“Loki” sets up the future of Marvel in tremendous fashion

Streaming recommendation of the week 8/27/21


Courtesy of Disney+

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) take on the Time Varience Authority in the new Disney+ series, “Loki.”

Shreyas Banerjee, Life Editor

Sitting down to watch one of Marvel’s latest Disney+ series, “Loki,” I was not expecting much. I wasn’t a huge fan of Marvel’s previous shows, with “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” coming off as confused about what it was actually saying and “WandaVision” failing to stick the landing after an intriguing first few episodes. Along with that, I had just seen the latest Marvel film, “Black Widow,” and came out so underwhelmed that I promptly deleted any recollections of it from my mind so I didn’t waste any more time thinking about it.

Marvel releases all seemed to be blending together, to the extent that even original ideas for stories became subjugated to the factory-like Marvel production style: a certain amount of quips, action scenes, small character moments and a few points where the plot has to connect to everything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I couldn’t help wondering, “Is this it?” Now that Marvel has concluded its expansive “Infinity Saga” with the blockbuster-iest blockbuster, “Avengers: Endgame,” has this media monolith run out of juice?

It was with this frame of mind that I sat down to binge “Loki” after all the episodes had been released, eventually relenting to watch it due to the unending social media discourse around the show and the fact that I’d seen every Marvel release up to this point, so I might as well continue sinking my time into the franchise. Along with a friend who had seen maybe two Marvel movies in the past, I sat down, watched it and came to an inescapable conclusion—“Loki” is really good. Despite my reservations and lack of enthusiasm, “Loki” did the unthinkable and made me excited for the direction Marvel is going next. For the first time since “Black Panther” or the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, I could truly say that a Marvel release was great, without lowering my standards due to its nature as a Marvel product.

No, “Loki” is a genuinely excellent show. The odd thing is that it did it while being unlike any Marvel release before, aside from perhaps the “Guardians” films. Because at its core, “Loki” is a remarkably self-contained and well-developed piece of science fiction and, even more remarkably, a well-written yet dark romance. 

“Loki” is a six-episode series centered around Loki (played charmingly by Tom Hiddleston), the Asgardian god of mischief, brother of the superhero Thor and longtime Marvel rogue. Though he started out as a complete villain in 2011’s “Thor” and 2012’s “The Avengers,” Loki has been further developed in more recent entries, especially in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” where he became something of an anti-hero, motivated by the love of his brother and his people, while still being a narcissistic trickster at heart. This redemption arc was cut short when Loki suddenly died in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” at the hands of series villain Thanos, who remarked “No resurrections this time” as he choked Loki to death. Yet Loki lives again, this time through multiversal shenanigans.

You see, in “Avengers: Endgame,” when the Avengers were going time-hopping to recover Infinity Stones from the past, they accidentally gave the Space Stone to a version of Loki from the aforementioned first “Avengers” film, which he then promptly used to escape. (Okay, okay, for a plot that I said was remarkably self-contained, it does seem strongly connected to the rest of Marvel continuity, but I promise you, it’s all window dressing for the real meat of the story—Loki’s character development.)

One has to remember that this is a Loki from an earlier point in the timeline, not quite transformed by tragedy and circumstances into the untrustworthy ally he would eventually become. But in “Loki,” he’s forced into a character development speedrun when he is apprehended by the Time Variance Authority (TVA) for disrupting the Sacred Timeline and learns that he is a “variant,” one not meant to go down the path they went according to a trio of space lizards called the Time-Keepers. In the process, he is told that he is responsible for his mother’s death, that his father and brother actually loved him all along and that his selfish actions would lead to the destruction of his people and ultimately his own death. Quite a lot to process for a raging narcissist who is actually quite insecure about who they are and what they are supposed to do with their life.

His interactions with Mobius, his handler at the TVA and played by the disarmingly earnest Owen Wilson, make up the core of the first few episodes as Loki struggles to find his role—now knowing the entire path that he thought he was on was actually never meant to be. Mobius is on the trail of another dangerous Loki variant and, in an almost buddy cop style, enlists Loki’s help to track them down, explaining the bureaucracy of the TVA along the way. As soon as Loki manages to come across the other variant, however, the show flips genres completely as he starts to fall in love with this female version of himself, named Sylvie and played by Sophia Di Martino. Together they plot to take down the Time-Keepers and free the flow of time, while also learning to be better people. Loki may be a compulsive liar and a self-obsessed hedonist, but as he and Sylvie go from location to location together, from a moon about to be destroyed to the end of time itself, he slowly starts to transform and become more forgiving of himself.

All this growth is surrounded by profound philosophical themes, as the show deals with the nature of free will, the role destiny plays in our lives, whether complete order or complete anarchy is preferable and whether it is truly possible to love oneself. These themes combine with rock-solid world-building as the series showcases locales across the universe, all feeling fresh and new, yet charmingly retro. Never has any other Marvel release felt like this.

And as the show sets up the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by opening up the multiverse, it also creates boundless creative possibilities for future films and TV series. “Loki” makes it so that anything is now possible in a Marvel film, both in-universe and behind the scenes. If we are to live in a pop culture ecosystem dominated by Marvel releases, then let them go crazy. “Loki”’s powerful storytelling and thematic genius give us hope of a freshly renewed and reinvigorated film universe in the near future—and I could not be more excited.