Prior to this year, Marvel’s forays into television have been largely a mixed big. Their ascent to television, beginning with ABC’s Agents of SHIELD, was met with mixed reaction from fans for its more grounded approach to the universe. Then came Netflix’s Defenders saga, which focused largely on the comic book company’s “lesser” characters (Daredevil aside) and remained fairly detached from the cinematic universe they ostensibly shared.
Meanwhile—and I’m well aware this is an unpopular opinion—the movies themselves were increasingly running the risk of becoming stale. Sure, they were fun, but the Marvel Style was beginning to get old after nearly two dozen films in 12 years. Almost every movie released began to feel like an elaborate trailer for the next big crossover and the lack of real stakes was beginning to feel tedious.
What Marvel Studios and the MCU have desperately needed for years now was an infusion of risk and stylistic changes that could allow the stories they told to feel as fresh as they did when Iron Man first hit in 2008. The launch of Disney+ has, thankfully, allowed that to happen.
With two Disney+ series already under their belt—Wandavision along with Falcon and the Winter Soldier—Marvel and their Disney masters have proven that there is absolutely room for experimentation within the MCU. This is no real secret, of course. The best movies they’ve done in the last few years—Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok—have shown that disregarding the formula can and will be successful. And yet they’ve seemed, until now, unwilling to commit to getting weird with it.
Which brings us to Loki. Following on the heels of two successful shows, Marvel takes their risk biggest yet bringing this fan favorite character to Disney+ and the results so far are incredible.
As a character, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has something of a convoluted history. From minor nuisance in Thor, he became a level one bad guy in The Avengers before evolving into a lovable scamp/anti-hero in his subsequent appearances up until Infinity War when he was unceremoniously killed by Thanos prior to his infamous snap. Then came End Game with all its time traveling shenanigans which found Loki, post-The Avengers, using the tesseract to escape. Which is where Loki picks up.
The opening scene finds the God of Mischief in Mongolia where he, once again, begins monologuing about his burden of glorious purpose, this time to a small group of rightly confused tribesmen. He is quickly arrested by members of the Time Variance Authority—Marvel’s time police in the comics—for altering the timeline.
This conceit allows Loki some room to show us Loki in something of new light. While certainly the character has gotten more lighthearted over the years, his arrest by the TVA thrusts Loki into a Kafkaesque nightmare of imprisonment outside of time and forced to reconcile with not only everything he’s done up to that point (remember: this is the Loki from immediately following The Avengers) but also everything he hasn’t done yet (everything we’ve seen Loki do from The Avengers onward).
Confusing as this all might be, the series doesn’t shy away from the inherent absurdity of its premise which allows for some genuinely hilarious moments of frustration from Hiddleston. Recall that Loki from this time period was obsessed with his status as a god and trying to prove his worth as both king and conqueror. The sight of him shackled in the retrofuture office environs of the TVA provides plenty of room for comedic play as Loki struggles to comprehend the trouble he’s in.
His efforts at grandiose monologuing are consistently thwarted by Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson, who should probably be arrested for grand larceny for all the scenes he steals) who needs Loki’s help in tracking down a mysterious villain who’s messing with the past in horrendous ways. This largely sets up what should be the premise for the remaining 5 episodes of the series.
The chemistry between Hiddleston and Wilson should largely propel Loki moving forward. While it’s difficult to say anything for certainty just yet—especially considering just how bizarre things got in both Wandavision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier—their chemistry alone is compelling enough to let this play out. Additionally, there are hints of the age old battle between free will and determinism that elevate the series to the next level.
We’ve already seen Loki sort of make amends for his actions in The Avengers, but it was also something of a begrudging mea culpa without any real remorse. This has worked fine, up to this point, but Loki appears to be making a concerted effort at justifying all the fan love for the character. Can the God of Mischief actually change? Is Loki’s character more nurture or nature?
That’s a lot to unpack for a single episode of a six-episode series but, so far, Loki feels more than up to the challenge. With its central mystery in place it will be interesting to see where they take it from here and how they get to where they want to go. What remains to be seen is whether or not Marvel is willing to offer Loki a reprieve from the finality of his death by Thanos. It stands to reason that the TVA, in an effort to preserve the timeline, will set things back so that they unfold the way we already know they will. On the other hand, it never pays to underestimate the God of Mischief.
New episode of Loki premiere every Wednesday on Disney+.