Be honest: How many of you spend 90 percent of your time quietly certain that you’re smarter than the average citizen, and the other 10 percent getting hopelessly confused by, say, parking garages? Congratulations, you now know what it’s like to be an “evil genius” movie character. These poor bastards have to spend most of their movies smirking as they easily stay one step ahead of the heroes (who themselves are often supposed geniuses), only to repeatedly step on their own dicks in the third act. Their evil plots have to be complex enough to seem clever, but by necessity, they must also contain a flaw obvious enough that an average moviegoer can understand it while glancing at the climax over their phone. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Loki is arguably the saddest example of this archetype. Let us explain …
“The Trickster God”
As of this writing, we’re into our fourth movie in the MCU in which Loki serves as the on-again, off-again villain. He is an illusionist who uses his ability to fuck with people — which should come as no surprise, as for millennia before these movies were made, Loki existed in Norse mythology as a trickster god. But here’s the thing: When you’re the recognized deity of a very specific activity, isn’t it only natural to assume you might be, you know, reasonably proficient at said activity? And while we understand that there’s more involved in being the god of trickery than say, being the lord of fitting your hand all the way inside a Pringles can, there’s a reasonable expectation that you might, at least every now and again, pull off a successful trick.
We’re not talking about some cheap David Blaine stunt wherein you temporarily dupe your dimwitted brother, but an actual long-term scheme, one which preferably benefits you in some way. Unless your particular niche was even more specific that we thought and you’re more like the god of the gag section at Spencer’s Gifts.
Rumor has it that Odin is considering a lateral reassignment to god of hair gels.
As we examine Loki’s career in deceit, we quickly find that …
Loki Has The Ability To Trick Exactly One Person
In the first Thor movie, Loki is supposedly on good terms with his more muscular hammer enthusiast brother, who is in line to take over the throne of Asgard from Odin. No one suspects that Loki — the pale, brooding, jealous schemer with the greasy black hair — is secretly up to no good.
Loki hatches a fairly simple plan: Stage an attack by the hated frost giants which will create a rift between the bloodthirsty Thor and his peace-loving father. Loki secretly lets the bad guys into the palace, and Thor, falling for it, is enraged and launches an unauthorized retaliation on the frost giants’ planet. Odin puts a stop to it and banishes Thor to earth, leaving Loki a clear path to the throne. The trickster god has fooled everyone!
Oh wait, no, everyone sees through it immediately. Seriously, the very next time we cut back to Asgard, four of Thor’s friends are sitting around a fireplace, and one of them says, “You know, this all worked out really well for Loki, and also his only personality trait is that he lies all the time. I bet he let those shitheads into the palace.” That’s it! It didn’t take any masterful detective work or any real discussion.
The four confront Loki, who says Odin is in a coma (which is true) and then tells a series of lies — that the queen is unavailable to speak to them, and that he is forced to leave Thor on Earth due to imminent war. The four friends do not believe this for one second, the trickster god again utterly failing to trick them in any way.
*whispers* “Is he actually crossing his fingers in front of us while he’s talking?”
However, they pretend to believe him, which does trick Loki, because Loki lacks the ability to detect whether his tricks are working, which if you think about it is the second-most important skill a trickster god needs.
Loki then appears on Earth and tells Thor — aka the only person gullible enough to believe anything he says — that Odin is dead (he’s not) and that he’d love to bring Thor back to Asgard, but is forbidden. These lies will solve his Thor problem only as long as absolutely no one else tells Thor what is really going on, which (spoiler) is what happens 17 minutes later in movie time. Which, sadly, makes it Loki’s most successful deception.
Loki then secretly goes to the frost giants’ planet and, hiding himself using stealth magic, cuts a deal with the king to kill Odin. This scheme is blown exactly 20 seconds later in movie time (we timed it), when he returns to Asgard to find Heimdall standing at the door. Heimdall sensibly points out that Loki sneaking out under an invisibility shroud only hides the specific details of the treachery, while making the fact of treachery itself so obvious that it’s literally visible from another universe. Loki tries to cover this with a lie, and once again, Heimdall clearly doesn’t buy it. But he tells Loki he does, and Loki believes him because holy shit he is hilariously bad at this. There are dogs that are better at deceiving their owners.
Heimdall of course then goes straight to Thor’s friends and dispatches them to Earth to go tell Thor what’s happening. Loki decides to tie up this loose end with another subtle attempt at fourth-dimensional chess: He sends a giant robot to kill Thor and his friends (it fails to kill any of them).
Wait, What Was His Plan Again?
Undeterred by his failure to cover up any his previous actions, Loki lets the frost giant king into the palace to murder Odin. He then unveils his double cross: He shall murder the assassin at the last moment, so that he will appear to be a hero in front of Odin and his mother! That was his plan all along, apparently — not to have his father killed, but to earn his trust by thwarting this evildoer’s attack! Genius!
This deception lasts for 28 seconds (go check! From 1:33:39 to 1:34:07!), because Thor then strides through the door — a living, breathing object lesson in why you always need to get confirmation that outsourced projects have been completed as directed. But honestly, even if the giant robot had worked, how did Loki think he was going to keep covering up the deaths of fellow gods (including Heimdall and anyone he may have told, not to mention all of the people on Earth who know)? The only way this plan works is if everyone in Asgard is as gullible as Thor, and if that were the case, the whole kingdom would have fallen into ruin centuries ago when it was bankrupted by a timeshare scam.
And the thing is that Loki has all kinds of tools at his disposal to execute a truly subtle plan that doesn’t involve frost giants at all! The basic fact he has the ability to make people think he is where he ain’t should be enough to eliminate the need for multilayered deceptions that backfire every single goddamn time.
When you’re trying to trick someone, a face like that is considered a “tell,” and is usually accompanied by a swift and severe beating.
He Does Not Improve With Practice
We could go on, but Loki’s seeming inability to even scam a tourist with a three-card Monte table continues in every film he appears in. His ratio of successful lies to unsuccessful lies to other people’s lies which he stupidly believes genuinely makes us wonder if his Asgardian reputation as a mischievous trickster wasn’t sarcastic.
In The Avengers, he reveals himself the inferior in cunning to pretty much any human or superhuman he encounters, from Black Widow squeezing him for intel via advanced mewling techniques to his failing to talk his way out of a hilariously brutal smackdown by the team’s dumbest member. And you’d think that instead of bullying random pedestrians to bow to his greatness (and creating the perfect opportunity for some elderly dude to deploy Godwin’s Law), the almighty deity of subterfuge might be able to been able to accomplish something similar via, we don’t know, subterfuge?
To be fair, he did manage to usurp the Asgardian throne at the end of Thor: The Dark World by wriggling into an Anthony Hopkins skin suit. Then, about one minute into the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok we see that he’s already been discovered, deposed, and chained up in a filthy room, because of course.
We’ll be back tomorrow with another edition of What Was Their Plan, Again?, examining why Darth Vader keeps forgetting he can use the Force.
Make sure to check out the rest of the series:
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