As promised, here are some thoughts I added to my conference paper, after doing some significant cutting of rabbit trails on interesting but unnecessary topics from Othello to The Dark Knight. Read the backstory here.
At the end of Thor: The Dark World, like another famous trickster, Tom Sawyer, Loki essentially attends his own funeral and enjoys hearing the eulogy that Thor believes he is delivering to their father. Even more stunningly, Loki, in the form of Odin, speaks in praise of himself. The praise is restrained, necessarily so as not to destroy the illusion that Odin is speaking, but in essence, Loki uses Odin’s mouth to speak the affirmation he has always wanted to hear from Odin.
[I called this next section of my paper “The Little Blue Frost-Giant Baby Finally Chills Out.”]
In Thor: Ragnarok (2017), directed by Taika Waititi, one of the best-reviewed and certainly the funniest Marvel film to date, Loki’s character undergoes yet another transformation. Although he persists in his deceptive and treacherous ways, he no longer seems to crave a throne. When we first meet him in this film, he is still impersonating Odin and enjoying a stint as Asgard’s ruler, but this scene is played for laughs, and when Thor brings this travesty of a reign to an end, Loki doesn’t put up much of a fight.
Later, during the bizarre interlude on the waste planet of Sakaar, Loki seems content to stay in this galactic backwater and wield such influence as he can as a right-hand man to the Grand Master. He no longer desires the throne of Asgard. There are many possible reasons for his resignation—one is that Asgard is being taken over by the seemingly unstoppable villain Hela—but I believe the real key to Loki’s significantly more relaxed behavior in this film is the early scene in which Odin, who has been living in retirement on Earth, passes out of this world. Flanked once again by his two sons, Odin speaks words of equal love for Thor and Loki, and this time, they are words of simple acceptance, with no talk of thrones or inheritance. Perhaps Loki has come full circle and really believes, once again, that his father loves and accepts him.
There is also an interesting scene immediately after this, in which Thor and Loki meet their evil half-sister Hela. She says to Thor, “You don’t look like Odin,” and then to Loki, who is attempting to negotiate with her, “You sound like him.” This apparent throw-away comment by Hela may confirm to Loki that he is truly Odin’s son—perhaps even more so than Thor.
At the end of Thor: Ragnarok comes probably the biggest departure these films have made from Norse mythology. Traditionally, Loki fights with Asgard’s enemies in the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok. But in the film, Loki fights alongside the gods of Asgard. Although Infinity War calls Loki’s motives into question once again, his choice to fight on the Aesir’s side is significant—and may have happened simply because he finally got his father to look at him.