Loki Review: Mischievously Establishing Ridiculously High Stakes

Loki Review: Mischievously Establishing Ridiculously High Stakes

Let’s get the obvious part of the Loki review out of the way first. One day, the mainline Marvel Cinematic Universe may indeed fumble in a big way, and make a movie or a Disney+ series that’s as big a botch as the non-canonical Inhumans TV show. But today is not that day. And Tom Hiddleston is not the kind of actor to drop the ball when he’s the center of attention. So yes, this is at least up to the usual Marvel level of quality everyone expects.

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With that said, and the understanding that this review refers to the first two episodes only, it’s entirely possible the series is setting up something it can’t satisfyingly pay off. In dealing with the nature of time itself within the Marvel Universe, it risks significantly reshaping its history and rules. And that’s even before Eternals arrives in theaters to probably do the same.

The real dramatic tension here may be to see if Loki can pull that off in any way that won’t disappoint. And we’ll have to see. Certainly The Falcon and The Winter Soldier pattern of ending each episode on a big reveal/cliffhanger seems in effect so far. But not everyone was happy with how that show resolved its central conflict.

Early reactions have compared this show to Doctor Who, Brazil, and True Detective. In fact, so far it feels closer to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The cosmic side of the MCU already has a comedic slant, thanks to James Gunn and Taika Waititi being its primary architects. But director Kate Herron adds the very Douglas Adams element of an absurd intergalactic bureaucracy in the Time Variance Authority. Outside, their headquarters looks like retro sci-fi novel cover art brought into three dimensions; the kind of thing that the Star Wars sequel trilogy ought to have done. Inside, it’s all ’70s sheen and retro design. It’s hazy as if shot through cigarette smoke, somehow, despite the absence of tobacco in all Disney stuff these days.

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Catching up with alternate-timeline Loki almost immediately after he takes the Tesseract in Avengers Endgame, the TVA ever-so-slowly process him for temporal justice. It’s not really Loki’s fault that he seized hold of a sudden retcon to escape, but that’s no matter.

48 Hours also feels like an influence here, as the smart-mouthed prisoner must now team with a mismatched law enforcement partner (Owen Wilson’s Mobius) to deal with something worse. And due credit to Marvel here. Despite a seeming bazillion trailers and TV spots, that threat remains a well-kept secret. This is one to watch right at midnight if you can, folks.

The first episode is exposition-heavy, but whether that’s a detriment depends on what you like. For anyone hoping to get to the buddy comedy stuff quickly, it can feel like stalling. If you’re here for the Douglas Adams-ish satire, it’s some of the most fun stuff in the MCU. The characters never quite break the fourth wall, but their explanations of time and continuity, by design, feel like a (loving) critique of superhero comic books. The fact that this Loki is referred to as a “Variant” only adds to the meta-joke. The second episode deals more with the protagonists-antagonist angle, but the overall satirical framing device remains.

The sure-to-be mass-merchandised mascot, Miss Minutes, is a delight for more reasons than I can reveal here.

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For years, a running joke among Marvel fans was that Loki was the only good Marvel movie villain. The franchise has stepped up since then, with Killmonger, Thanos, and Helmut Zemo. But in comics, as in pro-wrestling, when any villain gets too popular, the temptation is to give them a babyface turn. Because this Loki is the old-school heel version from the first Avengers movie, it’s hard to tell yet if that’s quite what’s happening here. But let’s just say the life events of the other Loki from the main timeline do not prove irrelevant. Again, in wrestling parlance, he seems very much a “tweener.”

It’s a left-field choice to make Owen Wilson the straight man. Normally, he’s the funny guy, but Mobius is the character who is absolutely grounded in this reality. So he plays it more sentimental and sincere, and is actually really good at it. Not that he never gets a joke or a good line, but if there’s an actor alive who can steal a scene from Hiddleston as Loki, it’s not Wilson. So instead of trying, he goes the other direction. With more traditional buddy cop movies almost a dying breed, working the dynamic into the MCU feels like essential compensation.

Since Loki only runs for six episodes, the show will have to resolve some huge plot obstacles over the next four.  Here’s hoping that happens. Reconciling the TVA with everything else in the MCU might always have some issues, but just observing their particular corner of it is enjoyable so far.

Grade: 4/5

Loki debuts on Disney+ Wednesday, June 9.

Recommended Reading: Loki: Agent of Asgard – The Complete Collection

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