"I am Loki of Asgard… and I am burdened with glorious purpose.” Glorious purpose indeed. Loki — Tom Hiddleston, walking a perfect line between hammy and pitch-perfect pizazz-y performance — has just been ejected into the Gobi Desert, minutes after stealing the Tesseract cube from Avengers: End Game.
Before Loki can convince the gathering of simple locals of his divine godly presence, doorways open out of thin air and enforcers with heavy armour and headgear pop out. According to their captain — listed as Hunter B-15 in the credits (actress Wunmi Mosaku) — Loki is a “variant” from the “sacred timeline”, and has to be apprehended and tried for his crime.
“It’s been a very long day, and I think I’ve had my fill of idiots in armoured suits telling me what to do,” Loki tells her, rightly miffed. He’s just been bashed silly by the Hulk at Tony Starks’ high-rise during the Chitauri alien invasion.
However, before the god of mischief can retaliate, he is hit with a baton that throws him into 1/16th slow-motion while the world moves in real-time. With his eyes bulging, nearly flying out of their sockets and the mouth flapping from the hit — technically he’s feeling the force of the hit 16 times over — B-15 slaps a band around Loki’s neck that stops his attempts to escape.
If he thought what he had gone through was tough, he ain’t seen nothing yet — and neither for that matter, the audience.
Somewhat gimmick-laden (which is not a bad thing, by the way), Loki’s first episode — snarkily titled Glorious Purpose — is a fresh, simple-to-grasp entry in the anti-hero’s time-travelling adventures.
It’s not just the story or Tom Hiddleston’s acting that’s good in Loki — it’s the whole package
Written and produced by Michael Waldron (Rick and Morty), there is much to take in before the series actually jumps into high-gear from the second and third episodes.
In the first episode though, it’s the basics: Loki’s captors are the Time Variance Authority — the TVA — a time police of sorts, whose job is to prune (ie. wipe) or rectify divergent timelines that are knocked out of their predestined paths by “variants” such as Loki.
If I remember my comics history, the TVA is created by the Time Keepers — three lizard-like creatures who were bred into existence at the end of time, sometime far, far, far into the future — who develop a fascination with history and establish a base of operations at a limbo-like place, where time, space, past, present or future are irrelevant.
Somewhat differently designed from the comics, the cinematic depiction of this dimension is a grand metropolis with a surreal, sci-fi inspired 1960s interior design that harks back to the era of pulp-comics.
Here, catastrophic elements such as the Infinity Stones, which levelled the continuity of the Marvel film and television series’ universe, are used as paperweights by the secretarial staff. Their powers become inert and irrelevant in this dimension, much like Loki and his existence.
Loki’s ego is shattered, and he is tried but, before he is eliminated by the judge (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, playing Ravonna Renslayer, a former Hunter, as per the comics continuity), he is saved by Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson; brilliantly cast) — an agent of the TVA who investigates dangerous variants.
Mobius feels that Loki may be his best bet to apprehend another time criminal who is messing up the time streams and killing the TVA’s men… but first, he has to break the self-proclaimed master of mischief.
Although a tad repetitive, Loki is shown clips from his past and supposed future from Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: End Game, with a new fun scene where he plays D.B. Cooper — a real-life airplane hijacker and would-be bomber, turned suave James Bond-ish charmer of women (Trivia: Cooper, who jumped off a flying plane, is still uncaught by the authorities and his crime remains the only unsolved air piracy act in aviation history).
Hiddleston is fantastic as his sense of self-esteem is chipped off bit by bit, and he is cornered into accepting who he really is: a petty conjurer of tricks.
That is what the weak are, he confesses. It’s a self-defence mechanism of sorts, to prove themselves. He doesn’t enjoy hurting people, he says, but despite his apparent vulnerability, we — and Mobius — have a hard time accepting that.
Aptly titled The Variant, the second episode (with the third already out by the time you read this) sees Loki in an avatar you’d hardly expect him to be in: as an employee of the TVA. Dressed in overalls, Loki and Mobius track the variant to his hiding place — a small pocket of time where no one thought of looking. Both episodes, typical of 10 episode-long arcs produced for OTTs, end on a cliffhanger.
Spoiled as we are by binge-watching sessions, the 50 minutes of Glorious Purpose and The Variant fly off before you know it. The series will expand and lay rules for Marvel Cinematic Universe’s next phase — ie. Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania, Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home — as excessive time-traveling events and assumed retcons (resetting of key elements of stories) are introduced to make room for inter-dimensional explorers such as The Fantastic Four and mutants X-Men, when they find their way into large-scale events.
However, it all starts here. Get excited because it’s not just the story or the acting that’s good (watch Wilson closely for small bits of insight) — it’s the whole package.
Directed by Kate Herron, Written by Michael Waldron, *Loki streams on Disney+; the episodes are rated PG-13 or TV-14. There’s nothing objectionable here*
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, June 27th, 2021