This review contains very light spoilers for the first two episodes of Loki on Disney+.
Like its protagonist, Loki fares best when the show deviates from its predetermined path and suffers when it colors too firmly within the lines.
Loki is built around one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s breakout characters. Tom Hiddleston’s God of Mischief remains one of the franchise’s most enduring and appealing figures, a fast-talking trickster god who occupies a liminal space between good and evil in an otherwise binary universe. As befitting a character known for illusions and misdirection, Loki has always been tough to pin down, making him an interesting choice to anchor a six-episode series.
Reflecting its protagonist, Loki unfolds at the boundaries of the known MCU. When viewers last saw Loki in Avengers: Endgame, an alternate timeline version of the Asgardian had stolen the Tesseract and escaped into the wild. Loki picks up immediately from that point, with Loki’s escape proving especially short-lived. The villain is immediately assaulted by a group of armed soldiers from the Time Variance Authority, who take him into custody as a potential threat to the integrity of “the sacred timeline.”
While the policy with such temporal loose ends is to erase them, veteran TVA operative Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) sees potential within the so-called “variant.” Mobius drafts the Lord of Lies into the taskforce that he has assembled to pursue a much greater threat to the flow of history. Loki inevitably tries to figure out how best he can turn the situation to his advantage, while grappling with the weight of his own past and future history — and perhaps even his potentialities.
Loki represents a broadening of the scope of the MCU as the title character finds himself conscripted into an organization that he never even knew existed. There are moments when Loki feels comparable to something like Guardians of the Galaxy, the market-testing of a new facet of comic book storytelling for wider audiences by attaching it to a seemingly marginal and comedic title. Guardians of the Galaxy brough the MCU to space; Loki does something similar with the timeline.
The show has a couple of key strengths. The most obvious is Hiddleston himself, who remains as charismatic and as engaging as ever, perfectly capable of playing Loki as cosmic fool and tragic figure. The series repeatedly references Mobius’ curiosity about “what makes Loki tick.” The narrative is purposefully structured around existential questions about Loki as a character, with Mobius and others repeatedly questioning Loki’s agency within his own narrative.
It’s a solid and relatable hook that helps keep a story about parallel timelines and alternate universes relatively grounded in a recognizable character arc. Despite all the bells and whistles around him, Loki remains the show’s main attraction. At least some of the show’s appeal is similar to that of Thor: Ragnarok in taking a familiar character with a very classical set of iconography and throwing them into a story that operates by radically different rules.
Loki was created by Michael Waldron, whose past work includes Community, HarmonQuest, and Rick and Morty — and who co-wrote Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. At its best, Loki leans into the high-concept absurdity associated with Rick and Morty, with TVA operatives manipulating time as if playing in reality’s editing booth. It is occasionally even as playful as Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, with a key plot point hinging on the appeal of “volcano day” to time-traveling con artists.
However, much like its protagonist, there’s a recurring sense that Loki is not living up to its potential. An interrogation scene between Mobius and Loki encompasses a large portion of the first episode and largely serves as an extended recap of the character’s arc through the past decade of cinematic continuity. Wilson and Hiddleston are both charming performers, but they can’t prevent the exposition dump from stopping an otherwise enjoyable episode dead.
There’s also a curious inelegance to the way in which Loki brings its audience up to speed with its premise, often relying on telling rather than showing. Shortly after he is abducted by the TVA, Loki is subjected to a cute infomercial that outlines the logic of the world in which he finds himself. It feels very much like the Collector’s (Benicio Del Toro) explanation of the Infinity Stones in Guardians of the Galaxy, something to be filed away for later. However, it is also continuously restated.
Similarly, Loki quickly reveals that it is nowhere near as adventurous as it initially appears. Despite all the time travel and multiversal antics, Loki adheres more faithfully to the tried and tested structure of a buddy cop procedural by casting Mobius as the by-the-book veteran and Loki as the reckless rookie. A sequence in the second episode even has Loki visiting the library as “Air on the G String” plays, a surprisingly direct homage to a classic scene from David Fincher’s Se7en.
Loki is also bloated. Mobius points out that Loki loves to “hear (himself) talk” and notes that his new sidekick “likes to stall for time.” That feels true of the show. Even beyond the awkward expository recap, there’s an unnecessary and extended flashback sequence in the first episode that seems to exist primarily to be used to misdirect audiences in trailers for the show. It comes out of nowhere and adds nothing to an already extended sequence. The rules of a time travel show suggest that it could be set up for third act payoff, but it’s no less clumsy and awkward for that.
Many of the better sequences and jokes in Loki feel like variants on what has been done before. At one point, the TVA demands that Loki strip, only for the god to proudly refuse before the machine strips him anyway. Ragnarok did the same joke with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on Sakaar when they tried to shave his head. Later, Loki traps a guard in a repeating time loop, recalling a gag where Loki was left “falling for 30 minutes” in Ragnarok.
There is something frustrating in this. Repeatedly in Loki, Mobius draws attention to how predictable the trickster god has become. When Mobius suggests that Loki will take the first opportunity to stab him in the back, Loki protests that he would never indulge in “such a boring form of betrayal.” Inevitably, Mobius points out that Loki has literally stabbed multiple people in the back. It’s a cliché. Even this criticism of Loki is familiar, forming a major character arc in Ragnarok.
Allowing for these criticisms, there is a lot to like about Loki. The show’s central conflict is compelling, its cast is engaging, its concepts are interesting, and its lead is as fun as ever. Like its protagonist, Loki has a lot of potential — if only it can truly embrace some new tricks.
The first two episodes of Loki were made available and watched for review. Loki premieres on Disney+ on June 9.