How Marvel Studios mastered villain use with Loki better than X-Men films with Magneto and Mystique

Now that Disney+ released the final X-Men films that weren’t currently on the service, I decided to revisit X-Men: Days of Future Past.

I still need to do an actual ranking of the X-Men films, but for suspense’s sake let’s just say DOFP is easily in my top 3. It’s one of the better adaptations of an X-Men comic book story.

This latest watch reinforced the biggest problem with these X-Men movies — they’re about Magneto and Mystique more than any X-Man. They’re the constant presence in every film with more dedicated screen time than Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler or Colossus.

That made me think of Marvel Studios’ treatment of its most popular villain, Loki. Despite five Marvel Cinematic Universe, Loki’s popularity hasn’t wavered and he’s going to be featured in a solo Disney+ series. For most X-fans, the thought of more exposure for Magneto or Mystique isn’t nearly as exciting.

How’d those characters get to such wildly different points? Let’s break it down from their respective appearances.

Magneto and Mystique Movie No. 1: X-Men (2000)

Mystique was one of Magneto’s henchmen in the first X-Men film and as a master of disguise, she was a useful right-hand woman. Magneto played the standard leader of the villain group opposing the heroes even though his actual opposite number was Professor Charles Xavier.

Nothing crazy here and they get sensible screen time as the villains of the first film. Every comic film since 1989 was trying to find the formula to make their villains as charismatic as The Joker. It’s easy to argue Ian McKellen’s Magneto and Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique proved the most successful at that point.

Loki Movie No. 1: Thor (2011)

For the first half of Thor’s debut film and the fourth in the MCU, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki lurked in the shadows before revealing himself the mastermind of Thor’s latest problems. Like Magneto and Mystique, Loki had a sympathetic backstory. While he wasn’t persecuted from birth solely from being born with abilities, Loki was taken from his family and raised as an Asgardian — stuck in Thor’s towering shadow.

This didn’t excuse Loki’s actions to seize the throne, but explained them in a way that he wasn’t the typical mustache-twirling evil villain. His actions were more personal ranging from anger to jealousy and in a lot of ways this was all Odin’s fault.

Magneto and Mystique Movie No. 2: X2-X-Men United (2003)

It’s actually weird how often the plots get twisted to involve Magneto and Mystique (henceforth M&M) in the X-Men’s adventures. That definitely feels like the case with the X-Men’s sequel. The X-Men fight against mutant-hating William Stryker.

This was in spite of X2 adding longtime X-Men mainstay Nightcrawler to the mix, the expanding role of Iceman and an appearance by other classic member Colossus. Even with Cyclops and Professor X captured, there were plenty of actual X-Men around to put in a better spotlight and the first misstep in assuming M&M have to be involved in every story.

Loki Movie No. 2: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Loki takes the spotlight as the first adversary for The Avengers. This is in keeping with the comic books, which gave this appearance bonus points. It didn’t hurt that Loki had some incredible dialogue and a handful of memorable moments including getting rag dolled by Hulk.

Magneto and Mystique Movie No. 3: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men: The Last Stand ditches the idea of M&M as X-Men frienemies and has them back at odds with the team again. Before later films asked for a beer hold, The Last Stand was the pinnacle of terrible X-storytelling with an ill-advised merging of the Dark Phoenix Saga and Gifted storylines.

Based off of X2’s ending, a Dark Phoenix follow-up made more sense, but giving M&M valuable screen time to a deeply personal X-Men story did not.

Loki Movie No. 3: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Loki shifts from outright villain to reluctant ally to Thor after the Dark Elves kill his stepmother, Frigga. This is an important shift for Loki as he shows some vulnerability beyond his typical bravado. But first and foremost, Loki looks out for himself and takes advantage of the chaos and confusion during the battle with Malekith that he disguises himself as Odin and rules Asgard in his place finally getting what he’s consistently wanted since the first Thor.

