'Loki' Lays the Groundwork for Marvel's Multiverse of Madness
Loki premieres on Disney+ Hotstar Premium on 9 June.
(Note: This is a reaction to the first two episodes of the series)
WandaVision began as a study in grief through the lens of classic sitcoms, and ended as a Scarlet Witch origin story. Wanda's grief therapy came at a cost though. As she cycled through the five stages, Wanda held a whole town of people hostage in a seemingly endless nightmare. Yet, not only was she not held accountable, but she simply got to decamp to a remote cabin tucked away in a scenic locale.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier began as an examination into storied legacies through the lens of a buddy cop comedy, and ended as a Captain America 2.0 origin story. Sam Wilson wrestled with the implications of being a black man taking up the iconic star-spangled shield, before realising the question he should be asking is whether this historically white symbol is worthy of him. In parallel, its super-powered antagonists made a case against nationalism far more compelling than its titular protagonists could manage. Marvel, being buddies with the Pentagon, as always half-assed its criticism with only a veiled dig at America's global misdeeds in the name of freedom and democracy.
Loki, the third Marvel show on Disney+Hotstar, begins as a supervillain redemption story told through the lens of a time-travel procedural. The first of six parts is mostly functional, setting up the rules of the multiverse efficiently if not effectively.
But as it gains momentum in the second, it promises a more creatively cheeky show. This cheekiness is on display in the blending of true crime and sci-fi even in the premiere, when Loki turns out to be DB Cooper, the mysterious man behind the only unsolved airplane hijacking in history. Rest assured, Loki will be anything but low-key. With Tom Hiddleston's Asgardian God of Mischief stepping out of his brother's shadow and taking centre stage for the first time, expect some zingers, some monologues and the occasional backstabbing.
The show's creator Michael Waldron worked with Dan Harmon on Community and Rick and Morty. So, he brings that same pop cultural language to Loki as the Marvel Cinematic Universe becomes a Multiverse (MCM). The season premiere is essentially Owen Wilson teaching a class of MCM 101, briskly packing in exposition, mythology and all the mechanics. To ensure it's palatable to audiences beyond the comic book geeks, Waldron cuts down on all the usual wormholes-and-folded geometries science-speak, focusing more on the characters.
The events in Loki kick off from the time heist shenanigans of Avengers: Endgame. The heroes who travelled to the Battle of New York bungled the job, allowing Loki to escape with the Tesseract. Turns out, this opportunistic ploy creates a stray timeline, and it catches the attention of Time Variance Authority (TVA), an organization tasked with protecting the space-time continuum. Created by three mysterious figures known only as the Time Keepers, the TVA resembles a bureaucratic nightmare like something out of a passport office than some four-dimensional plane. To make him answer for his crime, Loki is processed as an inmate through a series of offices manned by security guards, administrators and judges.
Just before Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) makes her decision to "reset" Loki final, Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) steps in to offer an alternative: to enlist Loki's help to track down the most notorious time offender, who just happens to be a "variant" of Loki himself. Odd couples don't come odder than Hiddleston and Wilson, who forge a begrudging bromance in their chemistry and friction. The banter offers some comic relief from the exposition dump and temporal gymnastics.
Some of the banter spills into one of the oldest philosophical debates. Loki bemoans the idea that the multiverse makes free will an illusion. If there is an agency policing time while existing outside of it, the choices you think you are making — like invading New York — are simply quantum outcomes you've already been assigned to observe. So, multiverse isn't a manifestation of free will with each reality guided by its own holistic choice. It's a tangent reality with a clockwork inevitability guided by higher beings who have pre-determined the outcomes.
The trouble for Loki is he has always thought he was this higher being. Remember, the Loki we meet in this show hasn't undergone the whole redemption arc in the later MCU movies.
He's the guy who backstabbed his brother and tried to take over Earth by unleashing waves of Chitauri. Though the invasion is foiled by the Avengers, he still thinks of himself as a God destined to rule the universe. This Loki is as arrogant and opportunistic as when we first met him in Thor. Now that he knows the TVA possesses a power that transcends the Tesseract, the Infinity Stones and the multiverse itself, the final four episodes will reveal if he will join his more wicked variant, or help bring him/her down.
We're going to avoid spoilers and rumours here. Loki's gender fluidity has become canon. With his narcissism, a Loki variant being a romantic interest is also quite fitting. Nevertheless, coming face to face with your own self isn't easy, and with someone as mercurial as Loki, the results of the encounter are hard to predict.
The trend of turning supervillains into antiheroes to milk the IP dry leads to results rarely worth watching. But Hiddleston retains Loki's mystique, a certain unknowability using weapons as simple as enticing words and a disarming charm.
As his "trickster god" name suggests, his actions are driven more by mischief than malevolence. That's why Mobius rightly asks him "why someone with so much range just wants to rule?"
Waldron is set to write next year's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. So, he uses Loki to scheme out the continuities. That's what Loki is ultimately: another self-referential tentacle to the ever-expanding beast that is the MCU. Similar to the paradoxes that time travel creates, all the Marvel shows on Disney+ create one of their own: while the ambition in the strained attempt to connect the whole damn thing can't be denied, WandaVision and Loki are a lot more enjoyable when they aren't constrained by their obligations to the MCU, now MCM.
Loki premieres on Disney+ Hotstar Premium on 9 June, with new episodes to follow every Friday.
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