Though it’s undoubtedly at least partially revisionist, Marvel Studios has a history of success that seems strongly weighted by the Infinity Saga. The internet is full of talking heads who will tell you that following Avengers: Endgame, the MCU just hasn’t been the same and that the quality of the projects, both theatrical and streaming, has fallen off drastically. 2023 has added fuel to the fire with projects such as Ant-Man: Quantumania and Secret Invasion failing to impress the majority of fans–and even fewer critics–leading to an even louder refrain of “The MCU is dead” than ever before. Leave it to the ultimate agent of chaos and the most entropic entry in the Multiverse Saga to date to restore order to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The God of Mischief has heard your concerns and Season 2 of Loki answers them authoritatively.
Picking up directly where Season 1 left off, Loki quickly reframes what fans thought happened in the prior season’s cliffhanger and puts Loki up against the clock. As the MCU builds towards an adaptation of Jonathan Hickman’s 2015 Secret Wars, the first episode–and then again the first four–certainly have the feel of the Time Runs Out prelude Hickman weaved through his Avengers and New Avengers titles. While Season 2 of Loki is certainly no adaptation of those–indeed it seems not to be an adaptation of any particular comic run or set of stories but rather an original idea from the production/writing team of Michael Waldron and Eric Martin–the first four episodes are fast-paced, intense and make it very clear that time is running out for all time. Getting down to brass tacks, the premise of Season 2 is this: the death of He Who Remains has created a multiverse that the TVA simply is not prepared to manage.
Starting with but certainly not limited to that premise, it’s amazing just how often these first four episodes of Season 2 of Loki work as an allegory for the criticisms faced by Marvel Studios. As He Who Remains’ death allowed the timeline to break free and grow into something far too large and chaotic for the TVA to handle, so has the Multiverse Saga opened the doors to criticism about Kevin Feige and co. potentially adopting a quantity over quality approach with, at one point, 8 projects planned in a calendar year. The technological MacGuffin of the first four episodes, a Multiplier that allows the Temporal Loom to be able to collar and manage the new timelines, provides the impetus for Loki and Mobius to take a trip through time and allows for the introduction of Jonathan Majors‘ Victor Timely. As the buddy cop duo sets off to find a Variant of the man who built the TVA to restore it to its rightful status as a timespace behemoth, so has Bob Iger returned from retirement with a renewed focus on curating and managing projects and characters amid jeers that there’s simply too much content for fans to consume. And as an all-new, all-different Loki is mocked, reminded that he’s a villain, not a hero, and told to stick to what he’s always done, so too do the critics hammer away at Marvel Studios for breaking away from the “Marvel formula.” Much as the future of Marvel Studios seems up for grabs, the first four episodes of Loki’s second season end with a truly shocking cliffhanger that will leave fans suspended in uncertainty…but not before a return to form and a reminder of what these streaming series should be.
Like its predecessor, Season 2 of Loki allows Tom Hiddleston all the room in the Multiverse to explore the nooks and crannies of the title character. Hiddleston has filled the godly shoes for well over a decade now and as easy as it might be to question what else there might be left to do with Loki, the first four episodes–and Hiddleston’s continued brilliance in the role–provide plenty of answers. Keeping in mind that this particular Variant of Loki, Variant L1130, was created when he escaped with the Tesseract in the aftermath of the 2012 Battle of New York during a botched effort by the Avengers during their time heist, allows the audience to truly see the realtime (sort of, since it technically takes place out of time) evolution of the character. Not far removed from seeking to subjugate all of humanity, Loki now seeks glorious purpose in keeping them free and, as such, Hiddleston finds space for an empathic Loki who recognizes the true beauty and power of humanity–a truly heroic version of the character, though thanks to some fun plot devices is able to get back to some fun magical mischief.
However, Season 2 is not simply the Tom Hiddleston show. So much of what made Season 1 work so well was the chemistry between Hiddleston and his co-stars, specifically Owen Wilson and Sophia Di Martino and, thankfully, a new creative team did nothing to change that. The Loki-Mobius dynamic is just as strong as always and the fractured relationship between Loki and Sylvie allows for an even deeper exploration of both characters. The brilliant addition of Ke Huy Quan as TVA tech guru Ouroboros will rightfully draw plenty of praise as Quan is an absolute joy in his surprisingly extended role; however, don’t underestimate Rafael Cassl’s saucy X-5/Brad Wolfe who ebbs and flows throughout the first four episodes as an agent of chaos in his own right. Majors‘ brings a definite strangeness to Victor Timely, who isn’t exactly what you think he might be and returners Wunmi Mosaku, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Tara Strong all get more to do to the benefit of the project as a whole.
As is always the case with pre-release screenings of Marvel Studios projects, critics and press have not seen the whole series which makes a true analysis of Season 2 of Loki impossible. Simply put, no matter how entertaining the first four episodes are, if the last two drop the ball, the project won’t be seen as a success and that’s not something Marvel Studios can afford at the moment. However, what can be said is that for four episodes, Marvel Studios leaned on one of their strongest and most veteran talents to put together what is unquestionably their best effort–theatrical or cinematic–not only of 2023 but of the entire Multiverse Saga. A combination of strong creative work behind the scenes by writer Eric Martin and the directing duo of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson and an enormously talented cast make Loki a fun sci-fi mystery that will fill the Void-sized void you may have been feeling.