For all time...
Loki has always been one of the MCU's greatest characters. The fact he is one of the few recurring villains in the franchise should tell you just that. So it comes as no surprise that he is one of the first characters to get his own show on Disney+. And make no mistake, it is very much his show. Much like Wandavision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier that came before it, Loki seeks to further develop and expand the horizons of its titular trickster. But unlike its predecessors, Loki goes above and beyond what a Marvel series can be, particularly within the wider MCU. Armed with outstanding performances, an intriguing narrative, and strong philosophical undertones, Loki is the MCU's best series yet, and one that may be more significant than you think.
After accidentally escaping with the tesseract during the time-travelling shenanigans of Avengers: Endgame, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) finds himself in the middle of nowhere free from the clutches of earth's mightiest heroes. It's not long before he begins celebrating his newfound freedom by preaching to the surrounding locals, proclaiming his magnificence and that announcing that he is "burdened by glorious purpose". However, he is promptly humbled by the mysterious baton-wielding security forces of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), who take him to be punished for messing with the rules of time (that up until now, he never knew existed). In learning all of this new information, Loki sets out to save his own skin, joining forces with TVA Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) to track down a dangerous fugitive who is hellbent on destroying the TVA and the mysterious "Time-Keepers". But It's not long before his self-centred pursuits vanish under the realisation that the importance of space, and particularly time, are far beyond his meagre ambitions to rule.
Hiddleston returns to his classic role as the Asgardian god of mischief in glorious fashion, delivering what is easily his best performance as the trickster god yet. With this version of Loki having missed several movies worth of character development, he begins the series more like his old self - a maniacal rogue with a penchant for debauchery and extravagant theatrics. As such, the vague morality surrounding the shows various concepts and characters allows Hiddleston's Loki to thrive as a character balancing on an ethical knifes edge. Particularly in the first half of the season, it's thoroughly entertaining to see him get up to his old tricks, using his cunning, charm, and talents for manipulation to try and get what he wants. But his egotistical and narcissistic nature is soon replaced by a softer and more human side to the Asgardian we've only ever seen glimpses of in the past. It should come as no surprise then that the show places Loki front and centre, seeking to expand on the potential of this fan favourite character. It does this by utilising his inner conflict to provide the audience with something new, and at times unexpected; made all the more compelling by the emotional depth Hiddleston brings to the role. Loki is thus the series in both name and character, being both at the heart of its narrative and serving as the avatar for its themes, while also keeping the audience engaged with a standout performance.
But Loki shouldn't take all the credit for making the show as impressive as it is. Alongside Tom Hiddleston is an incredibly talented cast that gives their all to their respective roles. This is especially true for supporting characters like Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) and Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who are given the same degree of character development as the shows leading stars, making them equally as complex and pivotal to the show's success. There's even one character, who, despite only appearing in one episode, steals the show with an utterly outstanding introductory performance, characterised by their domineering presence and threateningly mild-mannered demeanour.
However, it's Hiddleston's co-stars Owen Wilson and Sophia Di Martino that take up most of the remaining spotlight, and at times, rival Loki's position centre stage. Owen Wilson's Agent Mobius is a delight to watch every time he's on-screen, with a fun-loving personality and level of charm on par with Loki himself. This is made all the more entertaining when he shares the stage with his unexpected partner in time, as despite both he and Loki sharing similar traits, their differing moral views produce a fun dynamic that establishes a natural rapport between them; resulting in some of the shows best moments. This is what makes their fairly limited interactions all the more disappointing, as the show never really scratches that buddy cop itch it teases in its first two episodes.
Sophia Di Martino's character does an excellent job of filling the void left by Wilson's Mobius, becoming a worthy companion to Loki with an equally headstrong personality and powerful performance. But even on her own, she is one of the shows most interesting characters, second only to Loki himself. The relationship she and Loki share in the series is but one example of how much emotion is put into each performance, and how the series uses that to keep the audience invested in both its narrative and characters.
