Tom Hiddleston Is an Absolute Marvel in ‘Loki’
The new Disney+ series centered on the Marvel villain combines the inventiveness of “WandaVision” with the buddy-comedy repartee missing from “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”
Tom Hiddleston is one of the best things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it’s about time the sprawling movie (and now also TV) franchise gave him his own showcase. Loki is that and more, and yes, that last sentence did include a pun, since the studio’s latest Disney+ affair is all about time-travel, and the many ways in which it’s controlled by higher supernatural beings and manipulated by Hiddleston’s God of Mischief, who in his first stand-alone saga grapples with issues of identity and agency while also trying to earn his freedom and, potentially, seize control of the Marvel multiverse.
Delivering both the high-wire inventiveness that elevated WandaVision and the sharp buddy-comedy repartee that was missing from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki (premiering June 9) picks up where Avengers: Endgame left off, with the present-day Loki dead at the hands of Thanos, and the 2012 version of Loki on the run thanks to the Tesseract. It’s that still-evil iteration of the character who takes center stage in showrunner Michael Waldron’s series, which locates the fugitive Asgardian in the Gobi Desert. His stay in the searing heat is short-lived, however, since no sooner has he attempted to give one of his patented arrogant-tyrant speeches than he’s nabbed by a squadron of heavily armed soldiers who materialize out of a portal and promptly transport him to the imposing headquarters of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), an organization that prevents troublemakers (dubbed Variants) from destroying the one, true “sacred” timeline.
Loki doesn’t appreciate being whisked away to this bureaucratic locale, nor the news that he’s about to face trial for his timeline crimes, which the TVA can fix through erasing-energy reset charges so long as the unwanted timeline branches are caught before they spread too far. The TVA’s HQ is like a military fortress that’s been decorated to resemble a 1950s office building, and its period stylings extend from its furniture, wall panels, and archaic-tech devices, to a Jetsons-style animated informational video—starring cheery anthropomorphic clock (and soon-to-be meme sensation) Miss Minutes (Tara Strong)—that Loki is forced to watch as he waits in line, ticket in hand, to see the judge, Ravonna Lexus Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
In swift fashion, Loki establishes the foundation of not only its premise but the entire multiverse conceit that will govern the MCU going forward (including in Sam Raimi’s upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness). Moreover, it does so while letting Hiddleston roll his eyes, smirk, fume, and rage at the mundane insanity of these circumstances, about which he previously had no knowledge, and which he doesn’t care for in the slightest, given that they suggest he’s not in charge of his own destiny.
No matter how much he rejects the idea that he’s on a predetermined path (courtesy of a lizardy alien trio known as the Time Keepers), Loki discovers that he can’t escape his situation—literally, since he’s kept in check by a time collar controlled by Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), a TVA analyst who knows how dangerous Loki is, and yet nonetheless enlists his help in hunting an enigmatic Variant who’s sneaking through time slaughtering TVA agents. That plan is bristled at by TVA badass Hunter B-15 (Lovecraft Country’s Wunmi Mosaku), as well as by Loki, who has no interest in being a cog in a vast time-wheel machine operated by Mad Men-ish suits at the behest of mysterious beings whom even Mobius has never met. Reservations be damned, however, Loki knows an evil opportunity when he sees it, and he agrees to partner with Mobius after a protracted tête-à-tête in which Mobius shows Loki what his sacred timeline future is (it involves his mother’s murder, his father’s demise, and his death via Thanos), and the two debate the question of free will and the twisted nature of Loki’s character.
In that speech, Loki and its protagonist self-consciously contend with the idea that Loki is, fundamentally, a villain designed to facilitate others’ (i.e., the Avengers’) heroism. The thrill of Waldron’s series—at least in its first two episodes, which were all that were provided to press—is watching Hiddleston’s baddie both embrace and fight against that role. At the same time, the show generates excitement from its clever extrapolations on the concept of the TVA (and time-travel), and humor from the rapport shared by Hiddleston and Wilson. The pair feel tailor-made for this sort of uneasy partnership, in which cutting barbs fly as the two attempt to deceive each other and, resultantly, call each other on their respective ruses. Their intellectual cat-and-mouse dynamic is the proceedings’ highlight, and unlike Loki’s bickering-sibling relationship with Thor, it allows Hiddleston to be the figurative alpha, his cunning-trickster attitude defining the action’s rhythm and tone.
Loki zigs and zags without sacrificing coherence—a not-inconsiderable feat considering the wealth of explanatory time-travel exposition required by the plot. Suffice it to say, watching these six episodes will likely be necessary for anyone wanting to make heads or tails of where the MCU is headed. Still, the series never feels as if it’s drowning in educational mumbo-jumbo; Waldron simply has his characters dispense intermittent and necessary clarifications about this twisty-turny-paradoxical state of affairs. Like Endgame, it has a novel and shrewd take on the way in which time-travel could be both regulated and exploited, and director Kate Herron does a fantastic job juggling the material’s various demands (action, comedy, multiverse primer) at the same time that she underscores the narrative’s chief concerns through circular camera movements, spherical imagery, and roundabout set designs.
None of Loki would really work, however, without Hiddleston, who reimagines his ne’er-do-well as a delightful, greedy, ambitious, and self-aware megalomaniac wrestling with inner demons. He makes Loki wildly likable by affording a richer understanding of his motivations and hang-ups, even as he retains the character’s bedrock untrustworthiness, which rises to the fore as Loki heads out into the field with Mobius in search of a homicidal adversary eerily similar to himself. Whether change is possible is ultimately central to Loki, but at least in its early going, what the series proves is Marvel’s unparalleled gift for maintaining interconnected-multiverse consistency while simultaneously throwing welcome new wrinkles into its franchise mix.