Tom Hiddleston’s Loki of Asgard is back and once again “burdened with glorious purpose” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third foray into the TV world, which might just be its best yet.
Following the successful transition of the MCU into television with the acclaimed Earth-based WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki effectively resurrects one of its best-loved characters opens up a multiverse of possibilities.
Keen Marvel fans will recall that Hiddleston’s God of Mischief – brother of Aussie Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder in three Thor movies and three Avengers movies – met a noble end at the hands of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, having completed his journey from villainous protagonist to reluctant antihero.
But during the “time heist” of Avengers: Endgame, an earlier, unreconstructed version of Loki accidentally escaped the clutches of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes using the Tesseract, and it’s this more self-centred, Machiavellian character that audiences meet at the beginning of his first solo outing.
Following on directly from his Endgame escape, Loki is immediately taken into custody by the Time Variance Authority, a mysterious organisation that exists to protect the so-called “sacred time line”, so that events unfold in the way they should according to the dictates of the even more mysterious Time Keepers. This version of Loki is an unauthorised “variant” – and his very existence has potentially created a dangerous alternative reality – so he is given the choice between being permanently “deleted” or helping the agency track down an even more dangerous variant, who is wreaking havoc across earth’s time line from the Middle Ages, to the modern day and even into apocalyptic events yet to come.
Owen Wilson’s Analyst Mobius M. Mobius is well aware of Loki’s penchant for lying and trickery but is convinced it takes a thief to catch a thief and the interplay between the two leads as they verbally spar and test each other’s intellect and resolve is a joy to behold.
After a decade playing the part, Hiddleston knows his character backwards and easily slips between charm, humour, pathos and menace as he’s made to confront his misdeeds – past, present and future – as well as his mortality.
Likewise, Wilson’s laconic, laid-back delivery is spot on as the slightly jaded, jet ski obsessed Mobius, who is as fascinated by Loki’s unpredictable, capricious and sometimes cruel nature as he is wary of it. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wunmi Musaku also impress as a suspicious judge and a no-nonsense agent respectively.
But where Loki really shines is in the world it has created. Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige says Loki will be hugely important to the MCU moving forward and it certainly looks like nothing we’ve ever seen before. In dreaming up the stunning aesthetic of the Time Variance Authority, writer Michael Waldron (Rick and Morty) and director Kate Herron (Sex Education), have blended the fantastical and the mundane to breathtaking effect. Drawing on Herron’s own experiences as an office drone, the TVA is all coffee stains, roped off queues and filing trolleys, but out the window are towering retro-future vistas that hint of a world just beginning to be revealed.
If you put Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men in a blender, you’d come up with something resembling this uniquely intoxicating cocktail of office chic and administrative drudgery.
With six hour-long episodes – and plenty of reveals and revelations in the first two alone – Loki promises more twists and tricks than its namesake and with Waldron also having penned the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel, the tantalising prospect of a lasting impact on the MCU’s next phase.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MARVEL’S LOKI – DIRECTOR KATE WALDON SPEAKS
What is Loki?
Loki is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third foray into the world of television, following WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It’s directed by British rising star Kate Herron and written by Michael Waldron.
KW: “I would describe the tone of this one as like nothing that has been done so far in the MCU. Me and Michael, we both have comedy backgrounds and Loki is very funny, so that is going to filter into the show because it’s who we are. But tonally, the show is a crime-thriller mixed into this epic adventure – so we have a lot of tones at play and I think it’s doing something really different and exciting.”
Wait, isn’t Loki dead?
Well yes. And no. The Loki that audiences loved to hate died at the hands of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, but while the Avengers were trying to assemble the Infinity Stones in Endgame, they inadvertently let the earlier Battle Of New York version of Loki escape.
KW: “We’re taking Loki at a very different point in his life and he hasn’t gone on this arc that we have seen across the other movies. He just stole the Tesseract and this is the Loki that we have seen in Avengers, who is in a very different space.”
Loki has been kind of a jerk, well a complete psychopath really, but came good at the end – which version is he in this?
Having not been through the events of Thor: The Dark World or Thor: Ragnarok, in which he lost both his parents and saw the destruction of his home world, this is very much the megalomaniac, unreconstructed version of Loki. But is he all bad?
KW: “Like so many people I have seen Loki across the movies. I really love villains and I think when they are done right they can be the most complex, interesting characters. You don’t have to agree with them, but you have to understand them. And I think that Loki is a real masterclass in that. Obviously we have seen him go from villain to antihero across the last decade and as soon as I knew they were making a show about him I was like ‘I have to get in for that’.”
Are there any Hemsworths in it?
Not really. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor can be seen fleetingly as clips from the movies as Loki looks at his own life, but the show is really defined by who the God Of Mischief is without his brother, The God of Thunder.
KW: “I think it’s really exciting, right? He’s getting to step out from his brother’s shadow and we are taking him on his journey that is completely his own. Also, I think the exciting thing is that any insecurity there hopefully will be alleviated by the fact that he has his own show – it’s called Loki.”
No Hemsworth, but Hiddleston is front and centre?
Tom Hiddleston, who originally auditioned for the part of Thor, was now been playing Loki for a decade since Kenneth Branagh’s first film in 2011. He remains the definitive expert on the character and, by all accounts, an all-round top bloke.
KW: “It’s such a gift as a director to work with an actor that has been playing a character for over a decade. I actually asked him at the beginning of pre-production to do a Loki lecture for our cast and crew. It was like a TED talk and we got clips from across the films and I just said to him ‘talk about your experience over the last ten years over the MCU and Loki’s journey’. I think it was great because it united us all so much on where Loki has been, where Tom has been but also giving respect to what we were doing because he’s such a beloved character. Tom has this never-ending stream of energy and positivity and he brings his A-game every single day to set and I think that really radiated across everyone because they felt that had to rise to his standard. And he’s just a very kind and generous man.”
So, what’s it about?
Having escaped the Avengers using the Tesseract, Loki is arrested by the Time Variance Authority for crimes against the sacred time line and given the choice to work with them or be “deleted” for good.
KW: “The Time Variance Authority are an organisation that control the proper flow of time and they arrest Loki for his crimes against the sacred time line. With them, he must work to repair the damage he has done.”
But what’s it REALLY about?
In the same way that WandaVision dealt with the after-effects of trauma and grief and Falcon and the Winter Soldier incorporated questions of terrorism and the Black experience in the USA, Loki examines the concepts of friendship and human nature.
KW: “We do have a very interesting friendship between their characters and I would say there’s friendship and heart on our sleeve. There’s a lot of emotion in this show and I think that’s something I definitely brought on from Sex Education on Netflix, and that’s very much a drama with heart and that’s something I wanted to carry across to all my work. I loved WandaVision, I loved Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Both of those helped me escape, they have all the amazing set pieces and moments that you would expect from a Marvel story but what I love about them is they are talking about such different things. My favourite genre shows or films, that’s what they do right? If you take away all the bells and whistles from the story, what it is about and what is it addressing? For me that’s really key. With our show for example, I wanted to talk about is anyone truly good or truly bad and the grey area in between that and for me that was really important.”
Loki streams from today on Disney+
Originally published as First review: Is Loki Marvel’s best TV show yet?