Warning: This review contains full spoilers for Loki Season 1
The perennial bad penny that just refuses to stop turning up, Loki, the God of Mischief, is the next Marvel character to headline his own Disney+ series. Delving into the twisted timelines and murky multiverse, Loki brings a lot of grand ideas to the table, but struggles in figuring out what to do with them. Still, after a strong start and a muddled middle, Loki officially takes the crown as the first of these Disney+ Marvel series to stick the landing with an excellent finale.
Having cheated death more times than you can count, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) used his brief appearance in Avengers: Endgame to do what he does best: spin a bad situation to his advantage and survive. His Tesseract-fuelled escape turns out to be short-lived, as he is quickly picked up by the Time Variance Authority, an extra-dimensional organisation dedicated to protecting the “sacred timeline”.
As a variant on what is supposed to happen, Loki is due to be removed from existence when he is offered salvation by a TVA analyst named Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson). Mobius needs to catch a dangerous Loki variant who is causing chaos across the timeline, and figures the best way to catch a Loki is to think like a Loki. Faced with the alternative of being pruned from the timeline, Loki reluctantly agrees to team up and take down himself.
Even considering the reality-warping nature of WandaVision and the time-bending in Avengers: Endgame, this is still the most high-concept sci-fi seen in the MCU thus far. While there’s some good ideas in here, particularly in the representation of the TVA, none of them are executed as well as in comparable shows – Doctor Who and Rick and Morty come to mind – and the things that do work are quickly despatched and forgotten.
Loki establishes a solid concept by pairing up Hiddleston and Wilson to hunt down a time-criminal, only to squander it.
The biggest problem with the writing is that everything feels rushed. This series was sold as the version of Loki who had just faced off with the Avengers in 2012, hinting that he will undergo entirely different character development as a result of the changes in his circumstances. Instead, Mobius shows him a quick highlights video of the other Loki’s life, and by the end he’s a good guy again. As well as glossing over what should have been the most interesting element of the series, Loki’s newfound goodness feels forced and completely unearned, to the point where he goes from callous, wanton murderer to worrying about civilians in danger over the course of a few days.
More frustratingly, Loki establishes a solid concept by pairing up Hiddleston and Wilson to hunt down a time-criminal from their weirdly anachronistic 1960’s office that exists outside of time, only to squander it. With the introduction of Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), the show pivots from time-detectives to off-brand Doctor Who with more auto-incest. The problem isn’t that Sylvie isn’t a compelling character, it’s just that she has far more agency than Loki himself.
The series quickly becomes the story of Sylvie’s revenge, while the main MCU Loki just feels like a passenger along for the ride. As adversaries, the dynamic between the two Loki variants was interesting, with each diving into their respective box of tricks to outwit the other. As uneasy allies, this is quickly dropped in favour of a forced romantic subplot that tries to establish a deep connection between the pair fast enough for the final betrayal to feel impactful.
Loki’s fast-forwarded character development essentially flies past any meaningful material for Hiddleston to work with.
Though Di Martino puts in a solid performance as Sylvie, she’s never more interesting than when she first shows her face and bombs the sacred timeline. This isn’t helped by numerous unanswered questions surrounding her character, such as what her variant event was and why she doesn’t like to be called Loki. These mysteries will presumably be addressed in the officially announced second season, but that does nothing to help her lack of depth in this one.
Similarly, the problems with Loki in this series are nothing to do with Hiddleston, who is as charming as he has ever been. The missing element to his character comes back to the fast-forwarded character development, which essentially flew past any meaningful material for Hiddleston to work with, leaving him with just a half-baked self-love story to contend with. Even still, there are some great moments for Loki here, with a drunken Asgardian sing-along being a particular highlight.
The TVA also represents something of a mixed bag, albeit a more fleshed-out one. Despite another competent performance, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ravonna Renslayer feels mostly superfluous, only existing to dump exposition before peacing out to season two. Wilson gets more of a personality as Mobius, with his seen-it-all wryness being a fantastic foil to Loki’s scheming, but that dynamic desperately needed more space to flourish. This naturally would have given us more time to explore the wonderfully weird TVA offices, and more scenes with the sassy southern talking clock, Miss Minutes (Lauren Revard)
Also falling into the category of “things that should have been given more screen time over the self-cest love story” is the notion of Loki variants. Apart from Di Martino, the show introduces a smattering of other versions of the trickster god, primarily, Classic Loki (Richard E. Grant), Kid Loki (Jack Veal) and Boastful Loki (Deobia Oparei). This was another strong selling point for the series, and bafflingly it felt like little more than window dressing, with only Grant’s grumpy old god getting any semblance of depth in their brief appearance.
Majors’ flamboyant, Shakespearean performance is as electric as it is unexpected.
Despite some narrative wobbles along its windy path, Loki does manage to pull itself together in time to be the first of Marvel’s Disney+ series to deliver a strong finale. Both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier fell at the last hurdle with a typical Marvel CGI-fest that felt out of step with the rest of the show. Loki wisely puts all the action in episode five, with the aforementioned variants, and saves the finale for a more low-key (heh), story-focused episode.
A big part of what makes the finale work is the payoff of hints and speculation from the rest of the series, with the introduction of Jonathon Majors’ Kang the Conqueror. Sort of. Inside the Citadel at the End of Time, Loki and Sylvie find He Who Remains, a manic, goofy variant of the fearsome time-conqueror, who clearly hasn’t had anybody to talk to for a long time. Majors’ flamboyant, Shakespearean performance is as electric as it is unexpected, and makes what is essentially a 40-minute conversation feel riveting.
The other way in which Loki differentiates itself from its predecessors is just how brazen it is in upending the status quo of the MCU. Sylvie’s murder of He Who Remains throws the doors open to the multiverse, leaving Loki in a parallel timeline, seemingly already conquered by Kang, and paving the way to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This feels like a purposeful move, cementing the Disney+ shows as truly necessary viewing for the rest of the MCU, which should keep them from feeling like the overarching story is just treading water until the next film comes out.
Befitting the trickster-god, Loki is a difficult one to pin down. Easily one of the biggest swings that Marvel has taken to date, the series introduces a lot of big ideas, but doesn’t give any of them enough space to be fully explored. The performances are all solid enough, and some of the pairings work really well, but again, these are quickly rushed over in favour of a love story that just isn’t that interesting. As a whole, Loki is still a decent series, and one well worth watching for hardcore MCU followers, but the second season has a lot of work to do in order to live up to its glorious purpose.
Verdict: 3/5 Paddles