Marvel’s latest entry in the Disney+ exclusives following WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier is definitely a step up in quality and storytelling.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) favourite anti-hero - Loki (at least until Deadpool makes his debut in the MCU) has had a successful foray into television. The plot is set after Loki steals the tesseract when the Avengers travel back in time in Avengers: Endgame during the ‘New York alien invasion’ event from the first Avengers movie.
Unfortunately, for the self-proclaimed master manipulator, he is taken into custody by an agency called the Time Variance Agency (TVA) for disrupting the timeline. The TVA, an agency that protects the timeline, later recruits Loki to aid them in their purpose to protect space and time itself. The story is sprawled across 6 episodes with Tom Hiddlestone returning as Loki, and comedy legend Owen Wilson as Mobius, who play out the buddy cop routine to perfection. Well, at least that is how the story sets out at the beginning but when someone who is the embodiment of chaos like Loki is involved, the story was bound to spiral in multiple directions, and it did exactly that. The show features multiple timelines, replicants of characters called variants, and an alligator that is a ‘Loki’ from another timeline - are just a few examples.
The production value which Disney brings to the table is evident, with excellent set designs, costumes, CGI and cinematography. The TV show has also taken a slightly different direction in terms of visuals, unlike a vast majority of the MCU productions which unfortunately have identical cinematography. The overall aesthetic of set interiors is in tune with a retro look with analogue dials, filing cabinets, and CRT monitors - a plot device that is becoming very popular as seen in The Umbrella Academy, Stranger Things, Wonder Woman 84, Captain Marvel and so on.
The screenplay is excellent and helps elevate the chemistry between the characters. The excellent performances by the lead and supporting actors do a splendid job at aiding in character development. Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sophia Di Martino deserve special praise for their performances. It would not be far-fetched to claim that they outperformed Tom Hiddlestone.
The plot however is an amalgamation of several popular TV shows with each episode borrowing heavily from Doctor Who, The Umbrella Academy, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, just to name a few. The first few episodes in particular have used themes from several police procedurals like Psyche, The Mentalist, and Castle, where a consultant is hired by an investigative agency to help solve their cases. The multiple variants or replicants of a character is something that has been made popular by films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and TV shows like the Flash. This is actually what makes this show unique, as it has borrowed several themes and tropes and turned them into something unprecedented for a televised show. Another Disney IP has used this technique to great effect in EA’s video game Star War: Jedi Fallen Order released in 2019. The game used elements from From Software’s Souls games and Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, among several others. The game went onto become one of the most beloved Star Wars games of the last decade.
Thematically, it deals with the idea of free will, redemption, narcissism. It has thought-provoking dialogues which question the moral obligations of higher authorities and how the cruel actions for the greater good need not always pay dividends and could turn counterproductive. The one aspect that stops it from being a truly top tier comic book TV series like Daredevil, The Punisher, or Watchmen is the fact that it refuses to take risks with its storytelling. It follows the same MCU formula of pandering to a wider demographic. It is an excellent model from a financial perspective, but it cripples the potential of the story. And just like most stories about time travel and multiple-universes the scientific explanation that the script conjures up is a hit or miss.
Loki is by no means perfect, but it is without a doubt the best TV show based on Marvel characters since Legion, Daredevil, and The Punisher and is the best Disney+ original Marvel TV show. For the partisan MCU fandom, in particular, the show is an absolute delight. The show ends with a cliffhanger which has enough intrigue to keep the audience eagerly waiting for the second season. Loki could also be the path that paves the wave for the ‘X-Men’ characters to finally shift to the MCU, with its multiple timelines and parallel universes introduced in the show.