And Loki Wept

Courtesy Marvel Studios
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:

Courtesy DEG

…when, really, Loki should be more like this:

Courtesy
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.

2 Comments

  1. Ah, you see, this is part the problem I always had with Marvel’s treatment of mythology, and why I’ve never been a big fan of The Mighty Thor. Because of the Silver Age need for solid black and white characters, complicated characters like the trickster (which both Loki and Coyote) had little room in the narrative. Loki has always been the jealous, vengeful character in Marvel’s universe, instead of the cunning, manipulative, subtle person that he is in Norse mythology (before the Lokasenna and the whole thing with Baldr).

    I know what a proper trickster is. I grew up with tales of Coyote and Raven, and Nanabozhou (my family is Nez Perce / Anishinaabeg). I’ve had a fascination with the trickster archetype because of this my entire life (many of my favorite characters are guile heroes because they have a many of the traits of what makes a trickster). Heck, in Norse mythology, Odin is just as much a trickster as Loki.

    For me, the movie version of Loki is the closest to mythology!Loki I’ve seen in the Marvel universe (except the current kid!Loki in Journey Into Mystery – he’s totally getting his trickster on there). Is it a long way from the Loki of mythology? Probably. But I can accept that because I’m hoping that whomever ends up writing and directing Thor 2 will be able to take the stuff in Thor and Avengers and make a transformation of Loki into a proper trickster, or at least a cunningly manipulative guy who is able to have his hand in a dozen different plots, playing all sides against each other, and still get exactly what he wants out of it no matter how it rolls.

  2. I have to agree with your assessment, and I must say that Loki in the Avengers was a vast improvement over Loki in Thor. If this growth continues, Thor 2 should be a fantastic ride.

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