I’m assuming this is flying in about this post because people are noting it a lot right now.
I’m not sure why “unleash the Hulk” or “destroy the helicarrier” are mutually exclusive propositions, first off, since the one thing can directly affect the other. Loki’s Staff of Mindfuck +2 has really ill-defined plot devicey properties but it does seem like he was trying to edge Hulk out for quite a while before it actually happened. Banner has been living a life of zen meditation for some vague sequel-distance unit of time, it makes sense he has enough presence to resist psychic attacks. I daresay if Loki could point his Staff of Mindfuck +2 at Banner/Hulk and get him to change forms lickity-split the movie would have gone much differently for Loki.
But re: “Loki is the true winner”, that’s your interpretation and you are welcome to it, but it’s not a reading I find particularly convincing. Not just because the way the scene is framed doesn’t contain a camera panback to Loki whispering “just according to keikaku”, but because engineering a trap like that seems wholly unLokilike to me in the first place.
Not that he couldn’t be that degree of tricky— he is Loki, he absolutely could. He’s smart enough to pull a double blind. But that kind of swerve, that faking humiliation to let an opponent walk away proud, would require a kind of regard for Natasha that I don’t think Loki has. Natasha is a puny mortal and Loki plays games with puny mortals, but not the way you’d play chess, the way you play with dolls. His supervillain self-justification is, at least, on the surface, that he is so much higher than everyone else on this mudball that they should go ahead and put a crown on it. That in their heart of hearts that is what humanity yearns for. And this idea of Loki’s is the hubris the film eventually punishes him for: he can’t imagine Earth coming up with a defense for scaly alien hoverbike army, but the Avengers can, and do. And then Hulk flips him around like a ragdoll.
I don’t think that’s all there is to Loki and his motivations in the film, but I do think that is a big and generally consistant part of it. He’s large, he contains multitudes, but it is clear that his Staff of Mindfuck doesn’t always work the way he wants it to. “There have always been men like you.”
Natasha is a rather tiny human being with no weird powers, no hammer, no shield. Even caged, she doesn’t really stand a chance against Loki, and Loki knows that. There’s no reason for him to regard her as a genuine obstacle, the kind he has to outdoublethink to beat. And he’s right, too: Natasha guessing his plan did nothing to impede his eventual escape. It might have, maybe, if the Staff of Mindfuck hadn’t already done a number on things, if the rest of them would listen to her. But they didn’t. They didn’t listen, because Loki had them, so why would he construct this elaborate plot to get her to think he was after the Hulk?
That’s part of the point, too, that Natasha piecing together some bits of his plan isn’t enough to stop Loki. You need the whole team of Avengers to do that. “And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born—to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand!”