With its first two small screen Marvel outings, Disney seemed intent on shutting out a significant portion of the franchise’s core audience. The creatively risky “WandaVision” took far too long to move out of its sitcom conceit and back into the main MCU storyline. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” had a more traditional Avenger’s setup, but according to some reports, its heavy-handed foray into current politics and allusions to the Black Lives Matter movement had viewers tuning out in droves.
“Loki,” on the other hand, still takes advantage of long form storytelling to do something deeper and more surprising than its big screen brothers, but it does so without undermining the expectations Marvel has spent more than a decade building.
Loki’s first standalone tale turns on the plot hole created in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” when Tony Stark drops the time-travel enabling cube known as the tesseract at Loki’s feet, and everyone’s favorite trickster disappears with it. Stark and Steve Rogers eventually go back to the 1970s on a retrieval mission, but that leaves the god of mischief nearly 40 years to flit through the space-time continuum, wreaking havoc. This he does until a mysterious police force known as the “minute men” apprehend him and force him to stand trial before the Time Variance Authority, a shadowy organization responsible for keeping the time stream tidy.
The TVA has bigger problems than Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in our little corner of the multi-verse, however. Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) believes that rather than execution, he can use the Prince of Asgard to track down an even more troublesome time offender.
Between “Avengers: Endgame’s” time travel within time travel and the introduction of the multiverse, the metaphysics of the MCU have become more and more esoteric and harder and harder for anyone but the most die-hard fans to track. The series offers an ingenious short-hand solution for that. Before Loki begins his mission, he has to complete training at the TVA. The viewer learns the ins and outs of time alteration and how the TVA accounts for variants and neutralizes threats while also enjoying the fun of watching Norse mythology’s most outrageous deity go through banal bureaucratic exercises.
Even better, we’re reintroduced to the greatest hits that made the character such a surprise fan favorite in the first place, with a few new previously unreleased tracks thrown in for good measure (let’s just say the show offers an answer to the decades-old mystery about the identity of D.B. Cooper).
But the lighthearted touch doesn’t mean “Loki” doesn’t have some serious questions on its mind.
You don’t expect a treatise on the doctrine of predestination or the paradox of free will from a Marvel production, but in the midst of high action and rapid-fire humor, “Loki” dives into some seriously heady theological debates. The question is whether the god of mischief is destined to play the part of the dark lord or can choose another role.
The TVA insists that all beings are merely their playthings, telling Loki, “We know your whole life, how it’s all meant to be…You were born to cause pain, suffering, and death.”
“But can he change?” one character asks. “Not unless the time-keepers decree it.”
Given this set up, it’s impossible not to read the Time Keepers as God. And who better to play the stand-in for fallen mankind than Thor’s totally depraved fallen brother? Need more proof that somebody on the Marvel team appears to have taken a first year seminary course on John Calvin? These are a few of the lines from just the first two episodes screened for critics.
“The first and most oppressive lie ever uttered was the song of freedom.”
“For nearly every living thing, choice breeds shame, uncertainty, and regret.”
“There’s a fork in every road, yet the wrong path is always taken.”
This isn’t the first time Marvel has taken its superheroes to philosophical places. Iron Man and Captain American debated nation building in “Captain America: Civil War.” “Black Panther” explored isolationism, among other topics. And who could deny that Thanos was a stand in for environmental extremism?
In fact, I’d argue that a huge part of the MCU’s appeal is its exploration of big ideas in fun, supernatural settings (By contrast, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s insistence on pushing one side of a small-picture, real-time debate seems to have turned plenty of viewers off. Nobody likes a lecture).
The key to keeping all of this existential mediation from devolving into dry exposition is, of course, the performances, and here the show delivers in spades.
As Loki, Hiddleston has always shown an outsized amount of charisma for a lesser character, and it’s a thrill to finally see him get the spotlight here. Owen Wilson’s rumpled, low-key Texas charm is the perfect counterpoint to his Shakespearean-style high wire act.
If the show continues as it begins with the first two installments, Disney+ will have finally delivered an MCU series fans have been waiting for.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.