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Loki | How Tom Hiddleston's Trickster Became the MCU's Best Enemy

Editor’s Note: We recently polled you, our favorite members (don’t tell the other members), to find out what new and ongoing sci-fi gets you jiggling with excitement when you go to sleep at night. Unsurprisingly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe came out strong so we opened the doors t to our creative hothouse of writers, podcasters, and diehard fans to deliver up content that reflects the way that geeks like us talk about the stories we love.

Keep your eyes peeled for more Loki coverage this weekend, alongside your usual diet of classic space-bound sci-fi. As always, let us know what you think – we read all your comments. ☺️

“I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.”

Loki, The Avengers (2012)

He is a scoundrel, a cheat, a traitor, and a liar. He is an adventurer, a traveler through space and time; a man whose very existence straddles alternative versions of history. And he has certainly suffered for his crimes: he has been sucked through a wormhole and cast out into the furthest reaches of space. He has been defeated by the Avengers and beaten by the Hulk, who memorably slung him around like a predatory cat playing with a mouse. He has died or appeared to die, more than once, but has always come back smiling.

He is, of course, Loki played by Tom Hiddleston. The last ten years have seen the character appear in six films: more than almost anyone else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is an impressive resume; one that includes three of the ten biggest grossing films of all time. And soon he will return. The God of Mischief will be back the new TV series Loki which will be streaming exclusively on Disney+ from Wednesday, June 9th.

That’s Woden’s (the Germanic name for Odin) Day of course, rather than Thor’s Day. He’s shady like that

Backstabber. Tesseract-stealer. Death-cheater. Cat-scarer. In the early scenes of The Avengers, Loki demonstrated a remarkable ability to win former enemies over to his cause. But this tactic was a trick, the product of the yellow Mind Stone located in Loki’s scepter which enabled him to control whoever he chose, but even without it, he’s shown a talent for coercion, manipulation, and general befuddlement. Just what is it about the personality of Loki himself which has enabled him to achieve, entirely unaided by Mind Stones, a similar following within the hearts and minds of the general public? In short, what is it about the Prince of Asgard which has made him one of the most compelling movie villains of the 21st century?

From Bard to Norse

“Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

Loki, The Avengers (2012)

Audiences have always loved a villain.

Shakespeare knew this and was quick to people many of his plays with a monstrous rogue’s gallery of grotesques ranging from the devious Iago (in Othello), to the bloodthirsty and power-hungry Macbeth to the “poisonous hunch-backed toad” Richard III.

Brothers in Harm: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in 2011’s Thor. | Paramount, 2011.

Few men know their Shakespeare better than Kenneth Branagh. The man charged with directing what would turn out to be the fourth film in the MCU Infinity saga is practically cinema’s ‘Mr Shakespeare’ (or more accurately, ‘Sir Shakespeare’) having directed and starred in everything from Much Ado About Nothing to Henry V. In recent years he has even played the Bard himself in 2019’s All is True. As he began to plan the film, Thor (2011), he approached two British actors with extensive theatrical experience. One was another acclaimed theatrical knight more than 20 years his senior, Sir Anthony Hopkins. The Oscar-winner would play Odin, aging King of Asgard, conqueror of a thousand worlds and father to the warring siblings, Thor and Loki. The other, was a British Olivier-award-winning actor some 20 years Branagh’s junior who he had worked with on the stage and in the TV series, Wallander. His name was Tom Hiddleston.

Hiddleston initially eyed up the part of Thor which ultimately went to Chris Hemsworth. But despite not securing the title role, as Loki, Hiddleston may well have ended up with the better part. No less fanatical about Shakespeare than Branagh, Hiddleston, then in his late twenties completely immersed himself in Thor mythology swotting up on the back catalog of the Marvel superhero and on the legend of the Norse deity who inspired it. Hiddleston reportedly stated that the character was “a comic book version of Edmund in King Lear, but nastier.”

Ultimately, Thor was a success. Hiddleston became a star and Loki returned in The Avengers (2012), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019) He was very nearly in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) too, briefly appearing as a hallucination. The scene was cut from the finished film.

But why has Loki proven to be such an enduring, popular figure? For one answer, we need to look no further than the consistent and powerful onscreen charisma of Tom Hiddleston. Villainous without being camp and very funny when required, his performance is a triumph.

Prince of Dorkness

“I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”

Radiohead, ‘Creep’ (1993)

One explanation for Loki’s popularity is easy to overlook, however: he is a complete and utter geek.

And this matters. Though great in the role of Thor, the musclebound Australian actor, Chris Hemsworth does not exactly do much to help the spoilt favorite son of the House of Asgard appear a relatable figure. Hemsworth was voted the Sexiest Man Alive in 2014. Dare we say it, but many typical MCU viewers looking at the screen might find they have less in common with super-jock than they do with his smarter sibling, Loki.

This might, on the face of it, seem an odd thing to say. For while his love of Shakespeare might not make him the coolest kid on the block in the eyes of some, some of you may have noticed, Tom Hiddleston has not exactly been touched by the Ugly Stick either. He has never once been nominated for any Arseface of the Year awards, in any category. He has indeed been talked of in the past as a possible successor to Daniel Craig as 007, particularly after his role in the acclaimed TV drama, The Night Manager. He has been romantically linked to Elizabeth Olsen and Taylor Swift. Indeed, he was himself voted Sexiest Man Alive in 2013, one year before his onscreen sibling rival, Hemsworth.

