A year ago, I would’ve told you that Loki was in the bottom rung of all the stuff Marvel was slated to do. At the time of the show’s announcement in 2018, we already saw the character die thrice (!!!), only for him to show up in subsequent films beyond those deaths. “Just how many more times do we have to see Loki run the same game all over again?” said 2020 me who didn’t know better. But then the first trailer of the show came out during Disney’s Investors Day conference last December, which gave a convincing argument that this show was going to be weird and bonkers. Having now seen the first two episodes, I’ve never been happier to eat those words I uttered last year because the show absolutely destroys.
That’s because Kevin Feige, Michael Waldron, and Kate Herron have found new engaging ways to give more mileage to this decade-old MCU character. Mileage that will likely last the character more than many lifetimes in the MCU. This kind of longevity feels organic and untrodden for the God of Mischief himself. Not only that, the show introduces a concept that is so outrageous within the current confines of the MCU, that it almost breaks it in the best way possible. Everything you understand about the MCU will radically change after you watch these episodes.
The way the show treats the titular character is unlike that of what we’ve seen. While previous Loki appearances had the God of Mischief stopping at nothing in his pursuit of glory, the show exposes him for the jobber he truly is. In the world of wrestling, he’s the guy that has to lose to crown the new WWE champion. As the fates would have it, Loki isn’t destined to win; he’s born to lose. He’s only around to make people around look better and the show brilliantly forces him to come to terms with this harsh truth. For a character that’s been nothing but a sore loser and winner, there’s nothing more compelling than seeing him get humbled.
This character turn, unsurprisingly, gives Tom Hiddleston more range for him to be the best version of Loki we’ve ever seen. He gets to tap into that maliciousness we saw from the first Avengers film and the bumbling brattiness he gave the character in Thor: Ragnarok while bringing a new layer of weariness for the character. Hiddleston is absolutely on fire as this version of Loki. There are big emotional moments for the character in the first episode where he gets to really flex those acting chops. More than Chris Hemsworth and any other MCU star, Hiddleston might be the MCU’s greatest casting discovery to date.
What makes Hiddleston better this time around is that he has Owen Wilson to bounce off from. Wilson plays Mobius, an obscure character from the comics that works for the Time Variance Authority. Wilson is very much playing an Owen Wilson character here and I don’t mean that as a dig: Wilson’s quirks as an actor work so well against Hiddleston’s highbrow Shakespearean energy. You have Loki, whose thing is being grandiose and boisterous and then you have Mobius, who is just some dude trying to finish his 9-to-5 job. What’s also great about Mobius is that he’s one of the few in Loki’s orbit that is actually several steps ahead. This dynamic leads to some very fun interactions between the two; Loki is second fiddle next to Mobius and he can’t stand it. The two almost have a Jim-Dwight chemistry that almost seems unthinkable when you think about a character like Loki. Again, it goes back to the creators of this show finding engaging ways to keep you on board. People will adore the tandem these two have.
And then you have TVA, the most bizarre organization to make the MCU to date. Essentially, they are the timeline police. You stray from your predetermined path in the timeline and then they arrest you. The show does a fantastic job in explaining how they operate via an animated educational video akin to Jurassic Park. What intrigues me about the TVA is the larger implications the organization has for the MCU. There are some absolutely bonkers allusions to Secret Wars and Infinity Stones in the show. The TVA as the most powerful ruling order in the MCU’s plane of existence is going to lead to some crazy stuff moving forward.
Apart from being immensely powerful, what really makes the TVA such a bizarre organization is the way the whole thing is packaged. The set design is so striking; a mix between retro 70’s analog and old school sci-fi. Every nook and cranny of the TVA feels very lived-in. Every single thing about the set feels like the polar opposite from what we got in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, where they literally had to use the same set over and over again. The people that inhabit the TVA rival those that live in Sakaar; just a bunch of totally lovable weirdos that steal each scene they’re in.
Visually, it’s the first Marvel Disney+ show to actually look truly cinematic. That’s not to say the two Marvel shows that came before this were visually bad. The VFX shots of those shows were astounding and even surpass some of the biggest movies. But beyond those expensive sequences, there are a chunk of scenes in Wandavision and, especially, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that fall short from looking like a movie. As great as Sam’s big monologue was in the finale, that whole moment looked like an episode of Jessica Jones. Loki is the first one of the bunch to feel like a movie.
If WandaVision was Marvel’s attempt at doing an experimental sitcom and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier a return to their blockbuster form, Loki is them taking a stab at a Fincher-esque investigative crime thriller. You’ve probably heard of the premise by now: someone is causing all these problems in the sacred timeline and the TVA needs Loki’s help to hunt them down. The show gets the spirit of investigative thrillers correct. It’s eerie and atmospheric at times. The investigative aspect feels very engaging. It’s not quite a whodunnit as the show is quick to give away who they’re after but the hows and whats within the confines of the TVA’s crazy world is what makes it interesting.
The only thing I’m mixed on is how some of the mechanics of time travel are presented. Like Endgame, it’s simplified enough for you to buy it at face value until you actually start thinking of the nuances. Some of it will eat at audiences if they don’t ever clarify it. But the fact that the show is taking big swings in doing their own twist with time travel is pretty cool. The introduction of the Time Keepers results in the prevalent theme of predestination and fate; whether or not we’re actually in control of our decisions or if some cabal of time gods have it all planned out. It’s nothing we haven’t seen but when applied to a character like Loki, it becomes way more interesting to explore. The stuff they seed for his arc is gonna have some crazy payoffs by the time the finale hits.
Having seen only two episodes, it’s too early to definitively say where Loki stands among the Marvel shows. But if the rest of the season keeps up with what Episode 1 and 2 does, we might have the best one yet. Loki may not ever rule Midgard or Asgard but he may be poised to rule the Disney+ platform if all goes well.