You didn’t think Avengers: Infinity War was the end of the god of mischief, did you? If there’s anything we should know about Loki after all of these years, it’s that he’s always got a way out. Marvel’s Loki series on Disney+ is about a variant version, the one we saw escape with the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame, and as such it serves as a means of retooling him to be more than just a mischievous, self-serving villain and into a mischievous, self-serving antihero.
Shocker to no one; it’s an absolute blast, full of weird sci-fi time travel geekery and a hilarious buddy-comedy feel thanks to the chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Wilson have this kind of pairing, it used to be all he did back in the day, and he almost seems revitalized to have someone to riff with again. But more to the point, Loki is just plain fun in the grand ol’ Marvel tradition. However, don’t mistake that for frivolous. There’s a lot going on underneath the hood that promises to change the way we look at the MCU and the way time travel works, not to mention lays the groundwork for some big stories to come.
Picking up right after Endgame when a captured Loki stole away with the Tesseract following the big battle of New York in 2012’s The Avengers, the villain finds that he’s gone from one set of handcuffs to another. Loki is scooped up by the Time Variance Authority (TVA) who exist in this dull, 1960s office space not unlike poor Vision’s workplace in WandaVision. But these folks aren’t just pushing papers around; they’ve been charged with protecting “the Sacred Timeline”, which is a lot more Biblical sounding than it actually is. Ignoring all of the weird stuff about the lizard-like Time Collectors, all that you really need to know is that the TVA are there to make sure variants like Loki don’t commit any time crimes that may screw up with the natural flow of time.
All of this is explained by the handy-dandy Miss Minutes (voiced by the great Tara Strong), an animated mascot of sorts. She’s just as cheery as can be, which Loki is in no mood to hear since he’s about to be put on trial. Fortunately for him, agent Mobius M. Mobius (Wilson) has another idea. He’s figured out that Loki is uniquely suited to helping the TVA stop a more dangerous threat that has been moving from timeline to timeline killing their agents and acquiring their many time-saving weapons.
Naturally, Loki doesn’t want to be anybody’s sidekick, and he’s certainly no hero. Or is he? One of the surprising things about Loki is how it takes us all the way back through his many appearances, peeling back the layers of who he really is. In what looks like it’s going to be an interrogation, Mobius instead has a conversation with Loki about why he does what he does. He highlights Loki’s many acts of cruelty, then turns the tables by showing the real consequences of them. He exposes Loki for his many failures, too, most of them caused by his own unwillingness to shut up. Surprisingly, this walk down memory lane opens Loki up to being more than what he has always been. Why couldn’t Thor have done this?
He’s still Loki, of course, and causes the TVA no end of grief. In particular, he needles the Hell out of the deathly-serious, tough-as-nails Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), and even leads her on an exhaustive chase. Loki’s antics don’t give Mobius’ boss, Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is already against the idea of working with Loki. It’s clear she and Mobius have a past, and anybody who knows what the name Renslayer means to the Marvel Universe, any disillusionment she has with the TVA could have gigantic ramifications for the universe.
Directed by Kate Herron and penned by Michael Waldron, the latter also working on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the Loki series gets off to a faster start than previous Marvel shows. Right from the start it has a clear idea where it’s going and what it’s meant to be, so that jumping right into Loki’s adventures feels natural. We also get many unique settings that flesh out Loki’s place throughout history. He’s spent a surprising amount of time on Earth for someone who claims to hate it here so much, including one stint as an infamous hijacker and thief from the 1970s whose real identity was never uncovered.
Some are quick to slap the “best Marvel series” label on Loki but I’m hesitant to go that far. Both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier started off slow but grew to become cultural phenomenons. Crazy to think we’ve had both in less than a year. Loki has a long way to go to reach their heights, but after two episodes it’s definitely on the track to getting there.
Loki hits Disney+ tomorrow, June 9th.