Arguably the most eagerly anticipated of Marvel’s announced 2021 slate, Loki did not disappoint, hurdling over WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to romp into first place among the MCU television shows.
Bullet Point Review
- The most complete package among the MCU Disney+ shows to date, with the best direction and writing so far.
- Bolstered by the phenomenal work of the leads and guest stars, making it an even more acting-focused show than WandaVision, swapping that show’s ambitious sitcom premise with homages to The Wizard of Oz and Doctor Who.
- Kept things interesting by not letting questions linger for too long and constantly adjusting the status quo, such as moving Sylvie from villain to co-lead and pulling back the curtain on the TVA.
- Gave one of the MCU’s most popular characters new depths, while debuting several fan favourites in a refreshingly human story about learning to change and trust.
- Leaves things in an interesting place by introducing the next Big Bad and The Multiverse on top of a cliff-hanger ending ahead of the second season.
The Most Complete Disney+ Project
I enjoyed WandaVision, even more so on a second watch, but it definitely had some rougher moments and a disappointing final episode. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier very rarely put all of its theoretically interesting pieces together in a satisfying manner. So above all else, it was nice for one of these MCU Disney+ shows to be wholly entertaining throughout.
It starts at the top, with Kate Herron delivering by far the best direction to date, actually doing radical things like composing an interesting shot and moving the camera around from time to time. It’s a low bar, but still good to clear it! To me the show was at its best in small rooms with two or three actors just talking, while the weaker moments came when they ventured outdoors. Pompeii, parts of ‘Journey Into Mystery’ etc. all looked ugly and obviously fake. Conversely moving around the various floors of the TVA was a delight. Much more on both of these aspects below.
Michael Waldron ran a good writers room as well, with a plot that bent the rules of time and space but managed to keep things satisfyingly simple. At its heart, it was an emotional journey about change, trust and relationships, with Loki organically earning his goodness rather than just lazily shifting over to the side of the angels like in the movies, and gaining both his first ever friend and his first ever love interest, as well as having nice moments with younger and older versions of himself.
They kept things moving by constantly changing the status quo, immediately subverting the premise from a hooded Loki Variant terrorising the timeline in the shadows to Sylvie subverting audience expectations around her identity, and then moving her from villain to secondary protagonist, revealing the TVA was built on a lie, ‘killing’ Loki, the romp with the other Variants, and then the many bombshells of the finale. The other two shows were broadly about one thing the whole way through; WandaVision did a delightful fake-out with Agatha but was mostly just teasing out its premise in frustratingly small increments, while TFATWS sort of established a premise and then spent a long time forgetting what it was, ending in about the safest way possible.
My Marvellous Journey co-host, Ben Phillips, asserted that the show got better every single week, and while I don’t quite agree (see my rankings below), there was a definite sense of forward momentum and rising confidence in its ideas. Of all its strengths, remaining engaging every week might have been its best, and that was in no small part thanks to the direction and writing.
An Acting Showcase
All of the above can only take things so far though, and it was the fantastic fivesome central cast and a handful of guests that really made the project sing. Tom Hiddleston, Sophia Di Martino, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wunmi Mosaku all brought the heat, getting plenty of opportunities to shine alone, but doing their best work when paired in interesting combinations. My favourite episode of the series, ‘The Nexus Event’, revolved entirely around that idea, with Loki stuck in an endless loop with Sif that demonstrated how much he had changed, Mobius trying to go behind Renslayer’s back to get to the truth, and Hunter B-15 haunted by the lingering memory of Sylvie’s enchantment and seeking to learn more from her. The debut episode was carried by Mobius wearing Loki down through interrogation and replays of key moments from his life. ‘Lamentis’ stranded Loki with Sylvie so we could learn more about both and kick off an unexpectedly compelling (albeit twisted) love story. Richard E. Grant got to step into this ridiculous world and impart some tragic words of wisdom, and Jonathan Majors absolutely dominated the finale.
