Less audacious and emotional than WandaVision, but more engaging than torpid The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios’ third Disney+ series benefits from focusing on a more popular character in an adventure separate from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) timeline—literally. Existing inside its own bubble, Loki adds more depth to the God of Mischief over six episodes than he ever managed across five blockbuster movies.
Warning: Spoilers for episodes 1-3 to follow, in the interest of reviewing Loki in a fuller manner without ruining the last third. But if you want to go in fresh turn back now...
Picking up from events in Avengers: Endgame (2019), where Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from The Avengers (2012) managed to escape custody thanks to the Tesseract, Loki finds the eponymous Asgardian captured by the mysterious Time Variance Authority (TVA). He’s duly processed as one of many ‘time variants’ that split from the so-called “Sacred Timeline”, finding himself before judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) where he’s given an unlikely reprieve by amiable TVA investigator Mobius (Owen Wilson). It turns out there’s a worse Loki variant hopping around time killing people for unexplained reasons, so who better to help Mobius in his search than another Loki?
WandaVision created its own sitcom-perfect town, but one that was recognisable because it was inspired by TV culture and tropes. Loki has a tougher job creatively, as almost the entire series takes place either inside the bureaucratic TVA (with its retro-futurism and foreboding Brazil-esque architecture), or on alien planets and other bizarre realms. I’m sure Loki is more to the taste of Marvel fans, as it immediately widens the scope of the MCU itself… in order for us to discover who, or what, governs Time itself.
Loki makes for an interesting guide through this story, but having the anti-hero also be the audience proxy mean he maintains a passive role through much of it. First to Mobius, who takes a couple of episodes to bring him (and us) up to speed about the TVA’s role and the rules of the Sacred Timeline; and then to Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), a female Loki variant introduced as his nemesis before softening into a tetchy love interest.
It’s a shame our Loki (specifically the despotic who narrowly failed to enslave mankind in The Avengers, here without the growth we saw in subsequent MCU films) isn’t allowed a chance to push the narrative forward himself. Instead, Loki spends most of his time falling into crazy situations he doesn’t fully comprehend (like a punishment time-loop, or a junkyard where unwanted variants are devoured by a cloud demon), and scrambles to catchup before it’s on to the next outlandish scenario.
Tom Hiddleston is nevertheless having fun here, finding ways to show Loki in a fresh light. We see different sides to his personality after multiple films that mostly repeated his double-crossing step-brother dynamic with Thor. In this series, he wrestles with the realisation his lifelong quest for power was misguided. We see him mature and gain self-awareness over the season, and even develop a genuine friendship with Mobius and a romantic connection to Sylvie—who’s naturally the perfect girlfriend for a narcissist, being a version of himself.
The supporting cast are all good, but the standout is undoubtedly Owen Wilson, simply because he uses his brand of Southern charm to make his character the perfect foil for Loki. Mobius is unflappable and seemingly incapable of being suckered by Loki’s ploys and lies, which makes every scene they’re together a delight. For all of its visual splendour and expensive VFX, some of the season’s best moments are when Loki and Mobius are simply having a conversation; with Mobius almost playing the role of a therapist.
Sophia Di Martino (Flowers) also makes a positive impression here, as expectations she’s the big villain take a turn and she becomes a playful antagonist instead. She works well with Hiddleston, too, although her rapport isn’t as effortlessly as Wilson’s because their dialogue isn’t as strong. One scene between them inside a Snowpiercer-style train on a doomed alien planet even confirms Loki’s bisexual, which shows progress for Marvel in representing more people’s sexuality on screen.
The problem with Loki is that after a terrific start building a vivid world that opens the door to adventures across Time and Space, that grand sense of possibility gradually deflates. Some twists are predictable and a few big moments aren’t as important as they first appeared, although the writers do manage to elicit a few gasps (certainly in “The Nexus Event”, regarding the fate of two characters). But as a whole the show ends up feeling like a decent Doctor Who with a massive budget behind it. And, truthfully, a well-written Doctor Who could have covered this story in a much tighter two-parter, with considerably bouncier dialogue.
However, Loki has became my favourite of the Disney+ Marvel shows, even if WandaVision was more intriguing week-to-week and emotionally satisfying overall. Loki delivers a bold finale that radically alters the MCU forever, making it essential viewing before Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2022), and it’s mostly good fun that leaves the door open for another season. I just hope the way they’ve smoothed Loki’s villainous edges isn’t irreversible, as there’s just cause for being disappointed with the six-episodes of rehab the character goes through here. Or that, ultimately, Loki was less about discovering new things about the character, and more about making a big change to the fabric of the MCU’s future.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider buying me a coffee…
USA | 2021 | 287 MINUTES • 6 EPISODES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
writers: Michael Waldron, Elissa Karasik, Bisha K. Ali, Eric Martin & Tom Kaufman.
director: Kate Herron.
starring: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, Eugene Cordero, Tara Strong (voice), Sophia Di Martino, Sasha Lane, Jack Veal, DeObia Oparei & Richard E. Grant.