Why Loki, Marvel's charming antihero, remains an exciting fan-favorite after a decade

As Tom Hiddleston suits up to return as the MCU's trickster in his very own series, we examine how he got here

Published June 5, 2021 3:30PM (EDT)

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in "Thor: Ragnarok" (Marvel/Disney)
Tom Hiddleston as Loki in "Thor: Ragnarok" (Marvel/Disney)

No character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has the staying power of Loki. Portrayed with just the right amount of smarm and charm by Tom Hiddleston, the impish trickster with the ability to shapeshift and cast illusions is a favorite among fans despite the fact he's betrayed friends and family multiple times since debuting opposite Chris Hemsworth in 2011's "Thor." The most predictable thing about him might be his unpredictability. And yet no one thought the character would return to the MCU after being killed by the all-mighty Thanos (Josh Brolin) in the opening scene of 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War." However, we're now on the cusp of the character leading his very own show.

Debuting Wednesday, June 9 on Disney+, the six-episode "Loki" follows a past version of the character, though it's not a prequel. This Loki is the man who successfully stole the Tesseract, aka the Space Stone, when the Avengers traveled to the past in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame." His actions that day ultimately created a branched reality — the very thing the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) warned the Avengers about when they attempted to gather the stones in the past. So when the show picks up, Loki will find himself being forced to work with the Time Variance Authority, an organization dedicated to protecting the proper flow of time, to help restore the main timeline he broke when he fled with the Tesseract in 2012.

It remains to be seen whether or not the series is one of the shows Marvel's Kevin Feige said was developed with additional seasons in mind. But with this particular setup — and assuming the show operates independently of the main overarching narrative of the MCU — this is the type of series that could easily run for multiple seasons should the people involved desire it. And given his comments over the years, Hiddleston definitely seems game to portray Loki until he's too old to do so.

But what is it about the character, a Frost Giant who was adopted by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as a baby and raised as an Asgardian, that has allowed him to persevere – especially when Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and even Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) have not? What gives Loki, a character who has been both villain and antihero, such longevity in the MCU? Is it Hiddleston himself? Is he nurturing goodwill with his enchanting performance? Is it the character's unpredictability keeping things fresh? Or is it the potential of a flawed man still searching for an identity and purpose? 

Over the last decade, Hiddleston — whose name was once bandied about as a possible James Bond candidate after a stellar turn in "The Night Manager" — has won favor with Marvel and its fans thanks to his continued dedication to the role of Loki and his support of the extended universe. Some actors have been happy to say goodbye after fulfilling their contracts, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an actor who loves his job with Marvel more than Hiddleston. (Never forget the time he dressed up in character and took over Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con in 2013.) But in addition to his acting chops and commitment to the role of Loki, Hiddleston is also just an effortlessly charming individual, and some of that natural charisma bleeds into his performance, making the character a richer and more complex character as a result. And it's a good thing too because a character like Loki — someone ruled by his emotions, whose only allegiance is to himself, and who wouldn't think twice before double-crossing his own brother — runs the risk of becoming either very annoying or quite tired rather quickly. Luckily, Loki is neither. 

After learning the truth of his origins in the first Thor film, Loki's anger toward his family and the betrayal he felt put him on a path to finding his purpose, which resulted in him becoming the mouthy and manipulative, power-hungry antagonist of the first Avengers movie. At the time, no one outside of Feige and other decision-making executives likely knew what was in store for the future of the MCU.

But now we can look back and see Hiddleston's captivating turn in "The Avengers," in which he attempts to take control of Earth using an army of Chitauri forces, was more than just the catalyst for the various heroes recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to finally team up. It was also the beginning of what might be the best character arc in the entire MCU. No one save perhaps Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, has had a more complicated or effective emotional personal journey throughout the entirety of the Infinity Saga (and beyond). Perhaps that is why when Loki was eventually killed several films later in the middle of his redemption arc during the opening scene of "Infinity War," the heartbreak seemed to extend beyond the edges of the frame and into the real world. 

The exceptionally fun 2017 film "Thor: Ragnarok," which immediately preceded "Infinity War," saw Loki forced to confront his past and make a decision regarding his future. The death of his father and the return of Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death and the sister neither Loki nor Thor knew existed, ultimately meant the end of life as he knew it. But rather than fleeing at the first chance like everyone assumed he would, Loki accepted his place in his family and returned to his brother's side after the destruction of Asgard. Of course, he also pocketed the Tesseract before the planet was destroyed, a seemingly innocuous decision that would unfortunately lead Thanos right to him. But learning to care about something more than his own immediate wants was a redeeming moment for Loki, as was his attempt to save Thor from Thanos, so his death was both an effectively heartbreaking moment that resonated with fans while serving as a harbinger of what was to come. 

It also felt like closure, so when a past version of Loki popped up in "Avengers: Endgame" when Tony, Cap, and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) traveled to 2012, it was a pleasant surprise. That the new series "Loki" follows this branched-reality version of the character and won't erase the character's original narrative arc is what makes the show such an intriguing new chapter. When the show premieres, Loki hasn't gone through any sort of character evolution. He is still the angry man who tried to force all of humanity to kneel before him in a desperate attempt to find his place in the world. He has yet to go through the events of his mother's death or the destruction of Asgard. He's a man out of time, a man without a home. And it's the chaotic, still-in-progress nature of Loki and the inability to guess what he might do when an organization like the Time Variance Authority, which is dedicated to order, tries to force him to do what they say that makes this new chapter so exciting. 

Each episode of the show, which also stars Owen Wilson as Mobius M. Mobius and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Judge Ravonna Lexus Renslayer, will see the character travel through time and space on a mission to restore order to the timeline. But will this Loki follow the same path as the man we know and love? Or will this version make different choices without Thor by his side? More importantly, will he find what he's looking for?

Loki is a man driven by insecurity and an ongoing struggle with his identity, though he deftly covers up his deficiencies with a devious wit and charm. The constantly shifting logo in the show's trailer represents both the character's shapeshifting ability as much as the idea that he doesn't know where he belongs or who he is yet. And although the beats of such a character arc are hardly new territory for Hollywood — you could argue they've even been done to death at this point — the potential for greatness still exists as Loki remains pleasantly unpredictable. It means anything can happen, and with Hiddleston promising a show that is unlike anything Marvel has ever done, there's no reason to believe Loki the man and "Loki" the show won't continue to endure and evolve even beyond this first season. After all, he certainly has the staying power.

"Loki" premieres Wednesday, June 9 on Disney+.

By Kaitlin Thomas

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