Originally posted here.
Many nerdy “bloggers” have posted short essays defending their favourite super-villain as the best super-villain ever. Some have proclaimed the Joker to be best, others have used Lex Luthor or Magneto as their paragon of evility (which is now totally a word and which I totally own the copyright to). I, however, have found the true champion of injustice: Loki. Specifically, Loki as portrayed by Tom Hiddleston in the recently released movie Thor.
There will be spoilers in this article, so beware.
There are a few criteria one must judge every villain by:
Accomplishments (both the accomplishments before the character is introduced and their accomplishments that the audience watches)
Long term survivability (both literal and figuratively, as in, their plan’s long term survival capabilities)
Loki was born Jotun/frost giant royalty, and was kidnapped/adopted by his father’s enemy, Odin, after a great battle. The unobservant viewer may think, with those facts in mind, that Loki’s primary achievement was to be born, stolen by a better king and passed on for heirdom, in favour of his reckless and arrogant brother. However, if one looks more closely, one realizes that Loki is a master magician born of a species of warriors. None of the frost giants shown in the movie are able to cast any spells at all, relying only on brute strength. The frost giant species, in every continuity, is of lower intelligence, whereas Asgardians are generally at the same level of intelligence as humans, give or take. So, by being a “master of magic”, and in fact, the greatest magician in Asgard (and possibly all of the Nine Realms) Loki is the equivalent of a Neanderthal inventing an electric car.
In addition to that, about half an hour into the film, he becomes the king of Asgard. By comparison, Magneto never conquered the world or achieved mutant superiority, the Joker always fails to show Batman that everyone is “one bad day” away from becoming a psychopath, and it took Lex Luthor nearly 70 years to become president.
Loki is, as previously stated, a master of magic, and of trickery. He doesn’t have Thor’s might, but he doesn’t need it. He’s fairly physically capable on his own (Hiddleston studied capoeira for the role, and that’s pretty bad ass in and of itself) in addition to his magic, and his mastery of manipulation. It’s actually a bit of a miracle that Thor won. If Mjolnir didn’t decide Thor was worthy and save him last minute (something that the audience only knew due to the already-planned sequels) Loki would have had it in the bag.
Long Term Survivability
This is the clincher, really. Looking over Loki’s plan, he carefully laid it out in such a way that he could not have been truly defeated. Now, this does veer into fan theory territory at the end, but I think it’s justified, so bear with me.
It’s pretty clear Loki had been planning to take Asgard’s throne from the beginning, and whether he knew that the attack on Jotunheim would get Thor banished, it would certainly earn the arrogant heir a demotion. As we saw, there was no way to pin any of that set up on Loki. He also knew that Odin had been putting off the Odinsleep for a while, meaning that the new heir (Loki) would be put in charge. By lying to Thor about his banishment being permanent, he eliminated the biggest threat to his plan, and even if that lie was found out, Loki had a built in “out”. Odin was, essentially, in a coma that no one knew if he’d ever emerge from, and Freya did agree to keep Thor banished after Loki told her he couldn’t just undo Odin’s last order…so from a certain point of view, he told the truth.
Then, he betrayed his true father, Laufey (interesting trivia here: in old Norse mythology, the king of Jotunheim was Ymir, and Laufey was his wife). The plan was to kill Laufey, wipe out the Jotuns and become an incredibly popular king so that if Thor ever did find his way back, he’d not be able to depose him. But what of Odin? Loki had that base covered too. As shown by his handling of Heimdall (who he probably expected to die from being frozen alive, and even now, he can claim self defence and would likely be believed as a member of the royal family), Loki had power enough to kill Freya…and Odin was asleep. Laufey gave a perfect alibi. “It was horrible! I tried to save him, but the frost giants got there just before me!” Killing Laufey first ensured that, if someone did come by to help before Odin or Freya died (as Thor did) Loki would still look like a hero. And by destroying Jotunheim, he ends all wars with the frost giants, a group Asgardians already hate, thus solidifying his reign. But even after being caught, his excuse that he thought it was what would make Odin proud of him gave him a sympathetic edge, and given his “good intentions” he’d have likely been let off with a light punishment, with his princeship left intact. Odin’s intention to forgive him was clear at the end of the film, as was the sadness of both Thor and Odin.
But while they were saddened at the loss of a family member, Loki dropped off the edge with the knowledge that he could travel to another realm through the Yggdrasil, as he had done before. And so, he is now free to move as he pleases through the Nine Realms, searching for artifacts like the Cosmic Cube, which is shown at the end of the credits. When he has enough power, he’ll almost certainly return home, and when he does return to Asgard he will be welcomed with open arms, and given another chance to take Odin’s magical artifacts (including that ancient cask and the Infinity Gauntlet).
So, aside from the slim possibility of him dying during this scheme, he had no chance of true defeat, only of being set back. But the kicker? He’s so good at lying that he was able to convince fans of the movie that he was a sympathetic character. Hell, even TVTropes, the single nerdiest site on the internet, calls him an anti-villain (a “bad guy” who has noble reasons for their actions). That’s right, Loki, a guy who killed his unarmed and de-powered brother and tried to commit genocide was able to convince a large percentage of those who saw the movie that he wasn’t all that bad a guy.
And that’s why Loki is the greatest villain of all time.
(FYI: If you haven’t seen the movie Thor, go see it. Solid 8 magical hammers out of 10)