Loki’s time has come.
* Note: in order to discuss the series in some detail, this review will contain spoilers.
Earlier this year, Marvel Studios released WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier on streaming service Disney+. Both were greeted with favorable reception from fans and critics. Loki, however, Disney-Marvel’s third series, is undoubtedly the best of the bunch. Created by Rick and Morty (2013-20) producer Michael Waldron and directed by Kate Herron, Loki marks a huge leap forward for MCU television, the show just as fun, irreverent, and out-there as Marvel’s original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. Within Loki, filmmakers explore a ton of crazy concepts and ideas that’ll forever change the MCU. Anchored by a mischievous performance from Tom Hiddleston, who returns as our favorite troublemaker, Loki is a tremendous success. So much so that I’m starting to believe we’re headed into a ‘phase’ in the MCU where their small-screen stuff is bolder, more unique, and, dare I say, enjoyable than their big-screen efforts.
If you’re thinking, ‘Hang on. Didn’t Loki die at the start of Avengers: Endgame?’ Well, you’re right, but Loki takes place in an alternative timeline. If you can recall the events of 2019’s Endgame, our heroes went on a time heist to ‘borrow’ the Infinity Stones from various points in time to use in the then-present. In one of those attempts, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Co. traveled back to 2012 to grab the Infinity Stone hidden in Loki’s Tesseract right after he was captured at the end of the Battle of New York. However, the God of Mischief escaped, taking the stone with him. This, you see, created a new or alternate timeline, which we follow here. So, this is not the same Loki from 2013’s Thor: The Dark World or 2017’s Ragnarok; it’s a different version of the character altogether.
The story opens when Loki is apprehended by a bunch of armored guards who are part of an omnipotent bureaucracy known as the Time Variance Authority (or TVA). Arrested for his crimes against meddling with the ‘Sacred Timeline,’ Loki is taken to the TVA’s retro-looking headquarters located in a futuristic cityscape outside of space and time, where bookkeepers use powerful Infinity Stones as mere paperweights. This is where Loki (acting as an audience surrogate) is brought up to speed with the MCU’s insane concepts of time by Agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), an easy-going official akin to Jack Cates from 48 Hrs. (1982). We quickly discover that this version of Loki is now a ‘variant’ — a person that does something to alter the Sacred Timeline, in turn creating a breach in time and an alternate set of events, otherwise known as a Nexus event.
After taking Loki through a tour of his past and future offenses, Mobius offers him an ultimatum to avoid being ‘pruned’ — the act of being zapped by an electro-stick, then burnt up like a sheet of paper and sent to an unknown location. Mobius requests the aid of Loki to apprehend a felon. It turns out that someone with a stolen TemPad (used to open and close time doors) has been avoiding capture by the TVA for a while, taking out the organization’s Minutemen in the process. This individual, however, happens to be a Loki variant, meaning that Loki might be the best person to track down the criminal, seeing as they’re another version of himself. Things get particularly interesting when Hiddleston’s Loki discovers that the anarchistic variant that’s been causing the TVA headaches is actually a female Loki from a parallel timeline who calls herself Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). Just as sly as Loki (and arguably smarter), Sylvie’s interactions with our tricksy leading man set the pair on an unprecedented path, forever altering their lives as they begin to uncover secrets about the Authority and the power behind the universe at large.
At its core, Loki is a show about identity and self-acceptance, and basically explores what it means to be a ‘Loki.’ Throughout the series, our antihero, who’s had a heap of story arcs during his time in the MCU, learns how to accept himself and propel himself forward to become a better person. During the journey, we meet a variety of different Lokis — from Sophia Di Martino’s Lady Loki to Richard E. Grant’s superb older Loki (who’s wearing the classic costume from the 1960s comic books) to Jack Veal’s Kid Loki (who apparently killed Thor in another timeline), and even Alligator Loki — all of whom help our main man discover a bit more about himself. We also delve into some of the wackier ideas from the Marvel comics, chiefly things like the multiverse, parallel worlds, and alternative realities, breaking away from the broader areas of the MCU.
