Okay, I may be a little biased because I am a huge Tom Hiddleston fan. And I haven’t watched The Avengers yet, but I know the actor, the man who wrote the script and directed the movie, and I know Loki’s backstory as portrayed in the movies. I really cannot see how this could go wrong. So, I feel pretty safe in saying that Loki is one of the best villains ever to grace movie theatres.
I say this after having watched such moves as Star Wars, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Dark Knight. I realize what company I’m putting Loki in and what it means to say “one of the best villains ever”. I also realize that a lot of people would disagree simply because Loki, in this context, is a character in Marvel comic books, as if that relegates him to children’s fairy tales. However, as Hiddleston said, comic books are the legends and mythologies of our time. They carry a tremendous amount of weight and significance.
What makes Loki so great? Well, like the villains in the other movies I’ve mentioned, Loki operates from a deep hurt. Something happened to him over which he had no control. And his own rage, fear, and pain blinded him to whatever love those around him could or did offer him. He isn’t someone who is evil for the sake of being evil. He’s doing what he perceives to be the right thing, though his perception is warped by the pain he’s endured, which is the shattering of his identity.
He thought he was the son of Odin and a prince of Asgard. Instead, he learns he’s the son of Laufey, who he’s been raised to view as a monster. He’s one of the creatures his beloved brother seeks to destroy. Not only that, but the man he had called father took him in for his own ulterior motives. All of this on top of feeling inferior and out of place his whole life. Suddenly, everyone’s love and actions are called into question. Suddenly, Loki doesn’t know who he is anymore. Suddenly, he doesn’t know his place in the world any longer. He hates himself because he’s one of the things that he was raised to hate and he doesn’t know how to unlock himself from that cycle of thinking.
Therefore, he becomes this wonderfully complex character who, on the one hand, loves and longs to be loved, but who also wants to be justified and wants things to be made right. He wants to find himself. In his mind, like all great villains, (again, quoting Hiddleston) he’s the hero of the story. He’s not a villain. He’s someone who’s been wronged and he has to make it right because no one else will. Because he can’t trust anyone else to make it right. The problem, though, is that the way of his making things right only makes things worse. His motives are tainted with a desire for revenge, a certain level of madness, and the need to prove himself.
But this is only half of what makes a character great. The other half is our own reaction. Do we see him as campy? Do we see him as ridiculous? Or do we, despite ourselves, quietly root for him? Do we hope that he redeems himself and find his own way? Do we fear him while at the same time find ourselves drawn to him?
The Joker in The Dark Knight makes this little speech to Harvey Dent about how no one cares if a truckload of soldiers die because “it’s part of the plan”. But if something happens that isn’t part of the plan, “then everyone loses their minds”. And, with a sort of horror, you realize he’s right. The Joker’s chaos betrays our own apathy about the lives of others because we’ve become so used to a certain order of things. We agree with the Joker even though we think he’s this horrible character who kills for the love of it. And this is what makes him such a great villain. He shows the truth to us and we almost want to thank him for it.
I believe Loki has the same affect on others. I’ll never forget the scene in the observatory in Thor where he’s discussing his motives and shoves Thor’s bloodthirstiness back into his face. And, with a sinking feeling, you find yourself almost agreeing with Loki. As you watch Loki come to near tears and you see the naked pain in his face, you find yourself wanting him to win just because it would help heal the hurt, though it won’t. In reality, killing his brother will only make Loki even more twisted, hurt, and full of darkness.
I fully expect to see more of that in The Avengers and I think I have seen glimpses of it in the clips Marvel has released. Therefore, I feel pretty safe in saying that he’s one of the best villains, because we root for him, we want his redemption, even as we condemn his actions. He draws us into the story even as he slices open our own actions and motivations, baring the truth for us to see, while he is blind to his own truth.