[Opinion] - Why Loki Shouldn't Be In Any More Marvel Movies


Courtesy of Marvel/Disney
This week's release of The Avengers officially brings an end to Marvel's Phase 1. The culmination of years of introducing, establishing, and finally uniting these various heroes. But it also is the culmination of the journey of Loki, who in the course of two movies evolves from being a glorified sidekick with aspirations of power, to a vain, petty, cruel child (to paraphrase Odin), feverishly lashing out at the universe for his perceived slights. And in the end, he was dealt with.

Phase 2 is already well under way, and has been well designed to it's ultimate conclusion. And once again, we will have a villain evolve over the course of several films, in the form of Thanos. However, it has been confirmed that Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston, will be appearing in at least Thor: The Dark World. I feel this is a major misstep for the MCU. Despite not knowing the size of the role, or the part he'll play in events, I feel that bringing Loki back is the wrong move, and that any further additions made to the character will do more harm then good. Such has been the way of things in film, when a truly good villain is discovered. And so, it seems, will it be for the MCU.

Hit the jump, as I examine the mistakes of the past, and explore not only why he shouldn't be the villain, but why Loki should never appear in anymore Marvel films.

Everybody loves a good villain. Whether they tend towards larger then life Bond baddies, or the more subtle, more delicious Hans Gruber variety. You route for the hero, but you cheer on the villain. They are vicarious characters; the perpetual rule breaker, the anarchist who can thumb his nose at society. They touch that part of every person who ever wanted to punch their boss, or ram that jerk in traffic, but on a much larger scale. And, everyone knows, it's so much more fun being bad.

The problem is, in films, sometimes the villains are good fun. Too enjoyable. They overshadow the hero. Suddenly, the film makers feel the need to include the same villain over and over, because the public expects them to appear, or the producers think the public expects them. The thing is, and especially if the villain was very one note, villains are often less able to sustain themselves over multiple appearances. They end up committing the same schemes over and over. Or, to force characterisation, they are given sympathetic back stories. Or, in an act of desperation, the writers make them change their ways and join forces with the hero.

The list of villains to suffer from their own success is long. Freddy Kruger (and the other horror movie villains), the Daleks (pretty much any Doctor Who creature really), Doctor Evil, Megatron, Ben Linus, it goes on and on. For my purposes, I'll be concenrating on a few that stand out, for specific reasons.

Courtesy of LucasFilm/20th Century Fox

Perhaps the finest example of a villain overshadowing the hero is Darth Vader. And really, how could he not? Visually, he is striking. He embeds himself in the memory. But, despite what George Lucas might have you believe, the Star Wars franchise was never meant to be about Darth Vader. That came later, after he had proven to be so popular. At the end of the first film, his survival isn't certain, and perhaps if Chewbacca had been more popular, the series would have become about him, Empire would have featured a different villain, and Vader would have a place next to other science fiction one-off villains.

But with increased popularity came increased screen time. And that meant something was needed to fill it. Thus comes the Great Revelation, which while remaining one of film's great twists, goes a fair way towards undermining Vader as a threat. At least, that was Lucas' interpretation. The Vader in the first film is more of a body guard then anything else, the muscle sent out to simply be imposing. His actions are, if subtly, guided by Tarkin. Vader is presented more as a wild dog on a leash. In the second film, with his increased popularity, his station is elevated. He gives the commands, he is undeniably in charge. He alters deals at his leisure. He certainly reports to the Emperor, but there is a distinction between between the two. But with the reveal that he is Skywalker's father, Lucas began to diminish the character. In Jedi, Vader is never once in control. He bows and begs, and serves his master. The dog has been tamed. He wells with emotions that were foreign to him in previous films. During the revelation scene in Empire, his first comment is how they will overthrow the Emperor, and rule together. In Jedi, his dialogue with Luke almost bemoans his conversion to the Dark Side. As if it were forced upon him, instead of embraced, a far cry from the tyrant we saw only one film earlier.

The prequels take this to an even greater extent. Nothing undercuts the hostility and fascism of a brutal dictator, then seeing him as a child, playing with toys. And his transformation into Vader is reduced to a tired cliche, that the world took from him and he became sad and vengeful. The Vader who chokes a man to death for delivering bad news, did not become that way because he had a couple really bad days. Obviously, there is no alcoholism in the Star Wars universe, people just turn to the Dark Side. The point is, the more we learned about Vader, the less impressive he became. Instead of a monster who rules the galaxy with a leather fist, he's a depressed widower with low will power.

Courtesy of Orion Pictures
Silence of the Lambs. What did you immediately think of? Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill? Jody Foster as Clarice Starling? No, of course not. You thought of a nice Chianti. Anthony Hopkins won the Academy award for playing Hannibal Lector, for about 16 minutes worth of screen time. That speaks to the power of the performance. But it also makes the character only barely a supporting role. The movie, nor the book on which it was based, was about him. He was an element in it. He insults the fellow members of the asylum he is imprisoned in, but he is a sociopath that eats people. He might seem high class, but he is just still a monster.

Lecter first appeared in Red Dragon, the 1981 novel by Thomas Harris. Were it not for Hopkins portrayal and Oscar victory, Lecter probably would have been forgotten. Brian Cox's version in the 1986 film Mankiller didn't make any great waves. And Silence was little more then Red Dragon with new tapestries, featuring similar FBI agents, hunting down similar serial killers, and Lecter fulfilling the exact same role. But the success of the film eventually led to a sequel, in both book and film, Hannibal, which attempted to make Lecter the protagonist, and paint one of his former victims as the antagonist. An ambitious turn, to be certain, but the results showed signs of desperation. An attempt to remain relevant, while relying on the residual fame of a single performance. Another adaption of Red Dragon increased the role of Hannibal significantly on the basis that he was what the audience was interested in, not the actual story.

