The Marvel universe, I believe, is at its best when it veers close to the animated series Rick and Morty, exploring alternate dimensions, deviant timelines, showcasing colorful and strange surroundings, soaking in the weirdest, wackiest elements of the comic books.
The MCU seems to be expanding in scale, and those old, one-dimensional supervillains who want to take over the world, for some reason, are now dwarfed by deities who control the very shape of reality.
Loki is one of those classic, power-hungry villains (or at least, he used to be), and it’s intriguing to see him so far out of his element. Loki begins with the version of the character who tried to take over Earth, i.e., the villain who assembled the Avengers together, for the first time, and as a result, the first episode feels like Marvel at its most meta.
Loki reflects on the creation of Hollywood’s most formidable franchise, on the role that its most notable villain played, and how he might shape the franchise’s future. After essentially recapping the events of Avengers: Endgame, and Loki’s escape, the titular god of mischief is instantly, effortlessly taken down by thuggish time cops, who declare his Tesseract theft illegitimate.
This raises some interesting questions, seeing as Endgame was all about the team tinkering with time, essentially cheating the system to beat Thanos at his own reality-warping game. And according to the time cops, that was all meant to happen – it appears that destiny can get pretty disorderly in this so-called “sacred” timeline.
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For Loki, this means humiliation; being thrown around by the Hulk pales in comparison to Loki’s dehumanizing treatment in the system, where, as a “variant,” he is almost snuffed out.
But Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) sees the potential in Loki, and takes a chance on him, in the hope that Loki can help crack a difficult case. Yup, it’s that classic police procedural trope of recruiting a criminal to catch the serial killer.
But there’s an incredible amount of exposition to get through first, some of it tedious and unnecessary (for example, after a time cop slugs Loki, she explains to the audience that he’s moving at 1/16th speed while feeling pain in real time, while we’re watching it happen).
As well as learning the laws of time travel, Loki himself has to get up to speed, to remember the same events we do, bringing him closer to the redeemed version of the character we saw last.
This means that Loki is forced to watch the highlights of a life he never got to live, his most emotional family moments, and even his heroic death at the hands of Thanos. It’s an interesting position for the character to be in (and it’s certainly helpful to get a refresher on Thor 2, the least memorable, yet overwhelmingly consequential segment of the MCU timeline).
Mobius also pushes Loki into examining himself, to explain why he attacked New York in the first place – it’s nice to hear the ideology behind his actions, even if it comes across as hollow and insincere. The self-serious tyrant seeking to liberate Earth’s people from their own, umm, freedom, doesn’t really gel with the mischievous little brother we saw in Ragnarok, the lovable scamp who loves to subvert authority. Although, according to Marvel canon, Loki might have been acting under the influence of the Mind Stone.
The omniscient time cops believe Loki to be a one-dimensional comic book villain, a character who only exists to push heroes into action, and self-actualization. That was indeed his function in Avengers – but we know that’s not true.
Perhaps Hiddleston’s performance is too likeable, or the character is too redeemed in our eyes, but Loki really doesn’t feel like a villain anymore – it doesn’t even matter that he stabbed and murdered countless innocents, probably because he’s funny and charming.
Which is a good thing, I suppose, seeing as he’s a protagonist now. And it’s nice to see Marvel tell a story about an openly selfish character, even if Loki is probably going to grow into a hero, of sorts, and dismantle the oppressive institution of the Time Variance Authority.
It’s still early, but the show strongly implies that the sacred timeline is unnatural and unjust, that Loki is here to break the timeline, and fracture it into a multiverse for Doctor Strange to deal with in his next movie.
So far, the show feels rather refreshing; this episode goes out of its way to show that what was once considered sacred (the Infinity Stones) are now irrelevant. It seems as though the time cops could even have taken down Thanos, if they wanted to (or perhaps not, given their susceptibility to fire).
But the existence of three separate Lokis feels intriguingly experimental for the MCU – there’s the good (and dearly departed), the bad (our current protagonist), and the worst – Loki’s antagonist. And judging from the fact that antagonist Loki’s face hasn’t been revealed yet, there’s surely another plot twist on the horizon.
Indulgent exposition aside, Loki is off to a strong start; the concept is great, and Loki’s new role, as a servant of an all-powerful authority, forced to reflect on who he really is, pushes the character into an interesting headspace.
It’s too early to tell, but Loki might just be the beginning of a new direction for Marvel.