Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 8th, 2021
Loki (Michael Waldron, writer; Kate Herron, director; 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
It is a truism hardly worth mentioning that one third of a thing is not the whole, and much can change from Act I to Act II. So pardon my stunted take on the new Marvel series premiering June 9 on Disney+. That would be Loki, the first two (of six) episodes of which were made available to critics ahead of time. As much as I am currently underwhelmed by the show, I hark back to recent events and remember that it took me until Episode 4 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier before I came around to that eventually fine narrative (WandaVision remains my favorite of Marvel’s latest output, however). So, my opinion may change, but for now it is mixed.
No one should watch any of these series who is not somehow plugged into some or all that has been previously produced. As expected following Loki’s miraculous escape in Avengers: Endgame, after he grabbed the Tesseract dropped by Tony Stark, we start with what transpires immediately afterwards. For whatever reason, Loki lands in the Gobi Desert, where he has but a few seconds of freedom before mysterious uniformed agents appear out of nowhere, then seize and bring him to the headquarters of the Time Variance Authority (or TVA). It seems that his history has already been written, and there is to be no redo of the death scene witnessed in Avengers: Infinity War. Or is there? For just as our protagonist is about to be tried and, we assume, re-executed for his crimes against the “sacred timeline,” in swoops a quirky TVA agent with an idea of how to use Loki to better effect. Good thing, or the show would end a little too quickly.
The visuals of the TVA are one of the best aspects of Loki, even if the why and the how of it makes little sense. Think Hanna-Barbera’s 1960s animated The Jetsons, and you’ll get the idea. Clearly, creators Michael Waldron and Kate Herron had a lot of fun working with production designer Kasra Farahani to mock up the spaces, and though they may take some of the silliness too far (there’s always something slightly off-putting, to me, about people laughing at their own jokes), their collaboration leads to enough zany shenanigans to keep us from thinking too much about the plot. For there are holes, and many! Then again, this is Marvel, a universe where even a cursory examination of the last two Avengers films might make one’s head explode from all the parts that don’t add up.
But back to Loki and that agent. The former is, as we would hope, played once again by Tom Hiddleston, and the latter, named Mobius, is played by Owen Wilson (Wonder), who brings his trademark sardonic wit. In fact, chalk up the interplay between the two men as another plus in the show’s column, though, again, sometimes too clever by half. What Mobius sees in Loki, and is willing to risk his career over, is an ace in the hole in the TVA’s fight against an even greater threat. They need all the help they can get, and Loki fits the bill.
As we learn in some engagingly delivered exposition, the TVA was formed long ago to prevent the universe from descending into chaos (a recurring theme in the Marvelverse). After one too many time branches, some ancient beings got together and created a massive bureaucracy (and oh, it is officious like the worst of them) to maintain a single, immutable progression of chronology. “But soft,” you say, “what inconsistency in yonder screenplay trembles?” For were there not many branches erupting in Avengers: Endgame, sans appearance of the TVA? Yes! And this show does, kind of, address that conundrum, though in a manner wholly unsatisfying. Best not to ask too many questions.
And so Loki and Mobius embark on adventures to confront a villain greater than the former, traveling through space and time (though always, so far, on Earth) to track their adversary down. Joining them in the ensemble are the criminally underused (as of yet) Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn) and Wunmi Mosaku (His House), among others. Will all this amount to more than a jumble of its parts? In this case, time will most certainly tell, in more ways than one …