Loki Is The Only Good Villain In Marvel Movies—And That’s A Big Problem

Loki Is The Only Good Villain In Marvel Movies—And That’s A Big Problem

NOV. 10, 2013, 7:19 PM 4,749 5

At San Diego Comic Con this summer, there was no Q&A panel with the cast of Thor: The Dark World. There was only Loki, as Tom Hiddleston took the stage in full costume, demanded that the crowd “Say my name” and earn the kind of screams we associate with rock concerts that devolve into riots. It wasn’t that they were trying to hide the Thor cast or shrug off the Comic Con crowd; it was that no combination of director Alan Taylor, star Chris Hemsworth or new footage could match the electric jolt of Loki on a rhetorical tear. The movie itself, which is now out in theaters this Friday, is no different. Christopher Eccleston, a former Doctor Who and very memorable actor in his own right, is cast as the villainous dark elf Malekith, but under prosthetics and a digitally altered voice he’s essentially background decoration. Loki, though not the main villain and actually working alongside Thor for much of the film, is not supposed to be the main focus, but he inevitably takes over anyway; the film picks up steam the moment the plot turns back to him, the dialogue crackles with extra verve when he and Thor spar together, and he gets every single one of the best jokes– even the film’s fantastic surprise cameo is thanks to Loki’s trickery. 

It’s clear that Marvel realized they had something special in Hiddleston after the first Thor, bending over backwards to make him the primary antagonist in The Avengers (he needed a huge army of poorly defined CGI aliens to be a half-decent foe) and adding extra scenes with the trickster god during reshoots for Thor: The Dark World. It probably took all the restraint they had not to bring him back forAvengers: The Age of Ultron, but that restraint may be the only thing that saves them going forward. Loki is the best antagonist the Marvel Cinematic Universe has by far. He’s also the only antagonist who’s worth a damn. And that’s going to be a problem if it doesn’t change.

Disney / Marvel

The caliber of the actors who have come and gone as Marvel villains is staggering– Jeff Bridges won an Oscar after playing Obadiah Stane in Iron Man, Mickey Rourke nearly got one while shooting Iron Man 2, and Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Tim Roth, Sam Rockwell and Ben mother-f’ing Kingsley (an Oscar winner too, of course) are all treasures in their own right. But every single one of them has gotten lost in the chaos of a movie that barely seemed like it needed them, the villains existing to wind up the action, pop up once in a while to provide a new threat, and get whaled on by the hero in the very end. You can make an argument for any of these actors in minor moments– Sam Rockwell’s suits as Justin Hammer, the phenomenal reveal of Kingsley’s Mandarin– but not a single one of them had motivations, or a story, that actually mattered to the plot. By the end of the movie all of them are sent on their way, either killed or out of power, and the deck is shuffled to allow the next Avenger to take on the next classy actor looking to build a vacation home.

Loki is the shrimpiest and in some ways least prepared of all the Marvel villains. His plot to take over the world in The Avengers, as everyone repeatedly tells him, is never going to succeed, and at heart he’s motivated by the childish desire to get as much attention as his blond, heroic brother. But it’s his puniness that gives him both his appeal and his staying power. He’s power-mad, sure, but only in the way we all think we deserve a little bit better in life. And he can’t really be taken out of the story, both because Thor would never allow it and because, as a god, he’s pretty damn hard to kill off. Loki’s proven appeal and immense powers means he could honestly be part of every single other Marvel movie going forward. But it’s resisting that urge that’s going to be the challenge for Marvel for many years to come.

Look only at Jack Sparrow or Mater the tow truck to see what happens when a side character gets too popular and gets exhausted by his franchise. Marvel clearly knows this, and they’re bringing in Winter Soldier– another villain with a personal connection to the hero, it’s worth noting– for the next Captain America movie, and really outdoing themselves hiring James Spader to play a robot for the nextAvengers adventure. Spader has been stealing scenes with malevolent charm literally since Hiddleston was born, and stands the best chance of making an actual impact– that is, if playing a robot doesn’t hamstring him the way Dark Elf prosthetics doomed Eccleston. Casting Spader suggests that Marvel realizes they need a new Loki, not just a villain who conveys a threat, but who makes it personal and sympathetic and a little sad. Marvel is banking hard on its heroes for the foreseeable future, but they know they need to bolster their roster of villains too. Loki will be capable of bringing down the house at Comic Con forever… but not if he has to do it every year.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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