For Loki, 2012 was literally yesterday. The titular trickster god of the new Marvel Disney+ jam isn’t the same man who teamed up with Thor in Ragnarok or briefly fought against Thanos in Infinity War. This is a throwback Loki, which is appropriate because the show itself is the most accessible, fun, and clever Marvel product since the “first” Avengers in 2012. With Loki, the novelty of the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels fresh again. Even if you’re lukewarm on Marvel in general, there’s a real chance you’ll love Loki. It’s exciting without being slavish to action schlock, and thoughtful without feeling like a discount philosophy class. No spoilers ahead.
Unlike WandaVision, the strength of Loki is that it’s not a slow burn, at all. The pacing of the story moves super-quickly, and questions other shows might feel the need to drag out, Loki answers by the end of the second episode. Whereas WandaVision believed it was more clever than it was, Loki isn’t pretending to be clever, it’s just confident that it is. There’s a moment in the second episode where Owen Wilson’s character Mobius, based on nothing but intuition, pauses, and says, “He’s lying.” It’s one of those great Owen Wilson dramatic pauses, and it’s accomplished without telepathy or a super-power, he’s just got Loki’s number.
Or does he? Part of the conflict of Loki is baked into the basic premise: As the trailers revealed Loki has been recruited by TVA (Time Variance Authority) to do…something for them. Loki’s specific mission would be a spoiler, but it’s not a spoiler to say that the tension between Mobius (Wilson) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is what drives the show. Loki is a workplace comedy and a buddy-cop show, and murder-mystery, and a time-travel romp all rolled into one.
The only truly disappointing thing about the show is that we already know it’s only 6 episodes. The world that is unspooled in the first episode makes the stakes of the rest of the Marvel movies seem slightly humorous. And, as a kind of throwback direct-sequel to The Avengers, that feels right. Giant purple dudes with power gloves might work for blockbuster movies circa 2018, but in Loki, the stakes are a little more metaphysical. Do we have free will? Are our timelines predetermined? The existence of this Loki — a derivation from the “regular” Marvel timeline called a “Variant” — gives the show a lot of creative freedom. This is the character we’ve seen in all of these films, and also, he’s a totally different person.
Marvel is blazing a new trail through their own complicated film and TV canon, oddly by embracing those complexities rather than avoiding them. That said, the show isn’t trying to confuse you or make you wonder what the hell is going on. It’s not frustrating or coy with its plotting. Despite being about time travel and branching timelines and all the other nonsense that made Endgame a bit of an eye-roll, Loki is actually fairly straightforward. Twists are certainly coming. That’s for sure. But, when they happen, those moments will feel earned. Just like the TVA has a mission to keep the timeline on track, the creative team behind Loki clearly has a plan. And the best part is, they’re having fun every step of the way.
Loki will likely change the entire Marvel landscape in ways the two previous Disney+ Marvel shows didn’t. Kevin Feige has said that the show will be “tremendously important,” to the continuity of future Marvel films. And the series head writer, Michael Waldron is also the screenwriter on Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. If you’ve felt a bit exhausted by the MCU in the past few years, Loki will feel like an enticing invitation to return to this wacky world. And, if you’ve loved every aspect of the MCU, you’re going to love what Loki is doing now.
With the shorthand of an actual comic book storyline and the wit of an indie comedy flick, Loki is here to save our summer. Bring on the chaos!