combining sitcom zingers with plausible dramatic stakes unlocked Loki’s wider potential as among the most dynamic villains in modern franchise history. If Thor showed audiences the pathos of his wounded inner child, The Avengers unveiled the bathos that could come from mocking a man with such severe main character syndrome, and future projects would give Hiddleston proper chances to play between those two extremes.
‘Thor: The Dark World’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Unlock Loki’s Comedic Potential
The Thor franchise has had a rocky go of things, with The Dark World being considered among the worst MCU projects, mainly for its complete lack of tonal coherence. It’s simultaneously too solemn to be exciting and too inappropriately silly to be genuinely funny, and somehow, that uncomfortable tonal mix makes perfect sense when Loki is onscreen. When we first meet him, he’s at his lowest point; imprisoned in Asgard due to his attack on New York City, rocking deathly pale skin and a bitter rage that screams “Linkin Park plays in my head nonstop.” But when Thor breaks him out to help him stop dark elves from grabbing the MacGuffin, Loki becomes the scene-stealing source of comedic relief the film desperately needs. Loki struts his stuff and snipes at Thor whenever he can, embracing his newfound freedom with a lust for life, even going so far as to use magic to impersonate Captain America (Chris Evans) just so he can take a crack at America’s Ass for the fun of it. While most of the film’s story is an utter waste of time, this one really cements how important the dynamic between Thor and Loki will become toward Loki’s eventual redemption arc.
That arc comes closer to completion with Thor: Ragnarok, and with Taika Waititi at the helm, Loki is finally positioned as a character the audience can warm up to as a semi-protagonist, mainly due to how evenly balanced his emotional register is. Having gotten in cahoots with the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) for an easy life on another planet, Loki is once again roped into helping Thor get back to Asgard and stopping his half-sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying Asgard. The film’s looser sense of storytelling allows for comedic moments to slip right into sincere touches, and Hiddleston shows Loki as a man who’s finally come to terms with seeing other people as worthy of love and trust, most notably his brother. He’s e in the room to tell Thor how good he looks in his Asgardian garb instead of using an apparition, and he’s unashamed at reliving the PTSD of seeing the Hulk for the first time in years, still thinking about that ass-beating he got in NYC. That said, he’s still a little brat, so he’ll throw a tantrum when Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) sends him falling “FOR 30 MINUTES” or show up to save a bunch of Asgardian refugees by proclaiming himself their savior, with Hiddleston gleefully beaming with pride for the sake of Loki’s deluded sense of truth. Loki may have been the hero this time, but he still does it mostly to save himself and Thor, which is a decent first step.
‘Loki’ Lets Its Lead Character Finally Become a True Hero
The one-two punch of Infinity War and Endgame serves as a poorly thought out way of writing Loki out of the plot, and is only relevant for creating the scenario that brought us Loki’s finest hours. Rather than be about the Loki who heroically sacrificed his life to stop Thanos (Josh Brolin), the Disney+ series starts with the still-villainous Loki who got arrested for trying to destroy NYC in the first Avengers movie. He uses the Tesseract to escape, only to get sucked into a plot involving the TVA trying to stop the next big bad. What really matters is how the plots serve Loki’s development from pompous blowhard to selfless savior, and how it provides Hiddleston with a plethora of opportunities to show every last spectrum of Loki that could possibly exist. Think of how incredible it is that this man has essentially played out two completely different arcs for the same character and did both so flawlessly, no matter the material he was given. This was finally his chance to show Loki as an outright hero, and it’s the most gratifying work he’s done yet.
The show finally manages to break through all of Loki’s defenses and strip him down to his core essence. Knowing Hiddleston’s experience as a Shakespearean-trained actor, you can feel how much he’s relishing his chance to play Hamlet, Iago, and Prince Hal all rolled into one man. Seeing Loki essentially beg Mobius (Owen Wilson) to lend him a kind ear as he unburdens himself of his desperate need to feel validated by others and using deceit as a way of intentionally pushing others away is the kind of naked yearning that younger Loki could have never dreamed of admitting to. While there’s a joke waiting to be made about how fitting it is that Loki would forge a potentially romantic connection to another version of him in Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), that connection they share is the first time we’ve seen Hiddleston be able to turn on the darkly seductive charm that he’d only been able to use in previous non-MCU films. It’s an essential conduit through which Loki can forget about himself and start to transfer his feelings toward helping people he cares about, which allows him to become the God he was always meant to be.
Loki Has Changed More Than Any Other MCU Character
None of this is to claim that no other MCU character has had good character development. Steve Rogers has gone from a goody-two-shoes soldier of American jingoism to a brooding rogue agent who learns that you can never trust your government, only yourself. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) started as a frazzled kid constantly getting assistance from Tony and became a beaten-down young man who finally learns to deal with true responsibility and hardship.
But oftentimes, MCU character development can be drastically uneven, if not downright confusing, at points. Robert Downey Jr. played Tony Stark for so long that his performance tended to calcify and become toothless, and in some appearances, he felt more like the SNL parody version of Tony, all snark and inappropriate comments. Thor’s development was so all over the place that he went from dullard to likable gym bro to depressed loser to a stoner with one brain cell in a haphazard fashion. The descent of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) from innocent experiment victim to murderous witch was so abrupt that even a television miniseries detailing her processing her trauma wasn’t enough to make it feel fully justified. While character development across the MCU is usually serviceable enough, it often feels patched together and spun on the fly, trying to appease the audience rather than serving the character’s core needs.
Ever the exception, however, is Loki. No surprise that a natural shapeshifter has been allowed to take on more forms than any other MCU character, allowed to constantly and consistently expose new sides of himself to an audience that loves him so much. He was loved as an arrogant villain, he was loved as a bad boy antihero, and now he’s loved more than ever as a truly anointed god, properly fulfilling his once ludicrous promise. People love redemption arcs because it lets us believe that we’re never true failures, so long as we work towards becoming better versions of ourselves, and that all possible versions of ourselves are worthy of love. Loki spent a lifetime of villainy because he felt undeserving of love, and his journey toward learning to love other people showed him to be a kaleidoscope of a character that we may never see matched in the MCU again. That kaleidoscope wouldn’t have been as colorful were it not for the glorious sorcery courtesy of Tom Hiddleston.
Loki is available to stream on Disney+ in the U.S.
WATCH ON DISNEY+
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