Whenever I think of Loki Laufeyson and his journey thus far through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I recall a quote from Chris Colfer’s novel The Land of Stories that perfectly illustrates my thoughts on him:
“…what the world fails to realize is a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”
Dissenters often regard Loki fangirls as nothing more than Tom Hiddleston devotees, and for some, that is the case. But many of the followers in Loki’s Army do not see Loki as solely a name on a cast list filled by a handsome face — they see him as the psychologically damaged, vulnerable and yet powerful entity that Hiddleston, with honed dramatic judgment and subtly impacting detail, has helped mold and define in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While past, current, and future villains proudly exert themselves as the bad guy, Loki, despite the casual moviegoer’s usual assumptions, pendulates on the moral spectrum, never fully allying himself with one side or the other.
“Yeah, but…he did kill 80 people in two days in New York,” I can already hear you say (err…type). And you’re right. But there is so much more behind his actions, behind that event as a whole, and his role in it, than even what is seen in The Avengers. The same can be said about Loki himself; just as humans’ views of and actions towards others and the world are near-direct reflections of our histories, influences and upbringings, the “monster parents tell their children about at night” was once just an innocent child involuntarily tangled in a war between worlds. Let us start there.
SPOILER ALERT: The following history is based on the films, not the mythology, and contains spoilers for Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World.
Loki is a Frost Giant born to the king of Jotunheim, Laufey, but quickly disregarded because of his small size. (Loki’s biological mother is never mentioned or named, but it has been speculated that, because of his aforementioned birth size and his unusually dominant human features, she might be a human from Earth, or Midgard.) His birth coincided with the Asgardian attack on Jotunheim in 965 AD, during which Asgardian king Odin found the infant Loki, who conformed to a human appearance upon being discovered as either a result of his genetics or a survival tactic, and returned with him to Asgard to be raised alongside Odin and Queen Frigga’s son, Thor.
The truth of Loki’s origins and genetics was kept from the raven-haired prince throughout his childhood, though he did discern Odin’s favored treatment of Thor, the heir to Asgard’s throne, and thus became closer to Frigga, who helped him develop and hone his fighting technique and magical abilities to compensate for his lack of muscular brawn.
But it is Odin, and his acceptance, that becomes a driving force for Loki. Though Loki loves Thor, the throne, and his ascension to it, becomes the focal representation of Loki’s goal. Odin never had intention of having “a Frost Giant sitting on the throne of Asgard”; his full-blood Asgardian son was always going to be the throne’s inheritor, and this becomes obvious when examining Odin’s terminology, even in the moments we see of Thor and Loki’s childhood. At the beginning of Thor, Odin shows his young sons his prize from felling the forces of Jotunheim, the Casket of Ancient Winters. After Thor speaks of hunting the Frost Giants to “slay them all” when (not if) he inherits the throne (which could be a subtle implication that Thor already knew he was the future king), Odin says, “Only one of you can ascend the throne [implying Thor], but both of you were born to be kings.” Which is true; however, Loki’s status as prince does not stem from Asgard, but Jotunheim.
Everything leading up to the key moment of Loki’s origins in Thor shows Loki as merely a prankster, fully living up to his title as God of Mischief. All of his antics, innocent in intention but occasionally disastrous in their wake, were merely bids for attention, a quality Loki retains throughout his time in the MCU. However, upon learning of his Frost Giant genetics and Odin’s political intent behind his adoption, Loki focuses all of his energy on proving his capabilities as interim king of Asgard (with Odin in the Odinsleep).
Seeing the kingship as representative of Odin’s acceptance, Loki strategizes a plan to prove his valor and bravery to his father in Thor’s absence. He ensures Thor has no power nor expectation to return to Asgard by informing him of Odin’s death and that “the truce with Jotunheim is conditional upon your exile”; he convenes with Laufey to allow him and his soldiers access to Odin’s chambers to slay him; sets the weapons vault’s protector, the Destroyer, on Thor to further ensure his brother’s exile remains permanent; temporarily stops Heimdall from fulfilling his duties of opening the Bifrost; then proceeds with the Frost Giants’ calculated invasion of Odin’s chambers, where Loki betrays his birth father and slays him. With Laufey dead and, in his mind, Odin’s acceptance of him ensured, Loki aims to destroy the last vestiges of his alienation by felling Jotunheim using the energy of the Bifrost – Thor’s timely return stops Loki’s plan from succeeding, however, as he opts to destroy the Rainbow Bridge to stop the Bifrost’s power from completing its work.
Loki’s strategies share the commonalities of being extremely calculated, manipulative, and often underhanded. However, the intended target differs as he grows and changes throughout the films. In The Avengers, his goal was not to gain Odin’s acceptance, but to escape Thanos. When the end of Thor found Loki falling into the abyss created by the Bifrost’s destruction, we find out at the beginning of The Avengers, during a scene narrated by Thanos, that Loki is alive and now being put to work as an “ally” of his and the Chitauri forces. As a partner that “is ready to lead,” Loki is given charge of a scepter holding the Mind Stone, one of the powerful Infinity Gems. Thanos and the Chitauri want to take over Earth, and Loki is helping with that — automatic bad guy, right?
The truth is in the details.