“I, Loki, Prince of Asgard, Odinson, the rightful King of Jotunheim, God of Mischief, do hereby pledge to you, my undying fidelity.”

Loki, Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

But the fact remains: Loki himself is something of a nerd. In The Avengers, he stands out like a sore thumb. He is thin: On Thor, Branagh encouraged Hiddleston to maintain “a lean and hungry look, like Cassius in Julius Caesar. Physically, he can’t be posing as Thor.” His skin is pale. His hairstyle is bad: Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) likens him to someone from the 1980s-set musical, Rock of Ages. His horned hat while sort of impressive, arguably also looks silly (Stark again dubs him ‘Reindeer Games’ after seeing it). Although undeniably eloquent, his grandiose theatrical speaking style furthermore sounds old-fashioned even next to Captain America, a man who has literally just arrived from the 1940s. A heated but long-winded exchange between him and Thor amidst some greenery once again provokes scorn from the Iron Man who likens their row to “Shakespeare in the park.”

Strike it, Loki

“You know, it all makes sense now, why you favored Thor all these years, because no matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a Frost Giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!”

Loki, Thor (2011)

A quick sift through Loki’s backstory confirms two things. Firstly, that Loki’s villainy stems from feelings of neglect that originated during childhood. Loki grew up convinced his father Odin preferred his brother Thor as both a son and an heir to him. Secondly, that Loki was completely justified in suspecting this. Odin clearly did like Thor better at least partly because he knew Loki was not really his son at all but the adopted offspring of his hated enemies, the Frost Giants. Although Loki undeniably commits numerous inexcusable crimes during his life then, it has to be said, quite a lot of the blame for what follows can be attributed to Odin’s inadequate parenting skills.

Loki is outraged to learn the news of his adoption and takes full advantage of Thor being in exile on Earth, to stage a coup. To cut a long story short, Thor returns, overthrows him. Loki ends up falling, perhaps suicidally into an abyss that leads into space. Spoiler alert: he hasn’t. This development marks the end of the film, Thor. It definitely does not represent the last time Loki has appeared to die on screen but hasn’t.

Loki in the aftermath of a ‘Hulk smash’ moment from The Avengers. | Disney, 2012.

In Avengers, Loki uses the Tesseract to get to Earth and launches an attack on New York. From a tactical point of view, this was probably an error as it forced the Avengers to unite, ultimately proving a formidable enemy for him. Loki does at least manage to avoid appearing to die in this one, a rarity, despite being slung about by the Hulk-like a ragdoll.

The film, Thor: The Dark World (2013), is generally felt to have been one of the MCU’s weaker efforts (Branagh, having planned to direct three Thor films, had now left the project) The film does, however, feature another of Loki’s legendary brushes with death. A scene in which Loki appeared to die was later revealed to have been a typical Loki trick: he had, in fact, faked his own demise. But this had not always been the plan. The film had originally been intended to genuinely mark the definitive end of Loki’s reign of terror. Even Hiddleston assumed it was the end for him. The scene revealing Loki had survived was only added later after test audiences reacted badly to the Prince of Asgard’s death. These viewers not only reacted with disbelief but with disappointment that Hiddleston’s charismatic villain was gone.

“He really grows on you, doesn’t he?”

Dr. Bruce Banner, The Avengers (2012)

Effectively returning to the role after a four-year hiatus, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok in 2017,  Hiddleston was interested to note some development in Loki’s character noting, “He is always a trickster. It is trying to find new ways for him to be mischievous.” There are some signs of a growing maturity from Loki in these later films as he increasingly seeks a more conciliatory approach to things.

Avengers: Infinity War sees him dying once again, however, as the slightly Trump-like Thanos snaps Loki’s neck like a twig. And this time, it really does look permanent. “No more resurrections this time!” Thanos quips.

But then we see Loki again briefly in Avengers: Endgame running off with the Tesseract and disappearing in a scene set in 2012. It is a fun scene in a busy film, already overflowing with characters. But, crucially, it left the door slightly ajar for Loki to return to our screens again.

Resurrection Man

“How was I supposed to know? I can’t see into the future, I’m not a witch!”

Loki, Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Little is currently officially known about the forthcoming six-episode Disney+ series of Loki. We know that Owen Wilson appears as an analyst with the Time Variance Authority. We know there is likely to be humor and the usual welcome dose of science fiction.

We know also that it will see the return of Loki. Not in his more recent, more conciliatory guise but the more shamelessly mischievous version of Loki that existed up until 2012, a welcome throwback to the character audiences first fell in love with a full decade ago.

“I assure you, brother, the sun will shine on us again.”

Loki, Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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Chris Hallam is a published author and freelance writer based in Exeter. In the past, he has written for magazines such as DVD Monthly and Geeky Monkey. He provided all the written content for the Star Wars Clone Wars and Smurfs annuals for 2014, and the Transformers annual 2015. He continues to write for Yours Retro, Best of British and The History of Comics, 1930-2030.

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