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.
Now, in the conversation preceding Loki’s sentencing to the Asgardian prisons at the very beginning of Thor: The Dark World, Loki tells Odin he “went down to Midgard to rule the people of Earth as a benevolent god, just like you.” Taken at face value, this could prove the Thanos torture theory false, indicating there was, in fact, an alliance of some sort between Loki and Thanos & the Chitauri. However (and I would like to note that this only my interpretation), I fail to take it as such because of two things: the two parties speaking (Loki and Odin), and the appendage of “just like you”.
Loki feels his death is pretty much guaranteed, but when standing before the man whose acceptance his entire existence has essentially been ruled by to this point, old habits die hard. Loki knows Odin would never respond favorably if he cried “victim” – Odin, the bearer of the strong and powerful warrior Thor, would likely condemn Loki’s weakness into being manipulated and controlled so easily, if he believed him at all. So Loki opts to keep his convictions in check…but takes one last stab at winning Odin with the three words “just like you”. Perhaps, if he can show Odin that his actions on Midgard were not a result of his becoming the monster he fears he is, but an attempt at emulating the only father he’s ever known, the stolid king would soften to and show empathy for that little boy he found abandoned in a battlefield.
As expected, Odin doesn’t relent, and, in fact, makes known his belief that he did Loki a favor by saving him that day for future use as political leverage with Jotunheim. To this, Loki responds, “If I am for the axe, then, for mercy’s sake, just swing it,” which most would consider to be just a cheeky rejoinder, but I find it to be a very notable moment for Loki, as it shows a shift in his thinking. To this point, Loki has held onto and lapped up every word Odin has thrown in his direction like a thirsty kitten at a milk bowl, and because Odin’s opinion of him mattered, he took most all of it to heart. But this particular line shows Loki’s lack of regard for Odin’s bellows anymore, and his acquiescence to the fact that Odin will never accept him as an equal to Thor or a possible king.
He’s done trying.
But this also marks a dangerous transition for Loki – just because he has resigned himself to Odin’s disapproval does not mean his desire for the throne has waned. All it means is his quest for approval will instead be sought through power, because, to quote a tumblr user in a circulating meme, “Power, love through force and fear, is all he believes he can accomplish.”
With this cord severed, the last two attachments he has to Asgard are Thor, who relays his distrust and loss of hope to Loki when asking for assistance with Jane’s evacuation from Asgard; and Queen Frigga, who goes to her grave having faith in him, even when, in his last words to her, he declares her not his mother. This blurt of anger turns into guilty anguish when Loki is informed of Frigga’s death, not only because of their final conversation, but because he believes he is the one who directs the Dark Elf infiltrator Kurse to the living chambers, though this is untrue. Malekith is the first one to access the chambers; however, as is proven later in the film, Malekith is tracking the Aether within Jane, and thus Malekith would find the chambers whether Kurse relayed Loki’s information to him or not. The only effect Loki’s direction likely has is easing his ingratiation to Malekith and the Dark Elves later on during his and Thor’s strategy to free the Aether.
After escaping Asgard and landing in Svartalfheim to finally confront Malekith, Thor and Loki speak about Jane’s affliction with the Aether, and though Loki’s emphasis on Jane’s mortality comes off as cold-hearted on the surface (“This day, the next, a hundred years, it’s nothing. It’s a heartbeat — you’ll never be ready [to say goodbye]. The only woman whose love you prized will be snatched from you…”), it reveals an interesting contrast to Odin’s earlier expressed feelings towards mortals, and which of them truly considers Thor’s feelings.
Odin, within the first third of the movie, already proves himself a hypocrite in this regard. When Loki stands before him and declares his intention was to rule Midgard “as a benevolent god,” Odin responds, “We are not gods; we are born, we live, we die, just as humans do.” To suppress Loki’s ego, he essentially compares themselves to mortal humans, puts them all on the same level. But shortly after, when Jane is brought to Asgard, Odin shows very little regard for mortals or Jane, and only begins to show concern for her life when he discovers it’s the Aether afflicting her. Even still, when he later speaks with Thor about his future ascension to the throne, Odin touts that “human lives are fleeting, they’re nothing,” hinting at Thor taking Lady Sif as his Asgardian bride and completely dismissing his true feelings to put the kingship first.
“Of course, Loki is the villain and driven only by jealousy, so we Must (Must!) read an undercurrent of jealousy in his words and assume no sincerity in his concern for Thor to go along with that, but still. … Which one suggests letting elvish antimatter slowly kill [Jane], and which one repeatedly throws himself between her and danger?”
Twice, during his and Thor’s confrontation with Malekith, Loki shields Jane from danger, which is bittersweet considering, though Loki does not know this, she is the one Frigga dies protecting. Loki’s willingness to protect Jane might have changed had he been made aware of this, but nonetheless, she carries the Aether within her, so in order for his and Thor’s strategy to attack the Aether in its vulnerable state to work, he would have to feign compliance or ignorance at least until the Aether has been released. But, as we see in the movie, even after the Aether has been set free and Jane is no longer protected by it, Loki shields her from Thor’s attacks on the antimatter cloud. If Loki truly cared little for his adopted brother’s sentiments, he would’ve tossed Jane aside and joined the battle. But even with all her vulnerabilities as a mortal, Loki knows Jane matters to Thor, and he cares about and loves his brother. This is evident even in the first Thor film – when Thor begins destroying the Rainbow Bridge to stop the Bifrost’s destruction of Jotunheim, what does Loki shout?