In Thor’s post-credits sequence, Loki is seen in a mirror reflection, somehow influencing or controlling Dr. Selvig…but he’s a bit the worse for wear, sporting multiple scorch marks on his face and head. Likewise, after the Tesseract portal is opened, Loki makes his entrance in The Avengers bearing a good majority of the symptoms of heat exhaustion. In fact, he is at his worst at the very beginning of the film, right after leaving Thanos’ lair and landing on Earth. Even though The Avengers is set only a few days after the events of Thor, Loki’s physical makeup is much stronger than any human’s — if it was just, say, fall damage that he suffered, his recovery time wouldn’t be long. In fact, by the end of The Avengers, even with his unfortunate run-in with the Hulk, he is visibly and physically much healthier than when he first arrived. So chances are, whatever damage he suffered was the result of exposure to his Achilles heel. To quote tumblr user g-slash:
“How do you torture a frost giant?
Thanos did not see a potential ally he could sit down and strategize with when Loki fell, quite literally, into his hands. He saw a puppet he could control. And Loki, never one to easily cede control, wouldn’t cooperate by simply being asked politely. The Mind Stone may have aided in his cooperation a bit, but, to be reiterative, Loki is not some ordinary human – only at his weakest would he be remotely susceptible to the Mind Stone’s control. That said, if he is at any point under its control, Loki wouldn’t likely be fully controlled by it like Dr. Selvig and Clint Barton are.
This brings up a heavily debated topic within the fandom: his eyes.
When fully under control of the Mind Stone, Barton and Selvig bear bright blue eyes, reflecting the color of said stone; both’s eyes maintain their level of glow and brightness until their run-ins with Black Widow and Iron Man, respectively. However, Loki’s eyes have been said to change drastically throughout The Avengers depending on the situation (e.g., his state of weakness, his run-in with the Hulk, etc.), and not at all. Research led me to tumblr user tea-kitten’s post, with accompanying image proof, that Loki’s eye color is simply Tom Hiddleston’s very own natural blue. That post also points out something rarely mentioned in these discussions: the color palette of the film itself. Thor and Thor: The Dark World’s palettes have a bit more warmth because of the heavy presence of gold in Asgard; The Avengers has, to quote tea-kitten, “a far more saturated, white-light color palette”. In short, if you take Hiddleston’s light blue eyes and add a little more yellow, you get something leaning towards green; you take that yellow away, add a bit of saturation, and we’ve got a more prominent blue.
So there’s the question of Loki’s strategy: Why would Loki continue with Thanos’ plan if he actually has control over his mind and actions? From what I’ve discerned, there are two reasons: 1. He is still being watched by the Chitauri and Thanos, and 2. his manipulation of Thanos’ strategy is going to lead him exactly where he wants to go.
Thanos, and the Chitauri race who revere him, weren’t simply going to let their pet loose in the wild and hope he leads them in the right direction. Thanos has a front-row theater seat to this takeover of Earth, with a hefty bag of popcorn — if Loki steps one pinky toe out of line, you can bet Loki will endure far worse torture than he already has. Same goes for the Chitauri, who communicate with Loki through the scepter (proving the power of the Mind Stone isn’t completely Loki’s to dictate) and threaten Thanos’ vengeance if Loki doesn’t succeed in the mission they’ve given him. So, even though Loki may have full control of his cognitive abilities, he isn’t about to break loose and rebel. He still has an “audience”. Instead, he presses on with his original mission, and in true Loki style, he does so with prevalent spectation (which is why he caused such a ruckus in Stuttgart, and chose Stark Tower as the location for the generator). But while the base mission of opening the portal for the Chitauri to invade remains in tact, the occasional detail here and there is slipped under Thanos’ nose, helping Loki to set himself up for escape.
The most damning piece of evidence? The portal generator’s built-in fail-safe. Selvig is completely under the influence of the Mind Stone, like Barton, when constructing the generator, his scientific knowledge retained, but his will not his own. His will is dictated by the wielder of the scepter that put him under its influence in the first place. So how could Selvig, just a regular flesh-and-blood human, not only fight the influence of one of the universe’s most powerful weapons, but stealthily sneak the addition of a deactivator into the generator without Loki knowing?
That’s all Loki, baby. Now, Loki continues insisting there is no way to stop the generator from letting the Chitauri loose, but remember: Thanos and the Chitauri (who are now swarming the city in droves) are still spectating. He has to play dumb, and even more so now because the Chitauri wouldn’t hesitate to turn the droves they have fighting the Avengers against the turncoat Jotun. So Loki continues the ruse, even when it means turning against the brother who wants him to “come home”. The same brother, to note, that tried previously on that cliffside next to the forest to relay the care and affection he has for his brother (“We were raised together, we played together, we fought together — do you remember none of that?”), but proved he didn’t understand Loki, calling his feelings of alienation “imagined slights”. Regardless, when all of this comes to an apex, the generator is destroyed, the portal is closed, and Loki is captured by the Avengers, where does he go?
With Thor, back to Asgard. Back to the throne. Back to everything he wants and cares for. And out of Thanos’ hands and control.
In the second and final part of this character analysis of MCU’s Loki, I will cover ‘Thor: The Dark World”.
Only what has been set in stone by Marvel, through film, television, interview, and other media sources, can be considered the canon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Except for the events actually shown in the three previously detailed movies, this is strictly the ruminations of a passionate fan trying to culminate, through canon, speculation, and unproven theories, as complete a picture of the character Loki as can be done at this present time.