It’s 115 minutes or so into Thor: The Dark World. The movie is wrapping up with one final scene between Thor and Odin. I watch from my seat, hoping against hope that this movie maintains its integrity and that that guard’s smirk in that previous scene didn’t imply what I think it implied. Thor abdicates his right to Asgard’s throne and thanks his father for his understanding. “No,” Odin says as Thor leaves. The music changes and my stomach plummets. Sure enough, Odin transforms into Loki, alive and well. “Thank you,” he says. Black out. Role credits. Goddammit it, Marvel.
I was never going to be completely pleased with Thor: The Dark World if Loki made it out alive. Despite my staunch advocacy for his death, though, I figured that the character was too much of a fan-favorite to dispose of and I accepted that this movie would find a way to keep this cash-cow-of-a-character breathing. However, I was not expecting the movie to compromise its own integrity in order to do so. Simply put, it’s not that Loki survives the movie that’s the problem, it’s that he does so at the expense of good writing, and character development.
Had it not been for that final twist, I would have argued that Thor: The Dark World completed one of the greatest redemptive character arcs in film, right alongside that of Darth Vader.
Thor established Loki’s motivation and backstory, The Avengers saw him bask in his capacity for evil and Thor: The Dark World brought him to rock bottom and culminated in an act of self-sacrifice. Then they slapped on a final twist that revealed Loki to be alive (… how?), unrepentant and once again intent on ruling Asgard. The final product is a film that examines the depths of a man’s bitterness and loneliness yet discards its own findings for the sake of ensuring yet another sequel.
Some may argue that Loki’s not supposed to be redeemable; that he is a trickster and that any fangirl who falls for something as quaint as a death rattled apology is on parr with Harley Quinn losing her heart to the Joker. This is a fair argument but it fails to acknowledge the requirements and limitations of a film franchise. Simply put, there’s not enough time to have your bad guy switch sides all the time. Such duplicity works in Norse mythology, comic books and even television because the stories go on for so long. Film franchises (as lucrative as some of them are) just don’t have that luxury. Celluloid Loki has switched sides enough times that we know he’s a trickster. Why on earth should that deprive him of a poignant conclusion?
Speaking of poignancy, the greatest problem with the final twist is that it undermines every emotional, humanizing moment Loki has in the movie. The reveal of Loki’s trashed cell after Frigga’s death has to be one of the most moving shots in any Marvel film to date. And the film’s best scenes are easily the ones between the two brothers. Their bickering on the spaceship, their shared commiseration over their mother, Loki’s “dying” apology. The notion that these moments truly make no impact on Loki as the film concludes with yet another deception is … just … bad writing. It’s not a matter of fidelity to the comics, nor Norse mythology, nor placating fans. This is a poorly contrived regression for an otherwise well-written character. Once again, I understand that he’s supposed to be mischievous but Thor: The Dark World takes far too much time exploring Loki’s pathos to then shrug it off with, “Well, he’s a trickster”
I will give the movie credit, though, for truly making the set up that Thor can’t trust Loki pay off. After Sif, Volstagg, Fandral, Heimdall and Thor himself build up Loki’s treachery, the notion that Loki’s only betrayal of his brother is, in fact, a charade is a tad anticlimactic. Still, I’m loathe to commend this feature-length deception as it clashes with the words of Frigga, whose maternal insight takes on a near spiritual authority after her death. She had faith in Loki and therefore so do we. The realization that, in the end, it made no difference is devastating.
Where can Loki go from here, I wonder? He can never have another sacrificial death. He and Thor can never try to reconcile their broken friendship again. He’s already been the ultimate bad guy and the ultimate good guy (he did save Thor’s life after all). I don’t care that his character is duplicitous; there is nothing left for him to do. Not that I can see, anyway. Then again, I’m not a professional screen writer.
If brilliant writers can, however, find a way to resuscitate this character’s usefulness then I will rejoice that this contrived twist extended Loki’s life and will gladly retract what I have written here.
Please, screenwriters, please make me retract this post.