Sometimes, no matter how sneeringly and belittlingly the label may have been intended, there is nothing wrong with a movie feeling like a ‘theme park’. In fact it’s a description that would probably actually flatter Taika Waititi, who famously threw everything that he wanted to into 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, and then whittled it down to a sparse plot-only ninety minute edit before adding back in anything that he thought genuinely felt like it was missing. What could easily have become yet another slightly underachieving big screen outing for Thor ended up as an appropriately mighty action comedy which absolutely rockets along fuelled by knowing and celebratory appropriation of eighties big-budget blockbuster excesses and soundtrack stylings. You can’t realistically dismiss a movie as a ‘theme park’ when it not only looks, sounds and feels like a rollercoaster but even has an actual literal rollercoaster ride in the middle of it. Then right at the end there’s a cliffhanger that somehow manages to be every bit as ominous as it is hilarious; so much so, in fact, that cinema audiences in 2017 probably didn’t even really realise just how much of a cliffhanger it actually was.
Thor: Ragnarok closes with the assembled Asgardians and a cosmically adrift Bruce Banner headed for Earth in a giant spaceship following Thor and Loki triggering the destruction of their homeworld in a bid to save the universe from their havoc-wreaking sister Hela – this is not really a movie that you can summarise in a sentence, although Garreth Hirons had a pretty good go in It’s Good, Except It Sucks here – though Loki is far from comfortable with this turn of events and questions the wisdom of returning to a planet he has twice tried and failed to conquer, and indeed where he has only recently been shown the interdimensional door by Doctor Strange in a somewhat less than polite and patient fashion. Thor assures him that it will be fine, on account of the fact that he himself is extremely popular with the people of Earth, upon which a huge shadow rumbles overhead and their massive spaceship is loomed over by an even more massive one. At the time, audiences doubtless reacted to this with little more than a subdued murmur of excitement at the prospect of more Norse-skewed soft rock-soundtracked hi-jinks to come; if only they had known what actually was coming.
In a sense this is as true of the real world as it was of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – thanks in no small part to certain major global events that pretty much nobody can have realistically seen coming, 2017 suddenly seems a lot longer ago than it actually was – but it’s also worth considering why this cliffhanger positioned the hero and the nominal ‘villain’ of the franchise within a franchise alongside each other in the face of a big menacing shadow. Even in comic strip form Loki has seldom ever been depicted as an outright ‘villain’, more normally assuming the position of an anti-hero who enacts his awful – frequently in both senses – schemes purely to further his mythological devotion to mischief and seldom coming down on the wrong side against actual existential threats unless there is something in it for him; which it usually rapidly transpires that there isn’t. Alliances with other supervillains are similarly rare, albeit generally on account of his considering himself superior to them and their petty concerns rather than any sense of innate moral indignation. The first and longest-standing adversary of – and occasional ally of – The Avengers, and with an infinite capacity for reinvention that has seen him adopt teenage, female and even horse form, Loki is one of the most ingenuous characters to emerge from the already ingenuity-heavy Silver Age of comics and his ongoing popularity with readers is not difficult to understand.
