‘Thor’s’ Villain: Tragic Hero … or Was He Playing Everyone?

Here's why most of the film's praise is aimed at the villain Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, branded “one of the best villains ever in a comic-book movie”

Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” has garnered a lot of justified praise. There’s the “Dr. Who”-like science fiction angle. There are the sturdy performances from leads Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth. But most the praise is aimed at the film’s villain Loki played by Tom Hiddleston, who previously worked alongside Branagh on the British TV series “Wallander.” IO9 called him the one of best villains ever in a comic book movie.

“Loki's arc is a lot more subtle and surprising. Without giving too much away, Loki goes through just as many changes as Thor, and faces just as much heartbreak. Loki is not your standard supervillain who hatches a cunning scheme and spends the entire movie implementing it. He's a living, breathing character who makes mistakes and loses his way, only to fall into greater error as a result.”

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But is that really what happened? Was Loki really a tragic hero? Or was he playing everyone — Thor, Odin and the audience? You have to remember Loki is Marvel's most devious villain. He truly does have plans within plans. Check out this review of “New Ulitmates,” courtesy of the Last Angry Geek for a rundown of one of his more complicated schemes. The really interesting observation comes towards the end of the video.

Hmm. Willing to take a trip to the boneyard in order to further his own ends? That might sound familiar to fans who stuck around for the after-credits bonus scene at the end of “Thor.” But there’s also Kenneth Branagh’s other work to take into consideration. In particular his massive, four hour long adaptation of “Hamlet.”

Branagh’s “To Be or Not to Be” speech from that film is perhaps the most chilling interpretation of the Bard’s famous monologue. This Hamlet is not in the middle of some existential crisis, he knows he’s being spied on by Claudius and uses the opportunity to screw with his nemesis. Branagh staged the entire scene as if Hamlet were speaking directly to his uncle/stepfather. And his icy delivery comes off as a threat aimed at Claudius much more than a contemplation of suicide.

In “Thor,” Loki and Odin have a dramatic confrontation about the God of Mischief’s true parentage, and at the end Odin is so overcome he passes out into an “Odinsleep.” That leaves Loki, coincidentally in charge of Asgard. Lucky for him.

But in the classically trained world of Branagh and Hiddleston there are no coincidences. I suspect Loki’s reaction was planned as was the result. It’s stated several times in the film that Odin sees everything in his realm, even when he is comatose. That’s what makes Hiddleston’s performance so great, it has multiple interpretations.

How does it stack up against Heath Ledger’s Joker? It’s not a fair comparison. Ledger’s Joker was way more aggressive. The performance was utterly terrifying and the character was a mystery. We weren’t meant to understand the Joker’s madness. He was the embodiment of random, evil chaos. That was part of the fear.

Loki works in the complete opposite manner. He’s the kind of villain who says what you want to hear and then uses it against you. He’s frightening in a different way. You see the wheels turning and you know he’s up to something. But more than that he understands people, he understands you. He’s planned out everything and is five moves ahead.

So watch out, “Avengers.”