As you may have noticed, the bad and the ugly is our Halloween theme of 2009 here on Cinematical, and I thought I'd celebrate by giving up the next four weeks to Marvel and DC's wretched hive of scum and villainy. At least that's the plan. I assure you that if anything amazing happens in the land of geekdom, I'll suspend it and talk about whatever that awesome thing is -- but I thought it'd be nice to look into the future, and discuss the villains we'll be meeting on the silver screen. Maybe you're meeting them for the first time, maybe they're old foes to you, but ideally we'll all learn something and be carried away in speculation. But in the meantime, let's talk about Loki, chosen purely because of Thor adding Stellan Skarsgard as "an unknown character" to its roster.
I have always found Thor a difficult title to get my fandom around. I studied a lot of Norse culture and mythology, so the Thunder God should be a familiar guy to me. But there's something about the Thines and Thous paired with the ridiculous outfit that made it seem utterly preposterous. Apparently, I can only handle the posturing of gods when it's in a stuffy academic book, and not in glorious color. But I'm eagerly awaiting the movie adaptation -- not just because it's lined up some true talent (even if it did skip over casting a little True Blood), but because I'm dying to see how they pull it off. As if the stakes weren't high enough for the Thunder God, the Marvel Universe might just hinge on a trickster: Loki. Given what a sinister, shifting piece of work he is, I don't envy Kenneth Branagh or Tom Hiddleston.
Loki's origin story is a predictable piece of mythology, but one that's packed with life lessons. You might be out on a giant-slaying trip, or just popping down to the grocery store for a carton of milk when you stumble across a cute little orphan. Your first instinct might be to take it home because it's so cute and small! It's looking at you with starry little eyes! Well, just call the authorities and see that it's taken someplace suitable. You don't know where it's been, you don't know what it'll grow up to be, and chances are high that it'll bring about your destruction.
But if Odin can be fooled by a cute orphan, so can we. So if you do take that foundling home, you should be understanding when he's not as brawny, blonde, and battle-thirsty as your fellow Asgardians. Some people are bookworms. It takes all kinds to make a world, even if they're showing a disturbing knack for dark sorcery. But hey, all kids go through that dark and gloomy phase, and they all rebel in order to assert their independence. Be tolerant of their sorcery, dark moods, and pranks and don't saddle them with a name like God of Lies and Mischief. The damage to their self-esteem would be irreparable, and they may just decide to show everyone and become the God of Evil.
That's the story of Loki. Was he born evil (probably) or did Asgard foster it by favoring his strapping blonde foster-brother, and denying him love? Who knows. He certainly had flashes of brotherly camaraderie, and even went on sturdy adventures with Thor and Balder. But his crimes range from the small and petty (cutting off the hair of Thor's love, Sif, causing the handle of Mjolnir to be made too short) to the ultimate crime of causing Ragnarok. In the time-honored tradition of villains, his need for power, vengeance, and misery grew from just kicking Thor's ass and taking Mjolnir to conquering Earth itself.
Because he's so often labeled a "trickster," Loki's menace can be under-appreciated. What makes him a foe to be reckoned with is that he's all about the mind games and manipulation. He won't fight you face to face if he can help it, he'll use a bit of black magic and some deceit to send someone like the Hulk to come after you. You can predict what the Hulk, Doctor Doom, or Magneto will do in any given situation, but you can never pin down Loki. If you ever stop to breath a sigh of relief that he's gone this time, he reincarnates into the body of your girlfriend, Sif. The possibilities for screwing (literally and figuratively) with the entire Marvel universe with that body are endless.
Loki's biggest weakness is his lust and obsession with power, an Achilles' heel that dooms all his best laid manipulations. The temptation for any actor and director would be to make him a bouncing Joker figure, full of tricks and crazy. But the God of Evil needs to be more than that. He needs to be Iago -- likeable and malevolent, impossible to fathom, and a headache to defeat. Even more problematic, this is a Iago you have to franchise because if they stick to comic continuity (and every hint suggests they will), Loki will be the reason The Avengers form. It's going to be difficult to maintain and increase a character's malice throughout the course of multiple films. It's a task that Kenneth Branagh should have the chops for (this is a man who knows his Shakespeare and has played Iago, after all) but then I recall the theatrics he can be prone to. Will we have Loki and Thor shouting at each other for the course of a film? Or will Branagh be able to keep a tight rein on the drama, and keep Loki quiet in a tree, just waiting to unleash his pets?