“If you destroy the Bridge, you’ll never see her again!”
Now, many like to bring up a particularly telling moment right before the Aether is drawn from Jane, and that is this Loki quote:
“I am Loki of Jotunheim, and I bring you a gift. I ask only one thing in return: a good seat from which to watch Asgard burn.”
Many see this as an indication that, with Frigga dead and Thor’s trust in him officially gone, Loki has no remaining connection to Asgard and thus opts for naming the place that bests reflects the monster he believes he’s become. While, under any other circumstances, I would agree with this, there is something to remember about this scene that changes the context of this quote: He is still executing the false strategy of betraying Thor so they can release the Aether. Just as he did in The Avengers, Loki has an audience he is playing to in Malekith and his henchmen. In order for Malekith to truly believe Loki has turned his back on Thor, he must verbally disown himself from Asgard. These guys don’t know of Loki’s past attempts to rid himself of his Jotun heritage and connections, so all Loki has to do is put on a good show for the Dark Elves that’s convincing enough for them to release the Aether at that location. Of course, Malekith isn’t about to walk away from a powerful fight with Thor, especially when the fountain of Aether is but an extraction away and the Asgardian’s own brother has seemingly betrayed him.
When the attack of the Dark Elves commences, allowing the now Aether-afflicted Malekith to escape in his ship, Thor and Loki are each tasked to fighting a group of Dark Elves. In this scene, Loki’s sparring style, up to this point not fully shown in lieu of illusionary magic and external sources of power (i.e., the scepter in The Avengers), essentially canonizes Frigga’s involvement in his training as a child, as her fighting method, demonstrated in the battle that led to her death earlier in the film, is nearly identical to Loki’s. Additionally, Thor’s persisting affection for Loki as a brother, even in the absence of trust, is proven by his rescue of him from a singularity grenade thrown by Malekith, as well as his attentiveness to Loki after Kurse impales him with the sword Loki initially stabs Kurse in the back with. Thor even tells Loki as he lay dying on Svartalfheim’s surface that he will “tell father what you did here today,” which means little to Loki, as he “didn’t do it for him” but for the brother that, despite everything, he still cares for and loves.
(Side note: Though it has been speculated that Loki intentionally replicated the method Malekith used to kill Frigga to kill Kurse as revenge, unless Thor provides Loki with the details of Frigga’s death after he released him from the Asgardian prisons off-screen (Loki’s line “Did she suffer?” when Thor first visited him in prison indicates he wasn’t told anything prior to that), then we can only assume it was something orchestrated by the filmmakers as a sort of blind closure for Loki in Frigga’s name.)
Thor proceeds to quickly depart Svartalfheim with Jane, leaving Loki’s body unattended…which plays right into Loki’s current strategy. Though we can only guess how he pulled off his fake death, Loki knows Thor wouldn’t prioritize the preservation of his dead body over Jane’s safety, and thus he’d be left alone long enough (should Thor decide to return for his body) to assume another face (in this instance, an Asgardian guard) and return to Asgard. And with Thor preoccupied with the now Aether-enhanced Malekith wrecking havoc on London, Loki is free to find Odin. After Malekith is squashed by his own ship, Thor returns to Asgard to abdicate the throne to a weary Odin, stating “Loki, for all his grave imbalance, understood rule as know I never will…Loki died with honor.” Upon Thor’s departure, Odin is revealed as Loki in disguise.
Now, the following will likely outdate itself when Ragnarok is released, as Odin’s disappearance will have to be accounted for. But as of now, the method by which Loki obtained the throne is still up for speculation. We’ve no indication of Odin’s status when The Dark World ends; he could be dead, imprisoned by Loki (a prevailing theory spurned by an unexplained three-second clip of Loki saying “Give the people what they want” found in an obscure 2013 television ad for the movie), or something else entirely. However, Marvel obviously will be bringing at least some of the Ragnarok mythology to the screen for the third installment, and the mythology still has Odin alive and present in Ragnarok’s events. How closely Marvel will keep to these events, which include Odin, Thor and Loki’s deaths, remains to be seen.
To culminate all of this into a heavily compressed nut shell, here’s why I find Loki to be an extremely fascinating and, yes, misunderstood character: To be a demigod with powers and a lifespan of some 5,000 years, he is incredibly human. Most all of the chaos he has caused, tricks he’s pulled, it’s all stemmed back to his desire to be accepted and not feel second best. Before the events in Jotunheim, his tricks were just innocent attempts at gaining some attention, but after, seeing his skin transform into the skin of the monsters his brother always desired to slay, the only thing he ever wanted was to know that, despite this, he could be loved, and to be shown that love. He believes he is a monster, and with everyone convinced he is, he starts to actually become that monster. With what is likely the final chapter in the Thor movie series coming in 2016, it remains to be seen whether Loki will get a chance at redemption, at becoming not necessarily a great king, but a good man; or if this internal alienation he feels and his resulting thirst for a kingship he hopes will heal his deeply embedded scars will ultimately be his doom.
This lengthy report barely skims the surface of every possibility, detail, and consideration put forth by the fandom about Loki, his motivations, his psychology, and theories surrounding him. 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. And hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, the next time you see these films, you will not just see Loki in the black-and-white, good-versus-evil villain role, but in the shades of grey that make the “Would-Be King” who he truly is.