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Thor and Loki’s Contrasting Character Arcs In the MCU, Explained

The MCU’s most mischievous villain recently got his own spin-off series this year. It’s no wonder that Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gained so much success; as the first multidimensional baddie of Phase 1, Loki quickly rose in popularity due to his nuanced story, the threat he poses to the heroes, and his glorious stage presence. He even stole his own brother’s move in 2011 with his introduction in Thor. It is in this first appearance where the most complicated aspects of Loki’s character are shown. Though Loki is a fun villain on his own, what truly makes him stand out among the rest as a great villain is the contrast between him and his brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Nowhere in the MCU is this contrast shown more clearly than in the brothers’ first appearance.

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Though Loki spent all his life believing that he was a son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and a prince of Asgard, the very first scene involving the brothers as children showcases Odin’s true feelings toward the boys: While they are both dear to him, only one will be king. It is obvious in this scene that young Thor revels in the attention given to him by his father, while Loki silently wishes for more.

Throughout the first few scenes of the film, Loki is quiet, humble, and rational, with a hint of jealousy toward his brother. Though he is inherently mischievous (his practical joke, of sorts, ruins Thor’s coronation), Loki can easily recognize when a joke has gone too far and is usually willing to help get everyone out of a dangerous situation without casualties. Even though later depictions of Loki claim that his villainous streak runs deep, his introduction in Thor shows him as jealous but harmless in the beginning. Every moment of trickery is only a bit of fun and an outlet for feelings of jealousy.


Image Via Paramount Pictures

When Thor foolishly leads his brother and friends into Jotunheim, it is established that the touch from a Frost Giant causes ice burns on the skin of an Asgardian. Immediately following this revelation, Loki reacts too slowly to an attack, and his arm is grabbed by a Frost Giant. The touch, however, instead turns his whole arm blue. The film uses a Dutch angle (tilting the camera and therefore the picture to show that something unsettling is happening) to indicate the strangeness of Loki’s color, which clues him in on his true heritage.

After Loki confirms that he is a Frost Giant, he confronts Odin about his upbringing, learning the sad truth: Odin stole him from Jotunheim when he was a baby to ensure that peace between Asgardians and Frost Giants would remain. Thanks to the astoundingly sincere performance by Tom Hiddleston, Loki’s shock, anger, and hurt are on full display. When faced with the fact that he is a hostage and not a son (Odin falls into a coma before he can confirm whether or not he sees Loki as family now), he realizes the true reason why he never felt the love and adoration given to Thor. His grief over being a “stolen relic” and his insecurity over what his family feels for him are the main motivations for his fall into villainy.

Image Via Paramount Pictures

In an attempt to earn Odin’s love and respect, Loki devises a plan to kill every Frost Giant in Jotunheim, all while making sure he is the hero of his fabricated story. Though Loki’s actions are twisted and evil, they are the desperate actions of a child wanting to be noticed and loved by his parents. For the first time shown in the film, Loki behaves immaturely. In order to gain the affection he feels is owed to him, Loki attempts to become what he believes Odin wants to see in a son and in a king, adopting the same recklessness that Thor often displays. Loki not only rejects his Frost Giant heritage, but wants to see its destruction in order to prove himself as a true son of Odin.

This fall contrasts nicely with Thor’s character arc. Even though he is Odin’s favorite son and the soon-to-be king of Asgard, Thor has much to learn about patience, humility, and empathy. He throws a childish tantrum when his coronation is interrupted and starts a full-on war because of the actions of two or three Frost Giants. As punishment for devaluing the lives of his friends and for attacking an entire race due to his arrogance and recklessness, Thor’s powers and title are stripped away upon his banishment.

Image Via Paramount Pictures

Thor’s time on earth, while short, quickly humbles him as he realizes that those who he once saw as powerless have lives and wills of their own. His blossoming relationship with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) slowly begins to teach him how to be a good man, as well as how to be a good leader. When a deadly soldier sent by Loki blows up a town in New Mexico looking for him, Thor offers himself up, demonstrating selflessness and proving himself worthy of his powers and the throne.

Saving the Frost Giants also comes with a great sacrifice, as Thor destroys the Bifrost and the only chance he has of seeing Jane again. His attack on Jotunheim in the beginning of the film now seems overly violent and foolish to him, as he tells Loki that his actions are wrong. Thor sets aside selfish desires and instead becomes a protector of others’ lives, whether they be Asgardian, human, or Frost Giant.

Thor’s violence in the beginning of the film makes him appear villainous, complete with a careless attitude toward the lives of others, believing himself to be inherently glorious and all-mighty. In contrast, Loki began the movie as a humble prince, not content in his position but resigned to it anyway, displaying rational thought and careful behavior. By the end of the film, Loki has become a violent and reckless villain, while Thor has become a humble and selfless prince. Their character arcs mirror each other, providing a clear contrast as their arcs converge. By the end of the film, they have switched roles.

Image Via Paramount Pictures

Loki and Thor’s storylines have always been entwined, though they are the most closely related at the very beginning of their journey. Thor considered himself glorious and realized the error of his ways, making a correction. Loki began as a level-headed thinker only to become reckless and violent, obsessed with a vague notion of some “glorious purpose.” They are two sides of the same coin, a testament to how characters are able to mirror each other in their arcs and their actions.

While the film’s protagonist is Thor, Loki’s presence is an important part of Thor’s journey and vice versa. Without the contrast that each brother provides to the other, neither of their stories would feel as satisfying in their conclusions.

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