What may have proved more of a surprise, however, is just how popular Loki has become thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Previously only very occasionally glimpsed in television series like Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends – presumably on account of the fact that his machinations would have been difficult to properly convey in a twenty-odd minute animation aimed at children when Electro and The Kingpin were right there in front of you demanding money with menaces – and never even so much as mentioned in any of the big and small screen live action outings, Loki was installed as the nominal ‘big bad’ of the initial series of six movies culminating in Avengers Assemble – although even then there turned out to be another even bigger bad ultimately behind it all. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal – charismatic whilst also innately weaselly, and combining arrogance and omnipotence with extreme cowardice – was an immediate hit with audiences and there is a genuine case for arguing that for a time he was actually more popular than Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, especially in the misfiring Thor: The Dark World where he really does seem to go the extra mile to try and make the muddly script and equally muddly direction work, though the two enjoyed an immediate and electrifying chemistry which allowed Hemsworth to improve and develop the character, finally fully hitting his stride in Thor: Ragnarok. While Black Widow and Hawkeye struggled to attract sufficient visible public popularity for the ‘money men’ to give their own solo movies the go-ahead, audiences were cheering on and clamouring for the character that they had originally come together to fight. Although that all said, it might have helped if his popularity had been influential enough to encourage huge swathes of voters pretty much anywhere in the world to read Vote Loki, a 2016 series in which the God Of Mischief runs a suitably duplicitous campaign to win the US Presidency purely to prove that he can, and yet still somehow winds up acting in a less deranged and dangerous manner than certain other individuals that billions of seemingly sane and ordinary people still enthusiastically threw ballots into boxes for. Then again, Venom did its best to warn us that if ‘techbros’ not remotely in any way based on actual real life public figures are given their way all the time then it will only result in them ending up mutating into sociopathic goo and look what happened there.
So what did come next after that cliffhanger? Avengers: Infinity War, which opens with the Asgardian ship in flames while an uncredited Kenneth Branagh frantically pleads with Thanos and his Black Order to leave them alone. Instead they incapacitate Thor and The Hulk, add the Space Stone to their rapidly expanding collection of Infinity Stones, and use them to more or less set the fire itself on fire. There are jokes of a sort, but they are either deployed as tactical attempts at stalling for time or are unfiltered emotional responses to events that, whether James Cameron likes it or not, make it all too abundantly clear that this is a movie where the heroes have lost from the outset – and yes, that does include Loki. Initially it looks as though he is siding with the terrifyingly powerful philosophical marauder, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is a ruse to buy time for a surprise attack by The Hulk, followed by an interjection that distracts everyone long enough to allow Heimdall to transport the unconscious Bruce Banner to Earth, and finally very nearly succeeding in confusing Thanos with an indignant retort that he isn’t really Asgardian – signified by a small but telling head tilt from Josh Brolin with the sort of subtlety and depth that only he can really bring to an eight foot purple alien – long enough to get close enough to finish him off. With the inevitable retribution at hand, Loki promises Thor that “I assure you brother, the sun will shine on us again” in one of the few notes of positivity and hope in a movie that is not exactly unduly burdened with sunshine.
Thanos might well have insisted that there would be “no resurrections this time”, but that is pretty much tantamount to a direct challenge to Loki, and in Avengers: Endgame – having already caused audiences to have hysterics simply by tossing and catching a cup in the foreground of a flashback scene – Loki finds a fittingly inventive way around this in an impulsive gambit that it really would be unfair to give away if you haven’t seen it. This led directly into Loki, a staggeringly good television series – which you can hear much more about in It’s Good, Except It Sucks with Gabby Hutchinson Crouch here – that saw him dragooned into doing old fashioned dusty and manila-festooned paperwork for an agency that fixes ‘issues’ with time, and encountering a ragtag assortment of alternate Lokis who have defied the laws of time and space but seem to have mislaid the second half of ‘anti-hero’, before finally arriving at yet another cliffhanger involving a monument to a nightmarishly powerful villain looming over him. With a second run of Loki literally rubberstamped in the closing credits and that newly arrived nightmarishly powerful villain set to run riot across several movies and television series, it’s fair to say there is more fun to be had in this theme park than many would like to have us believe. Although you probably really should not trust Loki to run the ticket office.
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Some Unspoken Thing is a huge feature on the sheer brilliance of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2; you can find it here.
You can hear much more about Loki’s escapades across the Multiverse in It’s Good, Except It Sucks with Vikki Gregorich on Thor here, Mark Griffiths on Avengers Assemble here, Joanne Sheppard on Avengers Assemble here, Paul Abbott on Thor: The Dark World here, Garreth Hirons on Thor: Ragnarok here, Martin Ruddock on Avengers: Infinity War here and here and What If…? here, Ben Baker on Avengers: Endgame here and Gabby Hutchinson Crouch on Loki here.
© Tim Worthington.
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