While new movies and original series remain thin on the ground for the Disney+ streaming service, there’s one thing the Mouse Corporation knows how to do right: Honor its intellectual properties—particularly biggies such as Star Wars and Marvel Comics. It may not amount to a ton of content, but shows like “The Mandalorian” and “WandaVision” are pretty much the driving engines behind Disney’s high subscription numbers. Thankfully, the new Marvel Cinematic Universe series “Loki” continues the trend of finding fantastically appropriate outlets for licensed characters and providing heaps of fans service for people who love them.
Disney has also done a pitch-perfect job of allowing the characters to speak for themselves, dictating what kind of story they belong in. For Scarlet Witch and Vision, we got a head-trippy magic act. For Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we got a buddy action series. For the fan favorite Asgardian God of Mischief, Loki, we get a ridiculously funny sci-fi romp through time and space.
When last we saw Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Avengers were using the Quantum Realm to zip through time and “borrow” the Infinity Stones to defeat Thanos in Avengers: Engame—except they accidentally dropped one of them at the feet of Loki, who promptly employed it to skip out on custody. Turns out that unplanned escape messed up the “Sacred Timeline,” making Loki even more of a cosmic criminal than he was before. As “Loki” the TV series picks up, our lovably villainous protagonist is accosted by members of the Time Variance Authority, a secret multiversal agency tasked with keeping all of time in order. Seems that Loki’s disappearance (which occurred during the events of the original Avengers movie) was not supposed to happen and could mess up everything that happens afterward. The cocky Asgardian is shocked to find himself summarily subdued, shackled and hauled off to the endless, bureaucratic corridors of the TVA to stand trial for his crimes.
Before a verdict can be reached, however, he’s recruited by TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) to help out with a particularly difficult case. Seems that someone is jumping through time, ambushing and killing TVA agents. And Mobius suspects it might be a “variant” of Loki from a divergent timeline. (Non-spoiler alert: Regular comic book readers might recognize this particular variation on a theme.) This results in the egotistical Loki teaming up with the mordantly “by the book” Mobius to hop through history gathering clues like some crazy mash-up of “CSI” and “Doctor Who.”
“Loki” juggles all of its crazy concepts and alternate timelines with considerable aplomb. Its tone is fast-paced, flippant and even more funny than Guardians of the Galaxy, landing it comfortably alongside 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. Hiddleston and Wilson make for a great duo, and their back-and-forth banter is the highlight of the show so far. (Loki: “I’m going to burn this place to the ground!” Mobius: “I’ll show you where my desk is. You can start there.”) The comedy also smooths over a lot of the heavy exposition and head-scratching plot twists.
At the same time, this isn’t some inconsequential lark. Hiddleston does a particularly fine job of bringing the self-centered God of Mischief down to earth. A scene in which he gets teary-eyed learning of the destruction of Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok is a highlight of subtlety and emotion. Also, the actions in “Loki” will undoubtedly have bearing on 2022’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. And all this “timey-wimey” stuff (to borrow an appropriate phrase from “Doctor Who”) is definitely setting up time-traveling dictator Kang the Conqueror as the prime villain for Marvel’s Phase 4 films. (The “Time Keepers” who run the TVA bear more than a passing resemblance to our old pal Kang.) The series also shows off the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ability to “deep dive” into 60-odd years of Marvel history and dig out some real storytelling gems. (It takes a True Believer to recognize names like Mobius M. Mobius and Ravonna Renslayer.) Even more amazing is the rare ability to employ that rich mythology for something more than mere “Easter eggs” aimed only at hardcore fans (something “The Madalorian” has also figured out).
One of the best aspects of Loki is its production design. Much of the “action” takes place in the concrete-lined halls of the TVA, a beautifully boring mix-up of Brutalist architecture and badly colored ’70s modernism. The attention to detail from writing to logo design to prop choice is spot-on—right down to Mobius’ timelost choice of drink (PepsiCo’s defunct ’90s energy drink Josta). Turns out the series creator is Michael Waldron, who worked on the production staff of both “Rick and Morty” and “Community”—which speaks well of his taste. He’s also the writer of the upcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness—which speaks well of his future career … as well as our future viewing options.
Season 1 of “Loki” streams every Wednesday on Disney+