Loki is the only Marvel Cinematic Universe villain with a tenure that stretches back to the early days of the franchise. When the character, always played by the very game Tom Hiddleston, met his maker at the hands of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, fans believed he was finally gone for good despite cheating death many times before. Little did we know Loki still had more tricks up his sleeve.
Marvel’s new Disney+ series Loki effectively reboots the comic book villain by picking up his story after he made a surprise escape during the Avengers: Endgame time travel heist that took us back to the events of The Avengers in 2012. However, Loki hasn’t made a clean getaway. Instead, he finds himself caught up in the hilariously mundane, bureaucratic world of the Time Variance Authority, an agency tasked with upholding “The Sacred Timeline.” Suddenly, Loki gets a new perspective on life, a curious new power to covet, an unlikely partner to keep him in check, and a time-hopping criminal to chase. The result is a complex, peculiar, sharp, and wryly hilarious time-traveling mystery that is nothing short of spectacular.
A Man Out of Time
Loki picks up immediately after the God of Mischief grabbed the Tesseract and made an escape from New York City, with the time-displaced villain crash landing near a small village in the Gobi desert in Mongolia. He’s not stuck in this desolate landscape for long though, because suddenly a small unit of soldiers from an agency called the Time Variance Authority enter through translucent doors that appear out of thin air. Led by a no-nonsense soldier played Wunmi Musaku, this unit has tracked down Loki for “crimes against The Sacred Timeline.” Don’t worry if you’re totally in the dark here, because Loki is just as confused as you might be, and there’s plenty to learn about this new sect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Reluctantly guided through a 1960s office setting best described as Mad Men in Black, an animated instructional video explains to Loki (and you in the audience) about a multiverse war between the universe’s different timelines as they battled for supremacy. Thankfully, three cosmic beings known as the Timekeepers reorganized the multiverse into a single timeline known as The Sacred Timeline. They’ve tasked the Time Variance Authority with upholding the proper flow of time and stopping any variants (e.g. Loki) from disrupting it (“For all time, always”). Any variants left unchecked threaten to create a branch that threatens to split The Sacred Timeline and start another multiverse war. The methodical way in which this responsibility is carried out is both entertaining and a little unsettling. It will reshape the way you think about power in the MCU.
Timeline This, Multiverse That
Despite the fact that the TVA finds Loki guilty of crimes against The Sacred Timeline, desk jockey Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) puts his reputation on the line by taking Loki under his simple polyester sportcoat and convincing him to help the TVA track down a mysterious time-hopping criminal. Another variant is killing TVA units, stealing their timeline-preserving gadgets and weapons to execute some kind nefarious plan. Mobius believes Loki’s mischievous mind is uniquely equipped to track them down.
Even though there’s plenty of complicated world-building that goes on within the first and second episodes of Loki (the only two provided to critics for review), it’s all necessary. Not only does it properly set up the hilariously bureaucratic and mundane world of the TVA, turning the spectacle of time travel into a desk job that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Law & Order, but the series also feels like a clear set-up for the events to come in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Digging into the nitty gritty of the Time Variance Authority means plenty of dense exposition, but the effortless banter between Loki and Mobius makes that big pill very easy to swallow. Tom Hiddleston gets to chew scenery like bubble gum, and Owen Wilson makes for a spectacular dry foil who forces Loki to question his very existence.
The usually grandstanding Loki is surprisingly introspective here, adding even more layers to the villain who was already the most thoroughly developed villain in the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would have been easy for Marvel to reboot Loki and get him back in traditional anti-hero mode. Try has he might to use his gifts for manipulation and magic, the TVA doesn’t let Loki get away with his usual tricks and schemes. Instead, Mobius casually gets Loki to look deep within himself and question everything he’s stood for after all these years, including the so-called burden of “glorious purpose” he’s been monologuing about for years. With the facade of Loki’s villainy pulled back, the show gives us the most vulnerable version of the villain we’ve seen yet. But that doesn’t mean Loki is done thirsting after power, especially as the time crime case he’s working on with Mobius begins to unfurl.
There’s more than enough mystery to keep Loki compelling, and the series offers an intriguing new wrinkle in the existence and trajectory of the MCU. All this talk about multiverses will clearly have major ramifications on the next phase of Marvel movies, and the series gives Marvel fans plenty to speculate about, especially when the identity of the mysterious time-violating criminal is revealed. In fact, the criminal’s identity is technically revealed twice. To find out exactly what that means, you’ll just have to watch the show.
Marvel’s Best Series Yet
Loki is Marvel’s most confident series debut. It wastes no time digging into the complicated world of the Time Variance Authority, and it does so with a familiar but fresh style that echoes the crime thrillers of David Fincher, the sci-fi adventures of Doctor Who, along with a touch of Rick and Morty and Terry Gilliam. What makes it stand out is the sharp dialogue from head writer Michael Waldron and his team, giving Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson plenty of time to just sit and wax philosophically and existentially about time and space and their place in it, something you wouldn’t expect from Marvel Studios. Though that includes plenty of exposition, it feels more akin to the kind of deep conversations from movies like Before Sunrise or the filmography of Quentin Tarantino.
Director Kate Herron effortlessly brings Loki to life with a sleek, vintage sci-fi aesthetic, a fascinating array of time gadgets and weapons, and a penchant for making chit-chat in offices and libraries wholly entertaining. From a baton that sends those it strikes into slow motion to grenades that reset an area of the timeline that’s been disturbed, there’s plenty of hardcore nerdity for the sci-fi fans out there. The time traveling element of the series also allows Herron to dive into a wide variety of settings that should help keep the attention of those who may not be so invested in extended sci-fi repartee, including the oil fields of Oklahoma, the doomed city of Pompeii, a Reanaissance fair with a fight sequence set to “Holding Out for a Hero,” and a futuristic department store with deep ties to Marvel mythology. There’s even a quick aside that is sizzling with style and turns Loki into a notorious figure from the 1970s.
The first two episodes of Loki feel like Marvel Studios doing what they do best. But there’s also a feeling the comic book movie studio is letting the filmmakers behind these Disney+ shows veer away from their established formula, at least when it comes to putting a new spin on familiar genres. Much of the original Infinity Saga films feel like they’re following a playbook, but it would seem the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have a bit more of an auteur’s touch without veering too far away from what has made this the most successful franchise of all time. If what’s on display in Loki‘s first two episodes carries over to the rest of the season, then this could be Marvel’s best series yet.
Loki premieres on Disney+ starting on June 9, 2021.
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