A friend of mine challenged my assertion that Loki was the best of the Marvel movie villains. As we debated (imagine the verbal equivalent of hammers, shields, and repulsor rays) it became clear he thought my comment of “best” meant I regarded Loki as the most formidable. Therein resided the misunderstanding. I enjoyed Loki as the villain for two reasons:
Tom Hiddleston’s nuanced acting provides one of the best performances in all the films, period.
The character of Loki, albeit flawed and perhaps not as formidable, is simply the most interesting.
One of the reasons I believe it’s most interesting is because it most closely resembles each of us at one time or another. No, that doesn’t mean we’ve all had that day we got upset and assembled alien armies (although we’ve all been there, am I right?) to take over Manhattan. I’m referring to his pride, jealousy, rebellion and obstinance.
“I remember a shadow, living in the shade of your greatness.” – Loki
Loki still burns from the understanding of his life and status: he’s adopted. Although he has a father who loves him, he can’t accept it. His rebellion and rage make him live out desires for destructive dominion, rather than enjoying a healthy place in his father’s kingdom. The quintessential “prodigal son”, he proclaims himself king and god even though it’s so clear how much he’s found lacking.
Consider this: have we not all been here at one time or another? Are some of us here now? The Bible describes God as our heavenly father, and despite our sinful nature he offers us more than simply a service role in his kingdom… he offers adoption as full siblings:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5
There IS something humbling about this, however. Although the Odin/Thor/Loki relationship is an imperfect mimicry, it’s entirely true that part of our relationship with the God of the universe means we ARE in the shadow of the one true son. We are co-heirs, but he’s the preeminent son, the true and perfect Son of God, our savior and hence the one to whom we kneel.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11
We don’t really like this. Even professing Christians are guilty of recasting Jesus as the co-pilot to THEIR story, the helpful Robin to their Batman (or Rick Jones to the Hulk). We see living in the shadow of the perfect Son as something negative, humiliating instead of humbling, chafing at the shadow instead of resting in the shade of his salvation. We can’t be happy to have a big brother that loves us, protects us, rescues us, equips us, empowers us and offers us friendship and eternal relationship in our father’s kingdom. We want to be the center of the story, the one who slays the dragon… we want the movie to be called “The Amazing Loki” instead of Thor. The truth is, it’s his story in which we’re a part. Even the Soundgarden song that ends the film hints at such a reality: “what if all you understand, could fit into the center of our hand? Then you found it wasn’t you, who held the sum of everything you knew.”
“So you take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights?” – Thor
We see our pride and sinful self-worship bear itself out in the way we dominate our planet. Collectively (if not individually) have we not done more damage to God’s world (its people, its riches, its environment) than even Loki does in the movie? We haven’t needed Chitauri or giant flying worms to wreak devastation on hearts and hearths. We have our own “imagined slights” and reject God, we spit on the grace and love offered by our father because it doesn’t suit our warped desire.
“You give up this poisonous dream! You come home!” – Thor
(Spoiler alert!) Thor’s passionate cry is filled with love in The Avengers. He has no desire to punish his brother and continues offering reconciliation, seeking to win his fallen brother back all the way to the film’s end. Loki’s response? He pierces his brother in the side, bitter to the end, and in the final moments of the movie we see Thor taking him back for judgment instead of reconciliation.
We all will stand someday before our heavenly father. If we don’t give up our own poisonous dreams, if we don’t turn from our bitter rebellion, scripture tells us it will look like a courtroom. If we accept the saving shadow of the Son, it looks like home: devoid of strife and woe, and brighter than Asgard.