Centring the show around one of Marvel’s most popular and enduring characters was a smart decision, with Hiddleston’s wealth of experience with the Disney machine helping anchor everybody orbiting around him. This is especially apparent when compared to Elizabeth Olsen gradually winning audiences over with an assist from the quirky premise, and Anthony Mackie & Sebastian Stan not looking ready for the big time. Hiddleston arrived confident and grew his character’s legend thanks to being afforded a starring role he was utterly unafraid of. Mobius giving a more evil version of Loki a crash course in morality gave us all of the biting wit of the original incarnation coupled with the sentimentality of his final days in Ragnarok and Infinity War.
Speaking of Mobius, I was thrilled to see Owen Wilson flourish as this could have been an awkward fit. His offbeat energy matched Hiddleston’s theatricality, and they formed an endearing bromance. Di Martino stole most scenes she featured in, making Sylvie every bit as compelling as her co-lead despite his decade head start. She is not just a female Loki, having lived a very different life to him and becoming an assertive, quick-thinking survivor driven by vengeance, always on the run, a trait they remained true to from start to finish. This was best exemplified by their final standoff where she pounced on the opportunity to go for the kill the second it was viable, withdrawing from Loki’s love in the process. Renslayer and B-15 started out as bureaucrats but began heading in wildly different directions, with the former doubling down on her dogmatic beliefs in the face of evidence of them being a lie, while the latter harboured a secret that led her down a path of curiosity to regain her humanity.
Violence Was Not the Answer!
In keeping with the above, I finally got my preferred superhero story ending. Usually no matter what has happened earlier in the movie/show, we are treated to a finale of action figures smashing into each other as the VFX team take over. They tend to be schlocky, grey/brown/orange, painfully obvious green screen affairs with at best a cute piece of fight choreography, but more often than not, one side just throws more primary coloured balls of energy at the other. WandaVision spent most of its eight weeks without a clear villain and barely an action scene in sight… and then devolved into exactly that at the finish line.
By contrast, Jonathan Majors was afforded the opportunity to act his ass off for 30-minutes, explaining the true nature of the universe and then offering the leads an impossible choice. Admittedly, they engaged in a brief sword fight before making it, but at least it had some semblance of emotional weight because of the legwork the creators put in with the characters. As an audience, we did not really know what the right answer was, only that we did not want either character to lose, and that is presumably the aim for many writers.
I don’t hold the show not being overly good at action scenes against it, because they’re a problem for Marvel in general. Sylvie got to do a couple of nifty moves in corridors and whatnot, and it was nice that she was portrayed as the superior fighter in general, but for the most part this was a show about talking… and magic, as Classic Loki summarised in ‘Journey Into Mystery’.
The Dependability of the TVA
While we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to MVPs of the show, I don’t want the Time Variance Authority to go unmentioned. I went into it in detail in episode one, but I truly am a sucker for these anachronistic American offices with pneumatic tubes, artificial lighting and no windows that handle supernatural business. The motivational posters on the wall that everybody ignores despite covering the rules of time travel. The hideous colour palette. The terrifically bored workers who administrate every conceivable timeline. I love it all, and think nailing the aesthetic of the most used location in any show is enormously important.
As I said earlier, I truly believe the show was at its best when Mobius was interrogating Loki in a Time Theater or chit-chatting with Renslayer in her office, or Loki & Sylvie were being led to meet their fate in the Time-Keepers’ chamber. And who could forget the delightful booking-in process? All of these scenes were gorgeous to look at, with many subtle touches like the unusual behaviour of the lighting to hint at the supernatural nature of the building, and it was nice to always have this set to fall back on.
More than the building itself, the concept of the Judges, Analysts and Minutemen were great, and they cast a good selection of ‘Hunters’, from Sasha Lane to Derek Russo to Neil Ellice, and of course Wunmi Mosaku. Most importantly, the (time) cops turned out to be the bad guys… kind of.
But the stealth sixth lead was Tara Strong, who brought Miss Minutes to life in glorious fashion. Strong allowed the helpful little cartoon clock to evolve from an annoying educational tool to a sentient being with its own mysterious agenda, able to deceive and use non-verbal cues, culminating in the delightful ‘jump scare’ in the finale. I’m looking forward to more of Miss Minutes in season 2.
