Hannah Scribbles

The Winter Soldier Is a Better Sympathetic Villain Than Loki Ever Was

In Comics/Superheroes, Movies/TV on April 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm

We all love the god of mischief, but if you saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier you might need to make room in your heart for another villain.

The second Captain America film takes place in a fearful post-Avengers world where government surveillance and military oversight are growing ubiquitous.  Captain America finds himself doubting S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reactionary and fear-based policies, which could easily be misused to great catastrophe.  In the midst of the storm, a new Hydra threat emerges to silence Captain America and take over the world.

bucky barnes, winter soldier shield, bucky barnes villain, sympathetic villains in comic books

If you read the comics, watched the first film or looked up Captain America within the last year, you know the Winter Soldier’s true identity.  Steve Roger’s childhood best friend “Bucky” Barnes, who seemingly died in the 1943, has been remade by Hydra into a ruthless assassin through physical and mental manipulation.

While Loki looks like he’s having fun, The Winter Soldier is all business.  As Natasha Romanoff explains to Rogers, he completes his missions at any cost.  But his ruthlessness is not inborn but manufactured.

Contrast this with Loki who, after his redemption arc was destroyed in The Dark World, became yet another version of the Lovable Sociopath theme.  Audiences largely forgave Loki from his murderous tendencies in Thor because he had a legitimate bone to pick with his family.  The Dark World shows Loki in a less forgiving light, stripping the veil of begrudged brother away to make room for the last film in the trilogy.

bucky barnes and captain america, steve rogers sidekickThe Winter Soldier makes a bigger emotional impact as a villain because the viewer has no doubt that Bucky was a good man.  The audience see him stand up for the diminutive Steve Rogers and fight against tyranny.  He is brave in the face of danger, a champion of Captain America’s cause.  He also possesses a good-natured sense of humor that opposes Loki’s sarcasm and malicious pranks.

In one striking scene, where the movie’s main antagonist demands to see “The Asset,” viewers get a humanizing peek at the Winter Soldier, a conflicted and confused man who has been memory-wiped and tortured for more than 50 years.  The Asset, as the villains call their creation in order to separate him from his identity, is more than the brutal assassin seen moments before.  When he expresses concern that he recognized Captain America, the Hydra leader orders his caretakers to “reset” him, which they promptly do using an intense looking version of electroshock therapy.

Bucky Barnes is being used as a lethal tool by the institution he gave his life trying to destroy.  He has been divorced from his identity and forced into evil with no choice in the matter.  Bucky needs to be saved, not stopped.

A running Internet theory is that Thanos tortured Loki so badly between Thor and The Avengers that it warped his personality.  While that would lessen his moral responsibility in The Avengers, it’s not canon.  Sorry Internet, but all signs point to a business partnership between the two.

loki evil grin, loki sociopath, loki chaotic evil

Loki’s later actions in The Dark World reveal his manipulative, sociopathic nature.  Following his questionable ascent to power, it is doubtful that Loki had a sincere bone in his body.  Loki’s choices aren’t compelling because that’s what they are:  choices.

There’s nothing sympathetic about being willfully cruel.

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