I realize I’ve only seen two episodes, but as of this moment, Loki is absolutely already my favorite of the Marvel Studios shows so far. Don’t get me wrong. WandaVision is incredibly original and ambitious.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Captain America and the Winter Soldier was relevant and politically aware. But after the first two episodes of each, I found myself questioning whether or not I loved the shows as much as the films. Yes it’s great to give us time to explore these characters as more than just B-members of The Avengers, playing second fiddle to the original six. But was it really going to give me the same feelings I got whenever I’d walk out of the cinemas after another rousing $200M budgeted 2-3 hour installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Inevitably of course the answer was yes by the time both series concluded. But Loki is truly the first of the series where, after two episodes, I did not, for a single second, need to question that I’d get the same feeling from it that the films give me. Nor did I question it’s purpose. After all, what did you expect? Is he not burdened with glorious purpose?
Warning: I’m not going to go into heavy spoilers of either episode, but I will be slyly alluding to aspects of it, so if you want to go in completely fresh for the show, feel free to read this after watching at least the first episode.
Loki immediately begins in the aftermath of the lingering question left behind by Avengers Endgame: Where did “The god of mischief” escape to after Tony and Scott lose the Tesseract in 2012? Without spoiling much, we get the answer and it’s not only funny, but the resulting events are surprisingly satisfyingly resolved before the title card of the series even flashes. The show has so much ground to cover that it doesn’t need to justify how it’s going to resolve what people consider to be “plot holes,” it just gets productive and fills them. It also ends up becoming a fantastic setup for something we’ve never seen in the MCU yet — the Time Variance Authority (or TVA for short). We get a great explanation from The Ancient One in Endgame about the potential dangers of destroying reality with branch timelines (Nexus events) when Infinity Stones are removed from their proper place. This series elaborates on that mythology, while staying true to it, by introducing the organization that polices such events.
The world building of the TVA and the introduction of really large, comic-mythology heavy aspects like The Time Keepers (and maybe a few other specifically name-dropped items in the Miss Minutes animated segment) is done incredibly well, clear, and quickly. Not once are you scratching your head like we did throughout the entirety of WandaVision. New characters that are introduced, such as Owen Wilson’s spectacular and hilarious Mobius M. Mobius, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ravonna Renslayer pop off the screen like lived-in characters who have existed since we first set our eyes on this universe. They’re fun and quick-witted, and instantly likeable. The show is delivering so much at you at once, but it never feels overwhelming. And this is thanks to the brilliant coordination of head writer Michael Waldron and his staff. They know the MCU so well, inside and out, that everything feels essential but new, and always clear, and always, always fascinating. It’s incredibly impressive.
However, let’s be honest. The heart, soul, alpha, and omega of this series rises and falls in the arms of Tom Hiddleston! I know we’ve seen his brilliance as this character time and time again. Which begs the question: how can you possibly develop and build further on an already fully developed character? Well, somehow or another, the crazy people behind Loki find a way to do it! It makes it clear that this both is and is not the same Loki we saw die at the hands of Thanos. Which shouldn’t make sense, and yet it completely does. So much of why it all works is also because of Hiddleston’s talent, charm, and charisma. Hiddleston has a way of commanding the screen either through his amazing sense of comedic timing and reactions to everything the character is put through, or incredibly heartfelt, emotional moments reflecting on a tragic life he hasn’t lived yet. The fantastic writing expanding his character and his arc so far meshes so perfectly well with what he’s trying to do with the performance, that it comes across like a symphonic harmony of direction, writing, and acting. Never once does the character feel inconsistent from the well-earned arcs that played out for him from the first Thor to his final moments in Infinity War, and yet we’re still able to explore different sides and emotions to him. It’s all incredibly well done.
The humor and the weirdness of the series also work really well. The entire TVA bureaucratic system is ridiculously mundane, yet fascinating at the same time. It plays almost like a Futurama or Rick and Morty episode (no surprise given Waldron’s history on the latter). It’s funny but also gives you a side of the MCU you haven’t seen before, and want to learn more about, from the rules of the organization to its culture. Amazingly enough, the series is not afraid to take you into dreamt up locations, whether it’s the past or the far future. Mad props to the set and production designers. I was awe inspired by the aesthetics in at least two different scenes. Again, spectacular world-building, and imaginative set designs really immerse us in moments in time that we want to learn more about. And adding to the humor as well is this amazing buddy comedy chemistry between Hiddleston and Wilson, who bounce off of each other’s charm and energy so rapidly, yet perfectly! It’s no wonder they greenlit a season 2 already, because I can watch these two play off each other for many more episodes to come.
There are also two other brilliant aspects of the show I want to touch on. The first is how it allows you to look at the MCU from a different perspective. How the show serves you up moments you’re already familiar with from a different points of view, such as how the TVA views Infinity Stones, to aspects that were central to the original Loki’s character journey, and gives you different character meanings/reactions on each. As I mentioned it knowingly knows its place within the MCU, and uses that place to expand on it and influence it from within. The second aspect is how surprisingly philosophical it all is. The introduction of the TVA and the Time-Keepers poses several questions about the idea of fate vs. free will. And to use an amoral antihero character like Loki, who is both a villain and a hero, to explore that theme is absolutely brilliant. Throughout this entire franchise we’ve wondered how evil the god of mischief really is, and wondered what it would take for him to become better. After all, every choice he’s made has led to dire consequences. We finally got that in Thor Ragnarok, but the premise of introducing a variant Loki who hasn’t experienced the death of Frigga or Odin or loss of Asgard (we forget he has lost as much as Thor), and seeing if we get the same result is, again, fascinating. For if Loki is truly burdened with glorious purpose, what on earth is that purpose? Does that sentiment even make sense if there is no free will for him to dictate what that purpose is? And it’s something I honestly can’t wait to get the answer for.
If there’s perhaps any complaints about the series, it may be the somewhat derivative “Hannibal Lector”-esque premise of using a villain like Loki to catch another villain. And between the two episodes, the first is stronger because you’re exploring the new additions to the MCU mythology and the world of the TVA in depth, versus the second episode which focuses more on the buddy cop plotline. But to be honest, that doesn’t bother me much, considering the search for the series’ main villain will lead to the further exploration of the aforementioned themes of free-will and choice for good or evil. The setup is necessary for the themes to work, and to further explore Loki – seeing what makes him tick – which is what makes the series so brilliant.
All in all, Loki for me is really the first series in this new format of Marvel Studios storytelling that lived up to the promise of what these shows hypothetically represented — a new, different way to continue the saga of the MCU. Waldron and his writers are doing an excellent job of efficiently setting up new elements, while deconstructing an already well-explored character, and still managing to deepen his character further. Hiddleston is phenomenal, and his chemistry with Wilson is just perfect and insanely entertaining.
As long as Marvel Studios keeps coming out with shows like Loki, you’ll have me as a true believer. For all time. Always.
Overall Score: A