NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the first season of, “Loki” are present in this review
Among the many messes that the Avengers left after their odyssey through time during the events of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, easily one of the biggest was an alternate reality wherein original Avengers/Thor nemesis, Loki ended up escaping with undercover Infinity Stone, the Tesseract. As it turns out however, Kevin Feige, Disney and Marvel Studios aren’t the only watchful eyes keeping tabs on the integrity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Loki’s breach of history caused by the present-day Avengers’ meddling with the past ultimately ends up provoking the Time Variance Authority, or, “TVA”, who arrest Loki for crimes against the so-called, “Sacred Timeline”, a necessary flow of time that the TVA is charged with protecting, and one that just so happens to include the fateful Thanos Snap and subsequent, “Time heist” that served as the MCU’s previous two-part climax on the big screen.
Loki thus serves as the most ambitious, large-scale MCU series made to date, spotlighting the secret masterminds behind the MCU timeline (in-universe, specifically), as an alternate Loki that never experienced his later reformation and eventual death between the events of 2013’s Thor: The Dark World and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War comes face-to-face with the true nature of his existence. It’s all very mind-bending and surreal, and that only becomes more apparent when Loki starts introducing more alternate versions of the trickster Asgardian, byproducts of potential histories that the TVA is charged with suppressing before they can grow out of control, which would create a Marvel fan’s dream and a time guardian’s nightmare; A vast multiverse where infinite timelines and character variants are possible.
Loki is taking on quite a bit of scope as the MCU’s latest Disney+ Original Series. This is perhaps why Loki is the first of the MCU’s current Disney+ shows to secure a Season 2 renewal, after WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier before it both appeared to be positioned as a one-and-done miniseries. Even these initial six Loki episodes cover quite a bit of narrative ground though, as the Loki variant created by the Avengers is taken into the TVA, and eventually recruited by determined TVA detective, Mobius M. Mobius, who is played in a standout new role by Owen Wilson. Mobius is after a mysterious time criminal that’s taking out TVA agents throughout history, while stealing their timeline-erasing charges that ‘prune’ alternate timelines and prevent them from spawning a new live-action Marvel Multiverse. By the end of Loki’s first episode, Mobius also divulges that this mysterious enemy is in fact another Loki variant, a female variant in fact, one that’s taken on a new identity as, “Sylvie.”
Like I said, Loki can be a lot to wrap your head around, something that occasionally works to its detriment. The middle stretch of this first season in particular can be a little dry and dialogue-heavy, ultimately lacking the spectacular, action-packed feel of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and the witty, yet introspective sense of humour behind WandaVision. Outside of that dry middle stretch though, Loki truly does catapult the MCU to some spectacular new creative heights, suddenly delivering a new faction that easily dwarfs every other force in the MCU to date, including Thanos. This is definitely a bold move, but it does pave the way for the MCU to exponentially grow in any number of new directions, including those that could eventually link it to legacy Marvel movies from third-party, non-Disney outifts like 20th Century Studios and Sony Pictures!
Beyond being an obvious vector for the MCU to begin embracing the multiverse however, Loki’s first season also spins a compelling new take on a character that the MCU had previously killed off in Avengers: Infinity War. Even this former death for Loki is used to strong effect here, as the God of Mischief is suddenly alive again to confront the futility of his own existence, and how he’s been set up since birth to be a cosmic loser whose sole reason in time is to empower other, more deserving forces like Thor, or any of the other Avengers. Loki thus becomes a quest for its eponymous character to break free from his fate, a quest that he eventually shares with Sylvie, an MCU amalgamation between Marvel Comics characters, Lady Loki and the second Enchantress, Sylvie Lushton, the latter of whom is not be confused with DC’s separate Enchantress, whom Cara Delevigne brought to live-action in 2016’s DC Extended Universe movie, Suicide Squad.
Loki’s momentum isn’t always fully consistent in Season 1, with this season’s premiere episode and its two final episodes easily being the strongest offerings among these first six. The way that this debut season comes together really is sublime though, eventually leading Loki and Sylvie to meet even more eccentric variants of themselves at the End of Time, before they soon after get an audience with, “He Who Remains.” He Who Remains is yet another MCU amalgamation between two separate Marvel Comics characters, the printed panels’ He Who Remains, who was the final surviving TVA agent at the End of Time, and Immortus, the final, oldest and wisest form of another Thanos-level Marvel villain, Kang the Conquerer. Loki eventually confirms that Kang will seemingly be the next Thanos-tier arch-villain to face the MCU as a whole, and Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan Majors makes a fantastic first impression during Loki’s first season finale, after Majors was previously claimed to be debuting Kang the Conquerer properly during upcoming 2023 movie, Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania.
There are many moments of existential drama and spiritual dread throughout Loki, ultimately culminating in especially potent despair with He Who Remains, though Loki does still manage to maintain a solid sense of humour throughout many of its better Season 1 episodes. The first and fifth episodes of this debut season often sport the best jokes, but even if Loki doesn’t hit the funny bone quite as reliably as WandaVision did, it still delivers some surprisingly heartwarming laughs amid an otherwise existentially bleak story. I do wish that the balance between humour and philosophy was better, especially when Loki delivers an excellent premiere episode, only to bleed most of its comedic momentum over the next three episodes, but this season does eventually manage to find its comedic footing again, particularly when Loki and Sylvie find themselves dumped at the End of Time.
As much as it’s a quantum-flavoured fantasy-adventure series with a solid sense of humour at its best, Loki is also, at its heart, a detective series, one that’s initially built on a compelling mystery; The true mastermind behind the TVA. At the start of this first season, Loki learns about a trio of entities called the Time-Keepers, who seemingly created and oversee all of history in the MCU, with the various TVA agents and bureaucracies acting as their proxies. In the MCU’s latest major deviation from Marvel Comics lore however, the Time-Keepers are eventually revealed to be a lie, being fake puppets installed by He Who Remains to hide his identity, and as a way of keeping the TVA agents in line, who, in the MCU’s case, are all variants that have had their memories erased from the lives they lived in various aborted timelines. The setup and ultimate execution of the mystery behind Loki’s first season is overall very good, though again, this debut season does sometimes bite off more than it can chew with its sheer narrative ambition, ultimately failing to perfectly balance its engrossing mystery with a comparable sense of humour and whimsy.
Loki’s first season can ultimately be a bit uneven, but it nonetheless rivals WandaVision as another early contender for one of the MCU’s most creative and memorable Disney+ shows. Not every story idea ends up working, the handful of action scenes are fairly lacklustre, and the tone can be a little wonky during this season’s middle stretch especially, but Loki’s first season does succeed at its two most important objectives; Re-examining the character of Loki after he’s given the chance to take a different path in the MCU, and setting the stage for the rise of Kang the Conquerer, and with him a bona fide multiverse for the MCU’s canon. Loki could use a better balance between humour, mystery and existential commentary during its upcoming second season, but the show’s Season 1 foundation is nonetheless sublime, eventually turning the entire MCU on its head, while drawing open the curtain on the next major era of MCU conflict.
Where Loki may eventually go during Season 2 is anyone’s guess, especially when this next season has no confirmed release window at the time of writing. One thing’s for sure though; The renewed exploits of the God of Mischief will be felt across all eras of the MCU and its long history, finally resurrecting the tragic Loki in earnest, but at what cost to all of existence?
- Excellent re-examination of Loki's character and his many variants
- Creative mystery behind the TVA and its true mastermind
- Brilliant introduction for Kang the Conquerer and the MCU's multiverse
- Humour and pacing can be uneven
- Action scenes are disappointing