Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Loki Episode 4.
When it comes to Marvel superheroes, we often think of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man — the quintessential good guys. But what about those characters who don’t quite fit fully into the villain or hero mold — most famously (or should we say infamously?), Loki.
With Disney Plus's Loki well underway, many of us are hoping Loki succeeds in overthrowing the TVA, so does that mean Loki is good? If viewers are rooting for him, does that inherently make him an admirable protagonist?
Loki’s past is full of actions indicative of a morally gray compass, with several dictator-like attempts at conquering Earth. In Loki, Mobius asks the trickster, “Do you enjoy hurting people?” Because when it comes down to it, the God of Mischief has hurt people. In Loki, he’s forced to reconcile his past actions with his sense of self. So is Loki a good or bad character?
There’s no such thing as “good” or “bad” people.
Before we even get into the "is Loki good or evil" debate, we must first take into account what “good” and “evil” actually mean. According to Psychology Today, “In human beings, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are fluid.” Yet, in the MCU (and in stories virtually dating back to Grimm's Fairy Tales), this fluidity is often eschewed in favor of "more digestible" (albeit less realistic) human depictions.
When it comes down to it, “good” typically refers to acts of selflessness and altruism, whereas “bad” refers to acts of narcissism and ego. If someone is truly “bad,” meaning they are unable to empathize with others, then they would lack the essential human qualities inherent to "goodness."
In the MCU and most superhero stories, "good" and "evil" go a step further than the typical dictionary definition. "Good" characters put themselves in the line of danger to save others. They may be selfless, but they can also be reckless. One main issue many people have with superhero films is the extent of the disaster and the casualties that these superheroes often cause.
"Evil" characters in comic books and movies are often fully immoral and put their self-interest above all else. While Loki claims to act in his own self-interest, we see time and time again how he cares for others. He doesn't seem to fit into any superhero archetype — he's not fully good or fully evil — but his ability to grow might make him lean more toward good.
Some of our so-called MCU heroes don't have clean rap sheets.
If we’re judging Loki by all his past decisions, we should also take that into account when it comes to other Marvel “heroes.” The Scarlet Witch, for instance, worked for Magneto’s crime ring before joining the Avengers. Then in WandaVision, she resorts to dark sorcery to take control of an entire town, which we learn is a form of torture for those innocent humans.
In her case, she does that subconsciously to cope with grief, so we all give her a pass — her intentions and her ultimate decision to give up her illusion steer her toward goodness.
Another Avenger, the Black Widow, was an assassin for the KGB, a notoriously violent Russian agency that operated to undermine America during the Cold War. She comes around to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. as well, but only after her work as a killer, which she felt was her only option at the time.
Even Tony Stark (i.e. Iron Man) was full of hubris and ego; those were his driving motivations to be a superhero. His arc, which ends with him making the ultimate sacrifice, makes him a true hero by the end of Avengers: Endgame.
But we consider all those heroes to be completely "good" now. If Loki goes through a similar arc from flawed qualities and actions to an act of true sacrifice, is it possible that Loki can fall in line with the other confirmed heroes?
Loki is innately good, even though he’s done bad things.
The Loki we’re watching in Loki is the version of the character from the 2012 Avengers film, not the one who dies in Avengers: Infinity War, so he hasn’t gone through the evolution we saw in his final three films.
But we should take those into account. If Loki has the capacity to change and the potential to save the world, doesn’t that mean he’s inherently good? Is the desire to grow and absolve oneself of past sins not the mark of a sincere soul?
If you’ve watched The Good Place, you might be familiar with the Trolley Problem. In this philosophical dilemma, we ask if it’s better to kill one person if it saves more than one person. If we believe that is the “good” choice, then that’s the utilitarian way to view morality.
In Loki’s case, he tries to conquer Earth (unsuccessfully, we might add), but at the end of his MCU arc in Avengers: Infinity War, he sacrifices himself to save half of the universe. By utilitarian philosophy, Loki is good. Like Stark, he sacrifices himself to save humankind.
Some of Loki's relationships point towards virtue.
In Loki, Mobius points out that when Loki hurts people, it’s not exactly "mischievous,” it’s just mean. Loki internalizes this as he watches his life (past and future) flash before his eyes.
When he sees his mother, Freya, die, he’s forced to reconcile with his trickster behavior. Freya is the only woman he ever really feels love for because she accepts him for who he is — potentially until he meets Sylvie in Loki.
If Loki is merely acting in his own self-interest, he would be evil. But he shows concern for Sylvie and his new friend, TVA Agent Mobius. When someone trusts and believes in Loki, he believes in them too. We see this play out throughout the MCU in his relationship with Thor, whom he ultimately assists in Thor: Ragnarok and saves in Infinity War.
Now, we get to see this dynamic play out in Loki once Loki teams up with Mobius and Sylvie, who are just as lovable and charming as Loki. Will Loki end in his ultimate demise like in the Marvel films?
When Loki becomes fully good, is that the end of Loki as we know him? That could be the tragic end that’s necessary for Loki’s final chance at redemption.
New episodes of Loki drop every Wednesday on Disney Plus.