There was only one episode I would say I didn’t like, that being ‘The Variant’, which toned down the intrigue of the TVA in favour of bad action sequences and the insultingly cheap Pompeii scene. But even with that, I’d put it way ahead of most of The Falcon and the Winter Solider thanks to the supermarket scene and Sylvie’s big debut.
On the other end of the spectrum, I felt ‘The Nexus Event’ was the high point, pairing off the fine main characters in fun combinations, with Jaimie Alexander guesting as Sif to even up the numbers. On top of the acting and character development, it maximised the intrigue and pulled off probably the most satisfying fight scene in the series and then stuck the landing of the triple bombshells of the Time-Keepers being fake, Loki ‘dying’ and the reveal of The Variants. Possibly the best individual episode of television the MCU has produced so far.
Everything else you could talk me into moving around, though I’d definitely put the debut in penultimate position by the nature of having to do a lot of set-up. But the other three episodes all have very high highs, particularly the acting, with Jonathan Majors, Richard E. Grant and the two leads putting in big shifts. Majors’ tour de force led me to place the finale in second. ‘Lamentis’ delving into Loki and Sylvie’s emotional depths and an exciting race to the finish pips ‘Journey Into Mystery’. I know my milder praise of Episode 5 is my most controversial Loki take, but I still feel there’s too much wheel spinning and too many nagging issues that even Alligator Loki can’t overcome.
- ‘The Nexus Event’ (Episode 4)
- ‘For All Time. Always.’ (Episode 6)
- ‘Lamentis’ (Episode 3)
- ‘Journey Into Mystery’ (Episode 5)
- ‘Glorious Purpose’ (Episode 1)
- ‘The Variant’ (Episode 2)
The potential ramifications of Sylvie breaking time are enormous. Most people have gone straight to the long-rumoured return of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield for a grand Spider-Man team up in No Way Home. Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx are already confirmed, and now we have a plot justification for that meta casting. As much as I want to see all of those actors come back, for me this is their entry ramp for a live-action Miles Morales so they can lock down another phenomenally popular character for the next decade and supplement their growing roster of Avenger replacements.
The timeline branches also give them the cleanest way to bring mutants and other Fox characters into the fold rather than pretending they’ve just been chilling all this time. We’re still many years away from any X-Men projects, but the Fantastic Four are on the horizon, and could debut as soon as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which will see Jonathan Majors return in his Kang the Conqueror guise, who Loki & Sylvie were warned about. Majors has a real chance to make Kang the polar opposite to He Who Rmeains to really establish the wild differences between Variants, and reaffirm what a huge talent he is to watch.
More pressingly, this is the first show in the MCU explicitly designed to continue, rather than acting as a mini-series to change the status quo of Wanda Maximoff and Sam Wilson. Where does Sylvie go after choosing chaos? Has she erased herself and all her Variants from all records to cover her tracks, hence Mobius not recognising Loki? Will Renslayer find Kang? Will we see a return of Kid Loki? There are a lot of open doors, but unfortunately Kate Herron will not be directing us through them as she has already confirmed she won’t be returning for season two, which is a shame.
Looking ahead a couple of weeks, What If…? suddenly takes on new potential significance as more than a a cute curio. While I do suspect they will mostly be fun isolated tales, it is definitely possible some Big Plot Things happen.
What seems clear now is that the MCU has two major ongoing plot-lines: the timey-wimey sci-fi romp of the above-mentioned projects, and the duller Captain America-style story of various shadowy factions led by Sharon Carter, Val etc. Thunderbolts and Young Avengers teams appear to be staffing up, and Kid Loki could contribute to the latter. To me, while I’m obviously here for it, this is the less interesting of the two stories, which is reflected in the quality of the shows that have featured them. Space things will happen eventually too, and it’s nice for there to be so many spinning plates heading forward, rather than just the long-telegraphed… endgame… of Thanos.
Next week I’ll present some quick thoughts on Black Widow (full podcast discussion on Ben and Matt’s Marvellous Journey coming way down the road) and then take a week off ahead of What If…?
Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend we see some different interprations of Batman from throughout the years and Superman villain Livewire comes to town.
There Will Be Movies continues each Wednesday, as Ben Phillips and I talk about 25 of our favourite movies from the 90s. This week your hosts get to sound even whiter than usual as they discuss Boyz n the Hood.