Our Spoiler-Free Review of Loki, a Show That Is Already a Triumph
4.5/5 talking clocks
If Disney+ and Marvel Studios’ latest standalone effort Loki continues the momentum of its first two episodes, we are in for a treat. The genre-defying show, starring Tom Hiddleston as the God of Mischief, has kept many of its secrets as it prepares for its Wednesday, June 9th bow. I don’t want to reveal any of those secrets, so I will speak generally about my takeaways from the world of Loki. No spoilers!
I’ve been a fan of this character for years, and with the advent of Thor: Ragnarok, I essentially became a Loki super-fan. I own the comics, t-shirts, bobbleheads, keychains and stickers. I admit to Loki-related biases and the fact that I would be pleased to watch Hiddleston, in character, recite pages from the phonebook. But after the choices made for him in Endgame and Infinity War—a gruesome death and scant screentime—I wasn’t particularly inclined to trust what the MCU would do with Loki.
Happily, they appear to have course-corrected. What I saw of Loki both confirmed several predictions I’ve made for the show as well as provided twists and turns aplenty that not even diehard Loki fans could anticipate. Loki offers ambitious storytelling and a vibrant, engrossing narrative that enjoys yanking the rug out from under us. It’s the perfect vehicle to showcase Hiddleston’s considerable dramatic skill while also allowing for new and intriguing characters to share the stage.
In the MCU/Disney+ pantheon of TV extravaganzas, both of the series we saw this year—WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—featured two characters in the title. Loki is the first solo show, but this appears to be in name only. While there’s no doubt the primary emphasis is on Hiddleston and the fan-favorite character he’s played for a decade, the other characters that we meet, especially Owen Wilson’s Agent Mobius, are soon richly drawn.
Two other central characters, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Judge Ravonna Renslayer and Wunmi Mosaku’s Hunter B-15, perform as different cogs in the bureaucratic Time Variance Authority machine while hinting at deeper complexities. They’re also powerful, formidable women with zero time for Loki’s bluster, which is a delight to see. It’s my hope that we’ll get even more time and storylines with them as well as Sasha Lane’s C-20, another TVA soldier.
In the two episodes I watched, perhaps the biggest and most complex “character” introduced is the Time Variance Authority itself. In the space of the first episode, Marvel Studios has to explain a brand new and wildly complex canon—a massive, time-and-space-bending bureaucracy with power over, well, pretty much everything, ruled by three “space lizards,” The Time-Keepers, who loom large in statuary everywhere we look.
It’s no easy feat, and there’s some occasionally clunky exposition to get the main ideas and parlance across. But a stroke of pure genius is the inclusion of Miss Minutes (voiced by the veteran voice actor Tara Strong), an animated clock character who serves as a sort of TVA mascot and source of information. There are also brilliant animated sequences that work as introductions to the TVA, laying out this sprawling universe-within-the-MCU in fun and engaging ways. Loki head writer Michael Waldron came from Rick and Morty, and, well, if you didn’t think the Shakespearean Hiddleston would work well interacting with a feisty illustrated clock, I am pleased to announce that you are wrong.
Loki’s first two episodes have a lot of ground to cover both with world-building and in terms of catching new audiences up to speed with Loki’s history. This is accomplished through some less-clunky exposition and TVA technology that shows us, as Mobius puts it, some of Loki’s “greatest hits.”
As you may recall, the Loki “variant” at the heart of our narrative is not the Loki who would go on to have a redemption arc through The Dark World, Ragnarok, and Infinity War. The Loki we meet is fresh from the Avengers final battle and still snarling about how he was born to be a king and his plans for conquest. The ways in which the series—in a relatively short amount of time—is able to transform him and dig into the depths of who the character really is under his defensively prickly veneer is impressive.
Of course, since this is Loki we’re talking about, nothing is ever straightforward, and the show is already chock-full of mischief, scheming, and double-crosses. Loki is by his trickster nature an unreliable protagonist to follow, but that keeps us on our toes. When is he being sincere, and when is he trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes for his own ends? I imagine much of the show will continue to feature both of those scenarios playing out.
If WandaVision was a send-up to classic sitcoms, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier took on buddy pairings, Loki’s closest genre is the detective procedural. And yet we’ve never witnessed people trying to solve mysteries while dealing with dangerous alternate timelines, trips to the past and future, magical powers, advanced technology, alien gods, and talkative toons. It’s easy to say that Loki is like nothing we’ve ever seen before because there hasn’t been anything quite like it. As a bonus, the production as a whole is well-executed and wonderfully balanced, mixing in humor to lighten Loki’s pathos and the enormity of the stakes at hand.
Kudos are owed to the writers and the talented cast, but director Kate Herron (Sex Education) and the creative teams have also played a vital role in bringing us the triumphant show on offer. The sets, backdrops, costumes, and props are gorgeous and evocative, down to the tiniest details like ballpoint pens, bells to ring on a desk, and anachronistic computer monitors, weapons, and gadgets. The cinematography is stunning. The TVA’s digs are a blend of what looks like a 1960s-era office intermingled with incredible future tech, and you can’t stop wanting to look at absolutely everything onscreen. The special effects are flawless and seamless, putting many of the Marvel movies to shame, and ensuring that we’re never jarred out of this new reality with something that looks too much like a green screen.
As for Hiddleston, he’s in top form, making the jump to MCU leading man with ease. It’s a shock to think halfway into the first episode of Loki that we’ve already spent more time with him than in six movies combined. Through Hiddleston’s nuanced performance, we get to see Loki’s quirks and qualities laid bare at last—depths of character that have only been hinted at. The character has fascinated and endeared us because he exemplifies a principle that’s stated on the show: that no one is ever entirely good or bad. In Loki, we have a superpowered person who thinks he’s the smartest man in the room but is now a fish out of water. He’s self-entitled yet cares deeply, witty yet easily flustered, deathly capable yet wounded underneath. And we’ve only just scratched the surface.
I have to voice additional appreciation for Owen Wilson, who is equal parts charming, clever, and endearing as Mobius. He’s an ideal foil for Hiddleston, and the two have crackling chemistry together. It’s excellent to see Loki sparring with someone who has a bead on him who isn’t one of his relations. And what about those famous relations? It’s hard to have a series revolving around Loki without discussion of Thor, Frigga, Odin, Heimdall, Asgard, and Jotunheim, and those references are there.
Loki, however, is situated in a brave new realm of almost infinite possibilities. I can’t for the life of me predict where it will go next after the revelations of the first two episodes, and I can’t imagine anything more exciting as we set out on this journey into mystery.
(image: Marvel Studios)
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