“You can trust one thing: I love to be right.”
(This review is mostly spoiler-free, but as always, if you want to go in completely blind, do not read this.)
Receiving the torch of the MCU’s Phase 4, lit by Wandavision and previously carried by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow, Loki slams on the brakes to great effect, shying away from the real-world issues and grounded action present in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow in favor of a dramatic and timeline-shattering look at the titular God of Mischief.
While the first two MCU shows dealt with deep dives into their protagonist and had intimate (for a universe about superheroes) and self-contained stories, content to shine a light on personal turmoil in lieu of setting up future projects, Loki throws all of that aside to set up what seems to be the direction of the next couple phases of the MCU (no spoilers!). Mind you, Loki has a solid amount of character development and a good emotional core, but it’s intrinsically focused on taking us to meet new and exciting people in new and exciting places, along with making us excited about what’s to come.
Loki begins where we last saw the trickster god: that moment in Avengers: Endgame where he spirited himself out of the Avengers’ clutches via the Tesseract/Space Stone. He’s soon seized by agents of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), and we find out that the TVA watches over and protects all of time from Variants (beings who stray from what history says they do) and other disruptions that would otherwise create alternate timelines or universes. Even though Loki threatens to deluge the audience with heaps of exposition, this never feels unnatural or forced, as Loki himself serves as an audience proxy, letting showrunner/lead writer Michael Waldron easily introduce the complicated concepts present in the show. Because of this, Loki is almost fully standalone, with only a basic knowledge of the MCU needed in order to enjoy the show.
Although Loki isn’t nearly as unique or ambitious as Wandavision, that works to its advantage exceedingly well, as the show keeps its focus on Loki and the handful of completely new characters it introduces, another thing that helps the show feel fresh throughout the season, and not just a continuation of pre-established characters’ journeys. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is as sly and charming as ever, but with a twist: since this isn’t the Loki the MCU has been following for the last 2 phases, and the more traditionally “evil” Loki from The Avengers, Loki’s a much more dynamic screen presence, and Hiddleston rises to the task, imbuing Loki with an ethos (and later pathos) that rival the character’s best turns in previous MCU entries. Robbed of the development and journey seen in the Thor films, we get to watch Loki step onto a different, although no less moving, path.
Compared to Wandavision or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki‘s primary cast of characters is relatively small, with only four notable characters aside from Hiddleston’s Loki, three of whom are completely original characters to the show. The lone character with a comic counterpart is Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, bottom image), who serves as the de facto head of the TVA. Although Renslayer is an enigmatic presence for most of the season, she still makes her mark thanks to Mbatha-Raw’s heartless take on a character that comic fans will know to be rather sympathetic. Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku, top image) initially seems like a one-note grunt for the TVA, but she gets a small, yet important, arc that neatly resolves itself over the final three episodes. However, the clear star alongside Hiddleston is Owen Wilson’s Mobius, the scene-stealing TVA agent assigned to Loki, and somehow more fun to watch than the trickster god. It would have been exceptionally easy for head writer Waldron to just let Wilson do Owen Wilson things through six episodes, with the barest hint of juicy character work, but that’s not the case here, with Mobius getting an exceptionally thrilling voyage that can’t help but make you root for him, sometimes even more than Loki himself.
The dynamic between Mobius and Loki is one of the strongest things that the show has going for it, rivaled only by the strange, but fascinating partnership that forms between the mysterious Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) and Loki. Without saying too much about Sylvie and who she is, she drives both the entire season’s plot and Loki’s psychological journey, and Di Martino is more than up to the task, out-snarking Loki at times while also reaching back for genuine emotion when needed. Sylvie embodies the two main tenets of the show with her very existence, as well as being a physical manifestation of some of the things that Loki understands least: trust and free will. The concept of who or what Loki should put his faith into, and if he is even making that choice willingly, all leads to who Sylvie is and what her place in this universe is.
Loki, although it’s far from the most unique concept that MCU shows have tried, easily has the most distinctive visual style to go along with its universe-altering consequences, and director Kate Herron wastes no time showing that off. From Loki‘s first episode, the mise-en-scène and set design is unlike anything previously in the MCU, with scenes set in the TVA having an uncannily drab kind of bureaucratic brown and gray tint, to scenes set on exotic planets being almost hazily fantastical. Every shot in Loki is also much more vibrant than other MCU films or shows have had, with purples, blues, and greens sharply punctuating the background (the one exception to this is episode 5, which is purposefully set in a desolate landscape).
Herron quickly makes it obvious that the procedural world of the TVA is a vastly different beast compared to the other locales that Loki takes its protagonist, by choosing to shoot scenes in the TVA in a basic and controlled manner, and scenes on other planets or in the future with a dreamy quality, featuring extra wide shots along with slowly spinning and rotating angles to show off the full scale of the environment. Herron’s direction is punctuated by Natalie Holt’s terrifically eccentric score, which invokes both excitement and barely restrained tension to create a sense of unease that permeates throughout the entire season, culminating in a finale that changes the entire future of the MCU as we know it.
Verdict: Much like its titular character, Loki is a deceptive and conniving show. It’s not incredibly straightforward, but it’s not overly complicated to the point of confusing and alienating people, and for that reason, it exists as a sort of perfect lovechild between tightly focused character drama and bombastic MCU spectacle, while continuously subverting audience expectations. With a fresh and distinctive visual identity, Loki‘s first season is a brilliantly crafted and character-focused tale about free will with all the style and spectacle you’d expect from an MCU show, while having endless repercussions for the future of this universe.
Let me know what you thought of the show in the comments below!
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these photos or posters. Disney and Marvel Studios own all of these photos and posters. Some of these images were taken from https://www.cap-that.com/