Finally, eight years after that incredible San Diego Comic-Con appearance, Loki headlines his own project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thanks to some time trickery, his Disney Plus series isn’t just six episodes of Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal, it’s practically a sequel to The Avengers. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean Thor: The Dark World won’t happen, just that it hasn’t happened yet, and in the first episode, Loki sees what tragedies lay ahead, and reckons with their apparent inevitability.
Loki begins with the God of mischief’s escape with the Tesseract during Avengers: Endgame, immediately after which he crash lands in Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Right when he thinks he’s free from the handcuffs of superheroes, some timecops show up and arrest him using a time-dilating neck brace. The Time Variance Authority they’re called, and in a sequence that has more than a shade of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Loki is processed to the fullest extent of their creaky bureaucracy.
The quirky touch of Thor: Ragnarok is present in the TVA’s endless floors, but it’s mixed with just enough of Guardians of the Galaxy’s grungy sci-fi to feel like a distinct corner of the universe. Where WandaVision stuck us in the middle of its high concept without much of an explanation, Loki’s more preoccupied with communicating its own internal logic.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe – the movies that we’ve followed for over a decade – is the “sacred timeline”, and Loki disappearing just now with the Tesseract creates a branch that cannot be allowed. Essentially, the Asgardian rogue is breaking from canon, and you can’t break canon, because that’s against the rules.
It’s an inversion of WandaVision: instead of trying to recapture the past, Loki’s (unknowingly) threatening to shatter the future. Two opposing poles around the same thematic focal point of having to live in other people’s glory, and being punished for trying to decide otherwise. A compelling idea this may be, these miniseries haven’t been spectacular at their follow-through, ranging from WandaVision’s clumsy effects-heavy battles, to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s total disregard for a salient point.
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Structurally, Loki fancies itself as a procedural, and the bulk of the first episode is our favourite antihero being grilled by agent Mobius (Owen Wilson). Kind and patient, Mobius is exactly the kind of role you’d expect from Wilson, and his easy charisma makes for a welcome break from Chris Hemsworth’s hyper-masculine Thor.
The soft demeanour that gently questions a French child from the 1500s belies a cunning investigator, though, who tends not to miss his mark. Like any detective who’s earned his silver moustache, Mobius sees right through all Loki’s bravado and chest-puffing and, using some tacit self-awareness of the MCU at large, knows exactly how to get him vulnerable.
Loki was always in competent hands with returning star Hiddleston, whose portrayal of Thor’s troublesome sibling has long been narratively overlooked. Given the space of a leading performance, Hiddleston excels. Getting to revel in Loki’s short fuse while navigating the absurdity of the TVA is clearly still a joy, but rather than always serving as a foil, now he gets to explore the flipside.
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Part of Mobius’ strategy is showing Loki as we see him – conniving, antagonistic, and untrustworthy – and the ways his family has loved him regardless. We’re all the protagonists of our own story, and focussing on some perceived destiny, or retribution, can create a tunnel-vision where the pain of others doesn’t matter. In one hefty blow, Loki comes to understand that he’s not as unloved as he thinks he is, and that his manifestations of grandeur have led to legitimate heartache among the few whose opinions he cares for.
It’s a lot, and it’s carried by Hiddleston, who slides back into MCU Phase One Loki, and gives this younger, angrier version of the character some of the catharsis he so badly needed. By the same token, director Kate Herron, and writer Michael Waldron, appropriately hang on this moment, letting it be the transition point between the Loki that was, and the Loki that will be.
What that ultimately amounts to is in the air. Mobius is adamant the established timeline cannot be changed, but this is Loki, messing things up to see what happens is kind of his thing. We get an explicit mention of the Time-Keepers, entities created to watch over the flow of time, opening the door for a meeting with the arbiters of time themselves.
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Like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there’s no shortage of ideas, and the cliffhanger leading into episode two is rife with possibilities. When considering where everything can go, Marvel Studios has taught me not to set my hopes too high, but I found myself more excited for the next episode than I expected.