We needed to see more of that smirk.
I’ve now seen Thor twice. And while I stand by my assessment that it’s an enjoyable if simplistic fantasy romp, I’d be lying if I didn’t hold the likes of Captain America, X-Men: First Class and Spider-Man 2 as higher in the Marvel movie line-up. The Avengers has me hopeful, especially in light of the release of the trailer yesterday, but I must admit that something’s bothering me about the Asgardian aspect of it.
I still think that casting and presenting the Marvel Universe’s iteration of the Norse pantheon the way they did was bold in concept and competent in execution. But, thinking about it, there’s something huge I would have changed to make it more than just decent. If Marvel had done this, either back in the Lee/Kirby days or under Kenneth Brannagh, the end result would, I feel, have been fantastic.
The problem, you see, is Loki.
Tom Hiddleston played Thor’s half-brother and the lord of lies in the film. I don’t want to take anything away from Tom, as he did well with what he was given. But the true tragedy is this. The writers of the movie adaptation of Thor characterized him like this:
…when, really, Loki should be more like this:
Courtesy the excellent xeedee
For those of you who don’t know, that’s the representation of Coyote from the excellent webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court (which you really should be reading). Coyote is a trickster. He speaks honestly, but doesn’t always tell the truth. He never comes across as jealous of anybody else’s station, powers or prestige, only asserts his own will when necessary and contents himself with engaging in playful banter, timeless stories, cryptic but informative riddles and the occasional well-meaning bit of lechery.
In other words… he kicks ass.
Loki and Coyote, traditionally, have a great deal in common. They are characters who get by on clever wit and fast thinking alone, rarely engaging in direct confrontations unless it can’t be helped. Loki was known in his myths for mischief and lies, not because he was malevolent but because he was the antithesis of many stoic, straight-forward, unsmiling Aesir, including Thor. His cunning was supported by a massive set of godly testicles – after all, who but Loki would have the balls to put Thor in a wedding gown? (That’s a long story.) His motivations are largely unknown, making him a complex and perplexing but still compelling character for scholars of folklore as well as for his fellow members of the Norse pantheon.
Not the sort to blatantly make a grab for power no matter how darkly charismatic he is.
I’m not against taking old myths in new directions. I’ve got an anthology sitting here that says I’m fine with that. What I’m against is undermining a good story turn for an easy one. Making Loki into a jealous step-brother with the straightforward ambitions and motivations of a dime store Bond villain doesn’t sit well with me upon reflection. The frustrating part is, there are moments in the film where so much more could have been done with him.
Take his scene with Thor in the interrogation room. There’s good tension, emotion and chemistry there. Instead of being part of a megalomaniacal master plan for Asgardian domination, however, this could have instead been a ruse on Loki’s part to help teach Thor some much-needed humility. Perhaps even discussed with Odin before slipping into the Odinsleep? Wouldn’t Loki think twice about what he said when the Jotun find a way into Asgard in force?
Speaking of which, instead of some sort of convoluted traitor/backstab ploy, have the Jotun ally with, say, dark craftsfolk from Svartalfaheim to accelerate Ragnarok or piss on Odin or something. Let Loki suss this alliance out when he goes to speak to his birth-father (which should be a shock, as Loki can easily assume Aesir form and others to blend in anywhere he goes). No need to send the Destroyer to Earth to try and kill Thor, either… there are a dozen ways to put Thor at Hel’s doorway and prove himself worthy of Mjolnir without Loki needing to drop one on Midgard. Perhaps in his exchange with Laufey, Loki indicates Thor is on Earth, and Fafnir overhears this and finds a way to try and assassinate the thunder god.
I’m just spinning ideas off of the top of my head, here. My point is that Loki could have been so much more than Marvel’s masters made him out to be. Even in previous Marvel appearances, particularly in the Asgardian Wars arc that set the X-Men against him, Loki was never a transparently evil villain. He wheeled and dealed. He operated on veiled promises and half-truths. Rarely did he raise his own hand against any of the heroes, and his goal in doing so was almost always temptation or subversion instead of outright destruction. The more I think about it, the more I realize the cinematic Loki has been done a disservice, and I find it hard to believe that Marvel could have gotten the character so wrong, in my opinion.
I have no doubt Tom will continue to bring at least some mischief and aplomb to the part, but I think when Loki looks down from Asgard to see what we’ve made of him, he’ll either laugh… or weep.