A few days ago I posted to Tumblr a little thing about how Loki Laufeyson is like Raistlin Majere of Dragonlance.
It got some reblogs and a little bit of meta about whether or not Loki is redeemable or if such a thing would mess up his character. And elsewhere, I saw some questions regarding the same thing.
So I decided to merge Fangirl Me and English Major Me to write up a little something-something about the idea.
The easiest answer to this question is, Yes, of course Loki is redeemable, because all movie/comic/literary/other fictional villains are. If you can bring Darth Vader back from the Dark Side, you can bring anyone. (And what was his punishment for all of his wrongdoings? His Force-ghost getting replaced with Hayden Christensen. All right, yeah, I guess that is kind of harsh.)
But of course, there are lots of different canons when it comes to Loki, and as many different interpretations, too. Sure, Loki is sympathetic and can be redeemed (if not become a "Good Guy,) but in what contexts? And how? And why do we want that, or not want that? And if that is what we want, what must his punishment be, first?
First context: The real world. Since Loki doesn't exist in the real world, why even bother asking this? Because I want to make it clear that we're discussing fiction, and that in real life, this crap don't apply.
Second context: Norse Legends. This is a weird one, because the legends are so bizarre. But we have to say, of course Loki is redeemable in Norse legends, because the Æsir keep taking him back anyway. In this context, Loki (a fire-god,) is just a trickster. One whose "tricks" involve setting murderous wolves on Asgard, eating people's hearts, having sex with horses and birthing mutant horse babies (and giving them to Odin, so hey, not so bad really,) and, you know, bringing about Ragnarok. So he's pretty bad, yet in the context of the mythology, he's kind of just doing what they do there. His various punishments include things like being bound with his son's innards, being chained up to rocks with venom dripping on him for millennia, and other such unspeakable tortures. That's just how they roll. And yet he's still an occasional ally to the Æsir, like when he and Thor dressed in drag together to retrieve Mjolnir. (Trying to get Thor chosen as a bride in order to infiltrate the Bad Guys: I could do a whole 'nother write-up about how much Final Fantasy VII is based on Norse mythology, but too many other people have done that already.) So anyway, yeah, in the Norse Mythology, Loki is both good and bad, and does terrible things and does good things, and has terrible things done to him, and is accepted and rejected in turns.
Third context: Marvel Comics. Let me take a moment to say, first, I'm not too familiar with the comics, so me writing about it is a little iffy.
Is Loki a redeemable villain in the world of the comics? The way that whole 'verse operates, its laws and logic and world-views? Again I'm going to have to say "Yes," for reasons similar to the Norse mythology ones. Because to me—and remember, I haven't read them, just seen a few pages—this is just how they roll. People turn bad, then good, and they do horrible things and have horrible things done to them. In a violent (fictional!) world, violence is just an accepted part of life. Like, hey, we've all killed a few people here and there, right? You pay for your sins, angst for a while, and move on. It's worth noting that the world Loki comes from in the comics is way harsher than the world of the films. And while in the film, we only see a preview of what his punishment might be (I don't want to spoil it for anyone,) it's a hell of a lot milder than ( what happens in the comic: )
Yes, I think that in this context, it is possible to not only see Loki as a redeemable character, but even to understand why he turned out the way he did. If his family is so blithe about torture-as-punishment, you sort of have to expect that kind of character development.
But the movies; now that's really what we're talking about here. The answer to "Is Movie Loki redeemable?" is as easy as it gets: Yes, of course he is. If Natasha is redeemable, Loki must be, too. She's the one who says, "But he killed eighty people in two days." Girl, your record isn't exactly pristine, either. Natasha was supposed to pay for her crimes, but was given another chance. And really, the same goes for Thor, in the first movie. Didn't he go to Jotunheim with the intention to commit genocide? Yes, he was being manipulated by Loki, but mass murder was still a part of Thor's process, and he still did kill a bunch of Jotuns who were just defending their territory when he showed up like Rambo without a jock strap. (I'm not bashing Thor, okay, I thought he was great. But this is his world-view for the first half of the film.)
But there's so much more to play around with in the movies. Would we even be talking about Loki's redemption if he hadn't been played in a specific way by Tom Hiddleston? Part of this is down to Kenneth Branagh's direction in Thor, and part of it is down to T-Hiddles' talent for conjuring empathy out of thin goddamn air. He's probably the most woobified / whitewashed character since Sephiroth, and let's not even lie about this, part of the reason is because he's pretty, and pretty people get away with more crap. All right, but he's not just pretty, he's good at it
, and Branagh's decision to have him play like two-thirds of the movie with big, watery, sad eyes, always looking rejected and betrayed, has a lot to do with it.
