Is it worth the watch? – Marvel’s Loki (2021)

It’s boards review season which means I should definitely be revising for the physicians’ licensure exam right now, instead of writing this blog post. In fact the recommended number of study hours per day is at least 14 hours (with 6 hours of sleep and 4 hours for everything else). But I consider myself both lazy and quick so I fit my review into 8 to 12 hours max per day. This is how I’m justifying the six hour binge-watching that my sister and I did a couple of weekends ago.

Another way of justifying this time is by way of obligation. Since I also made a series pseudoreview for WandaVision and for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s only my duty to write one for Loki. I need to round out the Disney+ Marvel series trilogy or however you want to call it. But I definitely will not have the time to write for all the shows that will follow. Disney+ seems to have a thousand of them planned out.

Read here: Is it worth the watch? – Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

So here’s that ill-advised blog post.

LOKI. A very British cast. Plus Owen Wilson.
.

Once again, this post isn’t spoiler-free. It’s not a review. It’s me processing my feelings.

The short of it: if you have plans to watch MCU projects in the future, this is an essential binge. Also, it’s plain fun.

The Premise and the Plot

Outside of the convoluted self-serving time-travelling shenanigans in Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has much more to say about time, space, and the logic of existence. The Time Variance Authority (TVA) is a bureaucratic power-that-be existing outside time. The TVA reinforces a “Sacred Timeline” –essentially, what’s canon according to “Timekeepers”, three cosmic beings that were there at the start of time and still kind of writing the end of it. Events, people, and universes that don’t follow the Sacred Timeline are regarded as “nexus” events, capable of permanently establishing alternate timelines and thus launching a multiverse. The TVA is in charge of pruning and resetting these nexus events in order to keep the timeline in check.

This series has a lot of worldbuilding, crime thriller vibes, science fiction, and action. Oh, and character development.

Loki is a 6-episode series installment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directly connected to the time travel sequence in Avengers: Endgame (2019), where a 2012 version of Loki (now the ‘time variant’) stole away with the tesseract. It is a character-driven story that explores another (more romantic) path to redemption for a much-younger Loki, while setting up the in-universe logic for future time-jumping, multiverse-hopping cinematic adventures. The Disney+ and Marvel Studios action-drama science-fiction show stars Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Owen Wilson as Mobius M. Mobius (new to the MCU), as well as a host of other charismatic talents.

To appreciate the development of this lead character, you only really need to watch Thor (2011) and Avengers (2012). Any movie after that just helps you understand the impact of the show’s bigger plot.

“Loki’s time has come”. Arguably he’s always been a must-see star of the MCU machine.

The Production

What immediately catches your eye in the series is the set design –it’s fun, surreal, and somehow suspended in multiple realities. Loki showcases a 60s to 70s aesthetic blended into a pleasing retro-futuristic, brutalist office set (with some art deco gold and bronzes thrown in). The audience gets to explore the bureaucratic trappings of the TVA –complete with endless paperwork and infinite cubicles, stacked against one another –which is an interesting way to portray the supposed miracle that is time travel. Repetitive motifs reinforce a kind-of groundhog day, time loop kind of existence. The infinite elevator situates you in an endless bureaucratic hell.

The contrast between the practical set and the CGI add an uncanny feel to the scenes, as if the space and dimension itself can’t naturally be grasped by the cameras. The theremin plays in the background in a classical yet foreboding theme –Loki’s theme, as made and remade by composer Natalie Holt. Yet there’s something grounding to the show: the dedication to making Loki’s different costumes consistent yet creative, the mix of architectural curves and alien languages to illustrate new worlds. A giant supermart in the middle of an apocalyptic storm. A renaissance fair.

All of these little details are herded together by a young director named Kate Herron. After watching Marvel Studios’ ASSEMBLED: The Making of Loki (a documentary also from Disney+), I understand she was as close to perfect a director as you can get — passionate, a big fan of Loki, and probably more than fine with both Disney and Tom Hiddleston adding their mark all over the story.

The Acting

While the front end of the series leaves very little chance for Emmy award-winning performances (or should it be BAFTA?), it’s clear that almost every performance shines clearly with the actors’ love for character and joy in the craft. It’s clear that everyone’s just happy to create something in this little corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And no one’s happier than lead Tom Hiddleston, who apparently kicked things off with a two-hour lecture on Loki’s character development aimed at the cast and crew. Tom Hiddleston as Loki first caught the attention of Thor and Avengers fans with his wit and emotionality, and both were on full throttle in this show.

(Loki may or may not have been in my Top 3 MCU characters of all time, back in the day.)

I did not expect to not see Owen Wilson. You know, the same way he’s Owen Wilson ever since Shanghai Knights all the way to the last Night at the Museum movie. Instead we saw a hilarious, comforting yet refreshing version of him as Mobius M. Mobius –the straight-laced, emotionally-mature foil/mentor to our variant Loki currently going through his nth identity crisis. This duo’s back-and-forth is a real treat. Owen Wilson shines as a seasoned (and tired) detective that’s more than ready to kickback, relax, and rake in the smiles.