So many villains are destroyed by the idea that they need explanation. Villains, more often then not, are not products, they are forces of nature. They are sudden, violent, isolated acts of god that defy explanation. To attempt to give reason to their methods, especially after the fact, doesn't make what they have done better or worse, it weakens the character retroactively. The explanations rarely make sense, resulting in confusion and apathy. Lecter is fine example. In his first two novels, and films, he is simply a thing that happened, past tense. He is an element that needs to be locked away. The desperation, in both book and film, to capitalise on the character, resulted in Hannibal Rising, which attempts to make him sympathetic, by having his actions be the results of Nazi (ish) involvement. Despite the fact that his hunting down the murders of his sister in no way explains why he would then continue to kill for fun, when that isn't even a reflection of the men who changed him. Additionally, a forthcoming TV series will centre on Hannibal helping the FBI to hunt down serial killers, thus forcing additional (and TV friendly this time) characterisation onto him, on a weekly basis. All this, for a character who was made famous for 16 minutes of pure horror.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Comic books, because of their unending nature, are forced to find ways to balance out the effectiveness of a villain with their longevity. Characters like the Joker, Lex Luthor, Magneto, Green Goblin and others are all presented as credible threats, and yet time and time again fail to kill the hero. Which is why the villain's role in any comic books tends towards emotional or collateral damage. They can't claim they are going to kill the hero every time they show up, otherwise they wouldn't be taken seriously after their second go around. So, they kill supporting characters, or force the hero into impossible situations. Or, in the case of Luthor or Magneto, simply exist as a counter point to the hero. Excel in a lesser form of villain: obstruction.

Films don't work like that though (with the exception of The Dark Knight). Take the filmed version of Lex Luthor, as portrayed by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. Each appearance features essentially the same plan. Because he is stuck in the role of primary antagonist, he is forced to endlessly repeat the same ineffective action over and over, and each time, escape punishment because he is going to be expected the next time round. He suffers the opposite problem of Vader and Lecter, in that he never grows beyond the very confined role that was defined for him. His ineffectiveness comes from never being allowed to escape the idea of him. Magneto suffered the same issue.

The first X-Men film presents Magneto, at first, as the counter point to Xavier, with them both aligned against the humans, which the opening sequences suggest is the real threat. And indeed, the second film excelled in bringing this idea to prominence. Magneto acts, while Xavier talks. They are representations of diplomacy and military action. Unfortunately, with each film, Magneto's force seems less and less effective, never striking a true victory. So, his actions become larger and larger, and less and less sensible. His first attempt was to convert powerful humans into mutants, so they become invested in their own survival. The second attempt was to kill every human on the planet. The third... actually, very little about the third movie made sense, but it somehow involved Magneto making rush hour in San Fransisco a pain for everyone. He was never really the villain in any of the films, but his role on his side of the argument was meant to be the aggressive one, and the more aggressive he became, the less his actions made sense.

And then, in First Class, they tried to fill in his back story. And because Nazi's are always worse then anything else, he hunted down Nazis. The problem was, from the first Magneto was always presented as a sympathetic character. So the back story seemed more redundant then anything. We already knew and cared about Magneto's plight, we didn't really need to see why he took up the cause.


Which brings us back to Loki. Loki, in Thor, isn't the villain. Even when he plots against Asgard, he never fits the villain role. His actions are selfish, to be sure, but they seem more like those of a child who is throwing a temper tantrum. It is loud and disruptive, but is more of a from-the-gut, emotional reaction. It is only in the Avengers that he crosses the line. That he deliberately plots to cause grievous harm. It isn't about getting what he believes to be his, it's about causing chaos for the sake of chaos. Some men just want to see the world burn, to borrow a phrase. But even so, he is never more then a dog on a leash. The movie makes it quite clear that these aren't his plans. He's working on behalf of something greater, which we later learn in Thanos. This establishes that Loki isn't capable of rises under his own power. He isn't capable of being the leader that he thought of himself in Thor. Be it with Thor, or Thanos, or anyone else, Loki doesn't have it in himself to be anything more then a sidekick. Because he is a child, who needs a parent to make certain he behaves.

So, where does this leave him to go? He has been caught, and presumably is being held according to Asgardian justice. He's persona non grata in Thanos' camp, having failed miserably, as the Other warned him not to. So, what role does he have to play in events? Thor no longer trusts him, and has accepted that there is no hope for his rehabilitation, so that leaves out the idea of him somehow coming back from the Dark Side. And because the films have made it very clear that he can't support himself, he'll never be a primary antagonist in his own right. But neither can he simply side with the next big bad. That lacks any development, and he'll fall into the same perpetual uselessness that Luthor has.

Better to leave him be. He has had his time in the sun, better to leave him in the Room With No Doors, and not waste time or good will. Because including him in a cameo will have the audience thinking that he'll turn up again, perhaps at the last moment, as a great reveal, which is unfair to the audience. Acknowledge his absence, establish his imprisonment, and move on. Or, better yet, kill him. Kill him swiftly, in the opening moments. Use his death to establish the new villain. Have it be a precipitating factor in Thor's new mission, to seek vengeance for his lost brother. Have his death, despite his actions, be a moment of emotional growth for the other characters. And that way, he is forever preserved in finest form, in the two previous films, and doesn't have to suffer the indignity of being brought back time and again to accomplish nothing, and to be widdled away in high definition.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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