Magneto and Mystique Movie No. 4: X-Men: First Class (2011)

 

Matthew Vaughn attempted to provide some context for Magneto and Mystique’s prominence in the previous trilogy by making them part of the original X-Men team alongside Charles Xavier and Beast. This was a revelation and a smart approach to the series ultimately ending with Magneto and Mystique deciding Charles’ approach would never truly protect mutantkind. 

Loki Movie No. 4: Thor Ragnarok (2017)

Loki doesn’t return for Avengers: Age of Ultron and instead doesn’t return until two years later with the next Thor standalone film. He was a key cast member again as Thor realized Loki replaced Odin as leader of Asgard and the two were forced to align again in fighting off their half-sister Hela. He retained his mischievous side reveling in watching Thor get pummeled by The Hulk, but also stashing the Tesseract…just in case.

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Magneto and Mystique Movie No. 5: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

While one of the better X-Men films it’s still weird how the main plot eventually comes down to Magneto vs. Mystique. This is arguably one of the biggest offenders for the M&M overexposure as everything revolves around stopping Mystique from killing Bolivar Trask and getting Magneto to help Charles, Hank and a time-traveling Wolverine. In the end, the “X-Men” are in a river, trapped in a car or otherwise completely incapacitated while Mystique faces off with Magneto. Worse, the film ends with Mystique becoming the face of mutantkind.

Bryan Singer always was fascinated with these two characters over actual X-Men so it wasn’t surprised he made them more of a focus. At least there were some cool fights in the future and Quicksilver’s instant classic power display. 

Loki Movie No. 5: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Loki didn’t have nearly as much screen time in his fifth appearance as he didn’t even survive the first act. While glorious, his role wasn’t lengthy as he died trying to save Thor from Thanos and his Black Order. Watching his brother get killed in such a brutal manner helped motivate Thor’s thirst for vengeance as he was driven to kill Thanos as a result.

Magneto and Mystique Movie No. 6: X-Men:  Apocalypse (2016)

Despite the threat of Apocalypse, Magneto and Mystique are once again prominent characters. Magneto is disenchanted and broken after his family is killed while Mystique is adjusting to her life as a mutant icon thanks to saving the president in DOFP. The younger X-Men rally around Magneto and Mystique to defeat Apocalypse and Mystique finally returns back to the fold with Xavier as she agrees to lead the new X-Men.

In a team with Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler and Beast, again keeping the attention on Mystique seems silly and unnecessary especially since Jennifer Lawrence seems progressively bored in every scene in this her third X-Men film. 

Loki Movie No. 6: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Loki had an unusual role in this as the Avengers traveled back to 2012 as they finished defeating the exiled Asgardian and his Chitauri army. Most of his dialogue is reused from the first Avengers and we learn how he ended up with the muzzle. Paving the way for Loki to cause more chaos, he snatches the Tesseract and makes his escape into the time stream.

Magneto and Mystique Movie No. 7: Dark Phoenix (2019)

In their final film (for the moment), Mystique does the classy thing and gets killed off early on. It was just as well as Lawrence was sleepwalking through her role at this point. She was clearly over the role, wearing blue makeup and being in this X-Men world. Magneto had a longer role as he dealt with the fallout of Mystique’s death while echoing the Last Stand storyline of mentoring a corrupted Jean Grey.

Verdict

I just didn’t have the bandwidth to run a counter to actually track the amount of screen time Magneto and Mystique had compared to Loki, but after Avengers you could see a decrease in Loki’s overall importance to the story. His roles in The Dark World and Ragnarok made sense and you could argue for such a popular character he had very little screen time in Infinity War or Endgame. Conversely, the X-Men films never wavered from making Magneto and Mystique core figures in the seven films even at the expense of properly developing X-Men like Storm, Cyclops and Nightcrawler.

That’s the main reason whenever Marvel Studios starts making X-Men movies they’ll have to stay far away from the overexposed characters while Loki is getting ready for a renewed spotlight in his own TV series. 

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