There are no villains that have made more appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than Loki, from his debut in Thor to Marvel's The Avengers to appearances or mentions in at least seven other projects. Because of that, it's only fitting Tom Hiddleston's take on the Asgardian god of mischief is the first Marvel villain to get his own self-titled project. It's even more fitting that it's in this solo project that Hiddleston's portrayal of the beloved baddie also happens to show the actor at his best.
Since the trickster is dead in the primary MCU timeline, the creators behind this show had to get creative on how to bring the character back. As such, the series picks up immediately from Avengers: Endgame and the instance we saw the character, even reusing the same footage that appeared in the record-setting blockbuster. There, a version of the character from immediately after the events of The Avengers manages to get his hands on the Tesseract and teleports away from Avengers Tower and the series picks up right from that sequence.
In the timeline where he didn't escape, he went on to undergo major character development between Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, and his eventual demise in Avengers: Infinity War. That means the Loki that appears in this series has none of that development, and it's something the show's creators are very well aware of.
So aware of it, in fact, the majority of the first episode is bringing the character back up to speed. Throughout the first 50-minute episode, we see the character mature from his usual villainous self to, at the end of things, at least showing the slightest shred of humanity, and it's an arc that helps to flesh the character out and create that necessary depth that was absent post-Avengers. There's even a moment we see Loki live his whole life in the blink of an eye, a scene that feels like it only plays well because Hiddleston is in the lead role.
Some may feel the pacing of the premiere is much of a slow burn, but it's necessary for a plot that dives headfirst into the world of time travel and hopping between dimensions. The premiere provides necessary exposition and stellar character beats in exchange for in-your-face action, and the end result is a story that comes across much smaller than one might expect.
That may be what's most unique about the series. It's apparent from the involvement of the Time Variance Authority — a bureaucratic body that patrols what they call the "sacred timeline" — that this series has far-reaching ramifications over the entire franchise. Yet, it manages to balance that idea with an intimate character study that breaks down an Asgardian god and reduces him to the closest thing he'll ever get to being a human, and that's really where Hiddleston and his co-stars succeed.
Make no mistake about it, Hiddleston and Owen Wilson are already household names. Here, it's undeniable that the first two episodes of Loki make both of them feel like superstars. Not only do the actors and their characters play off each other exceptionally well with their witty banter and perfect comedic timing, but they each hammer home many of the show's most dramatic reads without missing a beat. Wilson's Mobius M. Mobius plays an excellent therapist to Hiddleston's lost god, providing an excellent foundation for a dynamic pairing.
The MCU is a franchise that's grown at a breakneck pace, as it adds a handful of new projects each year. In fact, by the time 2021 is said and done, the world constructed by Kevin Feige and company will have released four movies and six television shows. Believe it or not, that's not even the busiest year on the studio's release calendar, either.
To keep things fresh and alive, it makes sense to divert from the standard concepts and take fans on a journey they've never seen before. From the second Loki begins to roll, it's increasingly apparent Marvel has released yet another project slipping away from their traditional, mass-market, silver-screen fare.
With WandaVision, we saw Marvel Studios hop off the beaten path in pursuit of something truly original, and it very much feels the same here. Gone are the traditional blockbuster action beats and, in their place, is a whole new corner of the MCU that has yet to be explored. Like WandaVision exploring the magic of the MCU, Loki begins to dive into time travel and ideas that are maybe even a little too faithful to comic book storytelling, and the end result is the beginning of something special.
Balancing the standard Marvel comedy with strong character beats and heart-tugging moments, Loki is a well-balanced series that never once takes itself too seriously. Even though Hiddleston is one of the biggest names in the franchise at the moment, giving Loki — a particularly nasty villain — his own series was a pretty hefty risk in and of itself. Mind you, it's a risk that appears to have paid off in droves because Loki is shaping up to be some serious must-watch television.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Loki premieres on Disney+ this Wednesday, June 9th.
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