Another strength of the show is its ability to seamlessly hop between tones and genres, with director Kate Herron and her team changing things up drastically as the series progresses. Episode one, ‘Glorious Purpose,’ for example, is essentially an off-kilter sci-fi office comedy à la 2005’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; while the second episode, ‘The Variant’ comes off as a gritty futuristic crime thriller. Then, when you think we’ve settled on a tone, the third episode, ‘Lamentis’ — where Loki and Sylvie jump to the end of the world on the moon Lamentis-1, where the planet it once orbited is deteriorating and falling into the inhabited moon below — feels like an episode of Rockne S. O’Bannon’s wild and wacky Farscape (1999-2003).
Heck, episode five, ‘Journey into Mystery,’ is a treasure trove of Easter eggs and nods to Marvel comics and the MCU at large. Die-hard fans will be re-watching this for weeks, trying to spot as many references as they can — look out for Ronan the Accuser’s ship from Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers Tower, Yellowjacket’s helmet from 2015’s Ant-Man, the retro Thanos-Copter from 1979’s Spidey Super Stories comic #39; and my personal favorite, a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it appearance from Throg, a frog version of Thor! And while we do get the obligatory big CGI battle against a trans-temporal entity known as Alioth in the penultimate episode, the finale is much more talky and psychological, the show concluding with some enormous ramifications for the future of the Marvel universe.
Loki also sports spectacular work from production designer Kasra Farahani, Earth to Echo (2014), and cinematographer Autumn Durald, Teen Spirit (2018), who create an extensive, intricate world that feels theatrical, transporting us to several vastly distinctive locations. The design of the TVA headquarters, for instance, is a peculiar mix of mid-century Modernism and Brutalist architecture, while Sharoo, the industrial mining city on the moon of Lamentis-1, is glowing with neon purples and blues. Additionally, Loki’s signature color of green has been integrated into the show’s overall palette but is most notable in the world of the Void, which is located at the end of time. Moreover, a sequence that takes place in the all-powerful Time-Keepers’ chamber is a visual knockout (in terms of composition, color, and camerawork) and stands as one of the most striking bits of imagery I’ve seen this year.
Another asset is the excellent cast. Tom Hiddleston is delightful, sneaky, unpredictable, and very funny as Loki, effortlessly slipping back into the role he was clearly born to play. It’s obvious that Hiddleston is having such a great time with his character; there’s a fun gag that exposes Loki as 1971 criminal D. B. Cooper that’s particularly clever. Sophia Di Martino, who’s mostly known for her work in TV, confidently steps into the MCU, holding her own as the feisty Goddess of Mischief Sylvie, a female Loki with a tragic past who’s determined to forge her own path in life. Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers (2005), brings his usual good-natured flair as affable TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius, who dreams of one day riding a jet ski. Sharing a friendship-bromance with Loki, Mobius acts as a kinda mentor and therapist of sorts, leading Loki down a redemptive path.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle (2013), breathes life into Ravonna Renslayer, a respected judge at the TVA. Wunmi Mosaku, His House (2020), is hella imposing as the high-ranking Hunter B-15, who goes on a bit of an eye-opening journey throughout the series, whilst Sasha Lane, American Honey (2016), is decent as Hunter C-20, another TVA hunter who’s enchanted by Sylvie and used in her plan to take down the organization. Tara Strong, Batman: The Killing Joke (2016), is fun as the Southern-sounding voice of the TVA’s cartoony mascot, an animated anthropomorphic clock known as Miss Minutes. Fans should also be happy to see Jaimie Alexander, The Last Stand (2013), reprising her role as Asgardian warrior Sif who appears in a brief cameo to torture Loki in a memory prison, where he’s forced to replay a moment of his past over and over and over again. Lastly, Jonathan Majors, Lovecraft Country (2020), shows up as He Who Remains, the man who lives until the end of time, this appearance teasing the arrival of his evil variant Kang the Conqueror, a time-traveling supervillain who may very well be the next Phase’s Thanos, with Majors set to appear again in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Loki concludes with a universe-altering decision that leads to an intriguing cliffhanger where it’s hinted that Loki has traveled to yet another different timeline. Either way, I’m certain we’ll get some answers in the second season, which is teased in a post-credit scene where the text ‘Loki will return in Season 2’ is stamped on a piece of paper. As it stands, though, Loki is a triumph. It’s the kind of bold, daring venture that fans of the MCU have been patiently waiting to see. Sure, it might be a tad too unconventional for some, but if you can get on its wavelength, I’d say make room in your timeline for Loki.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)