Even supporting characters had their time to shine. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Judge Renslayer portrayed a sharp and cool voice of authority, while Wunmi Mosaku as Hunter B-15 gave depth (and a name) to the otherwise nameless horde of employees. A tidbit part that might come back (you never know with Marvel) was Eugene Corder as a TVA receptionist/cubicle slave. For fun. I certainly hope that we’ll see more stellar performances from the other Lokis, including co-star Sophia Di Martino as Sylvie Laufeydottir (her chemistry with Tom’s Loki was great) and even Richard E. Grant as Classic Loki. This series established that there are numerous Loki variants in the multiverse, and all of them can pop up at some point in the MCU. Maybe the next ant in Ant-Man is a Loki. Who knows?

There were some performaces that I’ve seen praised online that I didn’t really care for. Among them were Tara Strong as the voice of the AI/hologram Miss Minutes and also Jonathan Majors as He Who Remains. Maybe it’s the writing or the directing, but to me their performances were either flat or just perfectly lukewarm.

The Script

At its core, Loki is a character study more than a plot-driven action series –though the way it completely set the premise of the next phase of the MCU is a nice little bonus. The script branches off from a 2012 variant of Loki who is fresh from feeling familial neglect, falling into the void, and then summarily failing at conquering the earth. This is a Loki that only knows how to lose with all the ego of a sure winner. In a shared dimension with a female Loki, a murderous kid version Loki, and a crocodile Loki, the series explicitly asks the question, “What exactly makes a Loki a Loki?”

And, in a way, it delivers. Writers Michael Waldron and Eric Martin offer a six-episode exploration of identity, motivation, and narratives. This is all interspersed with couple great comedic lines, and Easter eggs for MCU or comic fans in general.

The answer ranges in delivery from devastating and depressing to hopeful and light-hearted. Is Loki destined to play a villain forever, in the grand cosmic scheme of the universe? Or, as the character denied in the Avengers movie, is there such a thing as free will and true agency? Can Loki change the story?

Well, he was definitely changing this one. The internal conflict (amusingly shared by all the other Lokis, aside from the main variant) reflects the external conflict that coincidentally drives the background story. There was a clear attempt to maintain this thematic consistency between the burgeoning self-awareness of the main lead in terms of his own fate, and the larger unravelling of “time” and “destiny” as fixed concepts in the MCU.

Because it’s a series and not a two-hour blockbuster film, there should be more than enough time to explore the themes of identity, romance, predeterminism vs free will, and time travel. But the series sacrifices some of its clarity and pacing to the altar of its ambition. There’s a lot of worldbuilding to deal with, when all the audience wants to think about is Loki’s relationship with Sylvie, or else there’s a lot of romance and dialogue, when all you want to do is find the answers to the universe right now. It’s either moving too slowly, or too quickly, or too sideways. Great pieces of acting may have even landed flat because they were ill-timed or ill-positioned within the overall context of the show.

As a side note, I know some people don’t love the romantic subplot (which is really a driver of the main plot, ie Loki’s development). But I enjoyed it. And I don’t particularly care that it’s between two Lokis. (I do care that they did everything the can to make Sylvie as un-Loki as possible). It’s about time Marvel talks about romantic love, outside of quip references to long-suffering executive assistants and emergency nurses and scientists. And it’s about time we have some queer representation from our leads (nope, not yet in this one, but we did get a very tiny line hinting the Lokis are pan, as they should be*).

Compared to its siblings with their more straight-forward exploration of either grief or symbolism, the series Loki is as chaotic and incoherent as its lead. It might have tried to strike the Goldilocks-balance between WandaVision’s commitment to a narrative framework (in this case, time-travelling buddy-cop missions vs old TV sitcoms) and TFATWS’ more grassroots buddy-cop comedy approach. I can’t quite see it, but Loki pulled through to land somewhere in the middle.

End: Is it worth the watch?

Well, yes. I didn’t spend more than a thousand words just to say “don’t watch it”. In terms of story, it’s a well-produced and colorful exploration of identity set in different corners of time and space. You can enjoy the visual treat while rooting for a charismatic version Loki searching (or scheming) for a way to finally grow up and self-actualize. There’s a lot of the MCU-patented banter and action. In terms of storytelling, the overall cohesion of the story may or may not have hit its mark, but you’d do well enough focusing on the trees instead of the forest. (WandaVision is still my favorite).

Read here: Is it worth the watch? – Marvel’s WandaVision

The last episode, at least, might be required reading for the next couple of installments to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Once again, MCU is giving us high-budget advertising disguised as content.

Next on my watch queue is still Hospital Playlist. Ahhh, when will I finally have time to binge another Korean drama? (FYI: I watched Law School a month ago and I loved it!)

*And in other more excellent news, Tim Drake is now officially bisexual! I’m not sure yet if I’ll post the momentous panels from Urban Legends, but as he’s one of my favorites from the DC (maybe the entire batfamily siblings are my favorites from DCAU, sue me), and I need more representation in this blog, I’ll get right to it. It’s on my Tumblr at any rate. Maybe I should look for a physical copy…

Until next time!

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