Many of you may remember the post about the Five-Part Spectrum of characters. In that, we mentioned the Sympathetic Villain and used the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Loki for that example. In celebration of the Thor 2: The Dark World being released, let’s take a closer look at what makes Loki a Sympathetic Villain throughout the three films he has been in.
In Thor, we meet Loki as the eponymous hero’s little brother. He is very much the proverbial ‘spare’ to Thor’s ‘heir’ in their father’s eyes. Odin, the King of Asgard and their father, is not alone in showing favoritism to Thor. All of their friends seem to ‘put up’ with Loki because he is Thor’s brother.
And then the truth is revealed. In the photo above, Loki has just discovered from Odin that he is not only not REALLY Odin’s son, but he is not even the same species. Instead, he is the abandoned child of Asgard’s sworn nemesis, Laufey of Jotunheim.
Why this is important:
This is the MOST important point in Loki becoming a Villain in any form. This is the moment that pushes Loki over the edge from feeling a little left out to feeling completely betrayed. This is also a key point to him being a Sympathetic Villain because the viewer empathizes with him. You see a son learning that the reason he feels unloved is because, not only is he adopted, but he is the same ‘monster’ that his family is famed for destroying. This is a prince who was raised on the stories of Frost Giants being the most vile, horrible things in all the realms. He has lived his life hearing stories and playing games as a child in which he and his brother slayed the ‘horrible beasts’ just like their father, only to discover that he is one.
Beyond this moment:
In Thor, Loki’s ‘villainous’ deeds, while very undeniably villainous, were all actions carried out in an attempt to make his father love him as much as he loves Thor. He takes his father’s throne when his father is injured to prove to his family that he’s not worthless. He goes to Laufey – his birth father – and helps him sneak into Asgard on the pretense of murdering a bedridden Odin only to use it as an opportunity to kill the ‘horrible monsters’ in Odin’s chambers to try and prove himself. Even his attempts on Thor’s life are Loki’s way of trying to protect Asgard from an unprepared Thor taking the throne.
Loki in his first MCU appearance is the villain that nobody could hate. He is essentially a prince trying to make his family love him and choosing all the wrong methods to try and do so. The viewer watches him fall to his ‘death’ and, rather than be glad the villain was defeated, mourns him.
In The Avengers, Loki is our main villain. This time, he is clearly a very deranged villain who is harder to find sympathy for. Loki appears in a top secret laboratory via a magic portal he opened using the Tesseract that is being studied in this lab. He then steals the Tesseract, takes hostages, and goes on a murder spree that kills 80 people in two days.
However, from the moment he arrives, we can see that he is clearly not well. In the above photo, you can see how sickly he looks and you can see that his previously green eyes are now an eerie blue just like the Tesseract. In a scene further into the film, we see Loki going into some form of trance to discuss the plan with his co-conspirators, at the end of which, one says to him, “You think you know pain? He will make you long for something as sweet as pain!”
Why this is important:
Loki is clearly not okay. We are given the idea that he fell into the ‘abyss’ between the realms and languished there for a while before Thanos and who knows what other unknown evil collected him. His appearance and this clear indication that his co-conspirators are really his masters help support the implication that he was held captive and tortured.
What mental break Loki suffered in Thor has clearly been compounded with brainwashing and torture for who knows how long in The Avengers. The actions in this film are more villainous, and less excusable, but there is still this idea that this is a man who has been driven to the edge and then, quite literally, tossed off it and into the hands of torture and abuse that has driven him fully insane. His actions are less understandable, but the viewer still feels sorry for how he got to this point.
Thor 2: The Dark World
WARNING: IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THOR 2 YET THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!
In Thor 2: The Dark World, we meet Loki as he is being sentenced to imprisonment. Odin makes it clear that the only reason Loki is receiving this leniency for his actions on Earth as opposed to execution is because his mother, Frigga, loves him still as her son and Odin loves his wife. We then see him in prison talking to Frigga, who asks after he denies vehemently that Odin is not his father if he also doesn’t think of her as his mother. There is a moment where his anger drains and he reaches out to touch her only to reveal to us that – surprise! – Frigga is a glamour she sent down to the cells in her absence (Odin decreed that Loki never see her again).
And then, of course, Frigga is killed by the Big Bad of the film, Malekith. In the photo above, Thor comes down to talk to Loki about helping him defeat Malekith and when he asks him to drop his glamours, this is what he finds. In the photo, Loki has shed his nice clothes, he has destroyed his cell, he has stopped caring for his hair, he has bloody feet from walking on the broken dishes he shattered in his grief fueled rage, and he is lying in a pitiful heap as he mourns his mother.
Why this is important:
Loki isn’t THE villain of this film, but he is still clearly not a ‘good guy’. This set up gains him so much sympathy because virtually every viewer either has experienced or can imagine the complete and utter devastation of losing a mother. The viewer overlooks his past wrongs, forgets for a while that he is ‘evil’, and is left with a broken man who has lost the one person who loved him unconditionally before them.
Beyond this moment:
Loki actually doesn’t betray Thor, contrary to every expectation every viewer had. The empathy the viewer feels for him in his hopes of helping his brother kill their mother’s murderer makes the viewer almost forget he is evil, but it doesn’t erase the expectation of him betraying Thor in the end.
There is some argument to be made that Loki isn’t the ‘bad guy’ in this film, but he is a Villain in general, so the sympathy the viewers feel for him at the loss of his mother will remain to be thought of later in his story as he becomes the Villain once more.
This sympathy viewers have for Loki, regardless of currently not being the main protagonist, makes him even more of a Sympathetic Villain.
- It’s All Asgardian to Me (wewatchfortheplot.wordpress.com)
- Does Thor: The Dark World Live Up To Expectations? (popwrapped.wordpress.com)
- Thor: The Dark World Movie Review by Vivian Bermudez (mlecharbinger.wordpress.com)