What immediately stands out about Loki compared to its predecessors is how it feels very much in a league of its own. Its opening episode makes this abundantly clear, setting the tone for the rest of the series, which feels fresh, exciting, and full of mystery. This might come as a surprise to anyone that's already watched the show and knows that episode one is full of exposition and occasionally slow pacing. But Loki makes clever use of witty humour to make the delivery of its abundant exposition both interesting and downright hysterical. A cartoon clock by the name of Ms Minutes explains the TVA and scared timeline via a short animation; Desk jockeys have drawers full of infinity stones they use as paperweights; and the all-powerful Loki himself is brought low by mortal confusion and concern, as he is subjected to a number of absurd bureaucratic procedures. Loki's bewilderment and the hilarity it spawns is one of the many ways the show demonstrates a level of self-awareness that really keeps it in tune with its audience; which works to its benefit on more than one occasion.
The series is also a great starting point for anyone looking to jump aboard the Marvel movie hype train, as it doesn't require the audience to know years upon years of MCU history to know what's going on or who's who. It still makes use of familiar MCU tropes and traits to welcome in old fans, but it's the moments where it feels too much like a traditional Marvel movie where it struggles. Instead, the show prospers when it leans into what makes it unique, and how it seeks to shake up the MCU formula. In this sense, the series feels like a fresh start for the billion-dollar superhero franchise, being less concerned with what came before and more in favour of ushering in what comes next.
But even without its franchise-altering significance, Loki is a damn good and entertaining series on its own. The show is at its peak when its unique style and individuality are on full display; characterised by Natalie Holt’s powerful score and Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s masterful cinematography. A variety of jaw-dropping settings and a grand sense of scale help add a sense of wonder to the entire season, bringing together cosmic and fantasy elements to produce some absolutely enchanting visuals. The plot itself also follows the structure of the hero's journey almost to the letter, as we watch Loki embark on a noble quest to find his own metaphorical holy grail. Everything about the series, from its characters to the story itself, makes it just as fantastical and thrilling as any myth or legend, highlighting just how vital the series format can be for the MCU going forward. As such, Loki succeeds as part of the MCU, but more so as its own epic fairytale, making use of the series format to cram itself full of exhilarating twists, turns, and mysteries that allow it to set a new precedent for what a Marvel production can be.
But no fairytale or fable would be truly complete without a central message or theme. As such, Loki makes use of the newly revealed sacred timeline to toy with philosophical notions like free will, predestination, and fate in general. The show's script is subsequently littered with philosophical subtext that finds its way into almost every conversation and even forms the basis of some characters story arcs. Other times the show makes it more obvious, with characters engaging in philosophical debate and even name dropping terms like free will - a little too often. This proves to be an integral part of the series, further investing its audience in what is an already powerful story with strong thematic relevance. So while much of Loki's individuality stems from its visuals and masterfully composed soundtrack, its thought-provoking themes are equally as important, adding a surprising degree of substance to the entire series.
With this in mind, the season finale becomes the embodiment of the entire show, going all-in on its themes and unique identity, rather than making itself an action-packed spectacle. All of the intrigue and suspense built up over the course of the season culminates into a thrilling and deeply philosophical finale, which harbours all of the traits that make Loki so special. The finale demonstrates just how well the show knows itself, focussing more on building tension and nail-biting suspense through extensive dialogue rather than filling itself with needless over the top action and excitement. With a dramatic finish, Loki latches onto its audience with a gripping final episode that is both mentally and emotionally stimulating, echoing everything that makes the series so great.
Loki's first season is spellbinding, proving just how captivating and unique a Marvel production can be. While it may struggle early on with some awkward pacing and missed opportunities, Loki ends as a series imbued with glorious purpose, the burden of which is carried atop the shoulders of its sensational cast, unique identity, and a high degree of philosophical and emotional depth that ensures it delivers as an equally entertaining and intense season of television; complimented by a marvellous season finale that you don't want to miss.