On the other hand, Movie Loki has much less of an excuse to become a Crazy Genocidal Hate Machine than other incarnations of Loki, because as far as we can tell, he was raised in kindness, for the most part. Odin seems a decent sort (if misguided, since I believe all parents should tell their children the truth of their lives and parentage from DAY FREAKING ONE if you want to avoid major issues, okay,) and Frigga clearly loves Loki, as does Thor, in his own arrogant, overbearing way. But I mean, there are plenty of folks who find out that their families weren't what they thought they were, or who live in the shadow of their hugely popular siblings, or who are outright abused, and those people don't generally turn into Crazy Genocidal Hate Machines. But it's the movies, okay, so that happens.
Tom Hiddleston said that part of Loki's development in Avengers came while he fell to Midgard at the end of Thor. He said that Loki "saw things" that made him go mad. Okay, Hiddles, I'll accept that if you and your blue eyes say so, but Loki is still not off the hook. There are plenty of "mad" people who don't go around subjugating planets. Those who do are still generally frowned upon. "There are always men like you."
Another theory I hear around is that Loki is being manipulated by (redacted for spoilers.) Loki, the God Of Lies, being manipulated? I don't buy it. Okay, you say, but he's obviously been tortured and coerced. Well, I'm willing to give you that one. Yes, it's clear that Loki has been through some kind of horror at the beginning of the film, and there's no question that he's at least operating under the threat of torture. That scene is in there for a reason. That's not even up for debate, BUT, that only goes for him retrieving the Tesseract. The idea to subjugate Earth is his own. No one forced him to do that.
So what changed him so fundamentally? In Thor, at least in the beginning of the movie, Loki was just a bitter little brat, who, though willing to "ruin Thor's big day" (at the cost of letting a few people die,) still actually loved Thor, and his family. And even after he found out the secret of his birth, ("By the way, Loki, those really awful monstrosities that you've been taught to fear and hate all your life? You know, basically the vilest thing that exists in your world? You're one of them, sorry kiddo,") Loki still maintained that he honestly didn't
want to rule Asgard. He only ever wanted to be Thor's equal. He says this, and I'm inclined to believe him because A) why even say it, at that point, when you're already seething with madness and willing to fight to the death? And B) because of the deleted scene.
FFS, why did they shorten this? It's so important, and so well-acted! OMG, his face when he's offered Odin's spear. It is literally like O_o;;
He legitimately did not see this coming at all. Odin going all Odinsleep was never part of the plan, and it's like it didn't even occur to him what would happen next. He's playing Frigga a little in that scene ("How long will Odin be asleep? Why would Thor come back?") but at that moment, no one's looking at him aside from the audience. I think that's such an important part of the direction.
And then once he gets the spear in his hand and Frigga says "Make your father proud," he's like, "Aww hell yeah, now it's my
turn." It somewhat explains his arrogance when Sif and the rest find him on Odin's throne. "Mom told me to make Dad proud, so I'm going to act like a King to you now, with the added benefit of the power to really screw with everyone. You guys have always thought I was sly? I'll show you sly."
I think that at the end of the movie, he still loves Odin, Thor and his family, even as he resents the hell out of them. And by the beginning of Avengers, he probably still does, although by that time he's completely around the bend and in way too far over his head to admit it, even to himself. His surrender at this point would be far too costly for him in every way; the only thing he could possibly afford at this point is victory. But as Tony Stark (and another character) both tell him, victory was never an option for Loki. Logically, as Stark tells him, there is no way he can come out on top. And (redacted) tells him, even more importantly, "You lack conviction." Loki is so riddled with self-loathing, even he doesn't believe in himself.
Not that any of that excuses his actions, or the pleasure he takes in tormenting beings he thinks are beneath him. If he himself is being tortured, one would like to think that he wouldn't do it to others, and yet he's just as merciless as (redacted) have (most likely) been to him.
But at the end of the film/mythology/story/this bit of fangirl rambling, YES, Loki is still redeemable. Likable? Maybe not. A "Good Guy?" Probably not. Relatable? Maybe sort of. Sympathetic? Yes, of course, because GOOD ACTING. But will he, and should he have at least a few moments in Thor 2 to redeem himself? Of course! Everyone else gets to!
ON THE OTHER HAND, we all know what happens to villains when they get their moment of redemption, don't we? Oh yes we do. Redemption = death. So maybe it would be better for all of us if Loki stayed naughty.
I've never been good at the "in conclusion" part. Suffice to say that I might have run out of thoughts on the subject, but I have not run out of feels.