By JASON MARTIN (@JMartRadio – June 7, 2021)
Loki is going to be a fun ride, but there is a barrier to entry.
That barrier? Enjoyment is largely, if not wholly dependent on your ability to trust Kevin Feige and Marvel to help you understand a lot of it later, because it’s far more akin to WandaVision (though without that style of charm) than it is Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
That’s not a bad thing. I actually enjoyed the former more than the latter earlier this year, though both were solid entries. Loki has a lead that sells mischief and narcissism extremely well in Tom Hiddleston. He’s been excellent in this role every single time he’s played it and Michael Waldron’s series is certainly no exception.
Let’s back up. Waldron knows his way around timeline stretches and alternate universes, dating through his time working with Rick & Morty and the upcoming Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness release. It’s the second one that matters for our purposes, because Loki is essentially the soft introduction to said multiverse, soft only because there’s a good bit of snark and humor mixed into the proceedings in the first hour. You’ll detect a Fallout vibe to some of the artistic choices if you’re a gamer, and again in this case it works well because the show has a very serious premise and an almost mocking approach to it.
Hiddleston’s Loki has gone and done some stuff, which we saw in Endgame, as he jacked the Tesseract and vanished. This singular event, we find out almost immediately in the series, has caused a problematic aberration in time, one that requires either punishment or full erasure. That’s about as much as is safe to say to leave the fun to you, but Loki’s “crime” results in apprehension and an encounter with a shadowy bureaucratic enforcement arm known as the Time Variance Authority (TVA).
And that’s basically the premise. Owen Wilson plays the role of a decorated, hard boiled TVA agent that investigates criminals like Loki that threaten time itself. Comic fans will recognize the Mobius M. Mobius character, which has always been an awesome name considering the nature of his job mixed with the concept behind the mobius strip. He’s more Danny Glover than Mel Gibson though, as he’s been doing this for awhile, and it’s a stressful life.
His juxtaposition and chemistry with Hiddleston works instantly. These are two characters and actors you want to see on screen together, though in the first episode, it doesn’t rise to the level of a “buddy” duo. That may change along the way, but if there’s one thing other than the rather obtuse nature of the opener, it’s that so much has to be introduced and spoon fed that we get nearly nowhere in terms of progression. We learn just enough to be scratching our heads in the closing shot.
Again, it’s all about trust. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and the work done on Disney Plus much more so than the Netflix entries have generated a lot of equity.
(NOTE: I WATCHED EPISODE 2 AT THIS POINT)
Two hours into Loki, it’s still awfully confusing, but that appears to be by design. We’re on a ride, but we’re definitely not driving. That second episode features an extraordinary amount of talking and exposition, where the story is largely laid out through conversations between Loki and Agent Mobius (Wilson). All of it is interesting, but you might get a sense the episode could have been five minutes tighter when you watch it. The “buddy” concept is more prevalent in the second installment as well, which is good. It’s not 48 Hours or Midnight Run yet, but we’re still early. That relationship is crucial to Loki’s evolution as a being.
Aesthetically, two episodes in now, the series definitely has the Fallout vibe, mixed with a little Bioshock to further the gaming narrative.
What Loki is attempting is ambitious, because watching all the movies doesn’t at all prepare you for what Waldron has in store. The second episode is also far less humorous, much darker in a lot of ways, which helps to create the stakes the series needs. The reasons for the TVA’s work on the surface appear legitimate and necessary, but the construction of the series indicates we’re very much in a, “Things are not as they seem” kind of universe, including with our lead character.
Hiddleston shows good range with the Loki of Episode 2, because clearly we’re building to a more evolved, less nefarious God of Mischief…or are we? There’s growth, especially as Loki looks into his own past (some of which we’ve seen ourselves) but do we get to the finish line and figure out it’s the same old, same old? That’s a question impossible to avoid thinking about as you begin to sort of root for him. Clear growth begins to emerge in Loki, but he’s still a version of Loki (not sure there IS a genuine Loki), so anything could happen as we move forward. He’s going to experience conflict between his nature, his heart, and his relationship with the TVA, Mobius specifically. It will be fascinating to see where Loki finds himself psychologically at the end of the season.
The second episode, which releases next week, ends on a highly interesting note and definitely leaves you wanting to see what’s next. That said, it doesn’t immediately hit the way WandaVision or Falcon and the Winter Soldier do, because this show is just… a LOT to try and take in and a lot to try and pull off. Visually it’s gorgeous, with Kate Herron’s excellent direction and an obvious Fallout or Bioshock vibe, to keep the gaming comparison alive. The performances, particularly the two leads, are strong and inviting, but it requires some faith, because a lot of it just doesn’t make much sense for the first hour.
Doctor Strange clicked in large part because as ridiculous and absurd as it felt, it managed to stay grounded enough to feel realistic and inviting within its own universe. Loki seems on another planet, which in many respects it is. Had Stephen Strange appeared in the finale of WandaVision as was originally planned, this series would feel more proper in its footing. Instead, you really just have to let them drive the car. You’re taking the ride, but you can’t even see the steering wheel. As we’re building to the multiverse, some of it isn’t going to make much sense until it does, or at least until the audience gets used to it.
The Loki character and the performance of Tom Hiddleston have long been highlights both in print and in the MCU. Mobius is a welcome addition, and Wilson, who we haven’t seen much of lately, shines. While the first two hours aren’t a slam dunk, aren’t as accessible as the Marvel Studios effort that came before it, and can be a bit of a slow burn because of just how much dialogue exists in these 50 minute episodes, there’s a lot to like amidst the weirdness. Strange didn’t have the runtime to be any more bonkers than it was, but here the writing staff has a series of episodes to fill that enables a nearly open sandbox compared to a 130 minute big budget motion picture.
I’m more than just intrigued to keep watching, even if I was, throughout much of the first two episodes, far more confused or unsure of my comprehension of events than I’d like to be as a viewer. Marvel has earned my patience, and I sincerely doubt Loki won’t manage to land the plane effectively in the end. In fact, I anticipate the series to get much better, much richer, and much easier to follow the longer we hang out with the TVA and our favorite nefarious, shapeshifting, narcissistic nut job.
Oh, and Miss Minutes… who you meet very quickly… is the best.