Just as high-concept as “WandaVision” and funnier, even without the sitcom-centric premise, “Loki” takes our favorite Marvel mischief maker and puts him on trial for his crimes against time. And timelines.
It gives him the chance to make good on those crimes by helping the TVA — which has nothing to do with dams and electricity in Tennessee — catch another Loki, one who is scampering through time in an alternative and overlapping timeline and making a general mess of things in pursuit of some unknown payoff.
And it gives us the chance to get pure, unadulterated Tom Hiddleston in the title role. None of this sibling tussling with Thor, dodging Black Widow, Captain America, Scarlett Witch and Hulk, just glimpses and reminders of the Avengers throwdowns of the past.
I have to say, I went with it pretty much from the moment when we see who master airline hijacker and escape artist D.B. Cooper REALLY was.
This is a Marvel spinoff that could be very easily overwhelmed by exposition, and yet escapes that fate by the skin of its teeth. The TVA are the Time Variance Authority, whose origins and mission are outlined in a cheesy ’60s-style cartoon video which Loki (Hiddleston) is forced to watch.
They’re the enforcement arm of the Time Lords, who keep track of who is supposed to be where and when, maintaining “the sacred timeline” with a vast, Kafkaesque bureaucracy whose SWAT-armored goons are but a tiny portion of their work.
When Loki, nabbed after his 2012 escape in “The Avengers,” is taken in, his tesseract won’t save him. He’s robo-stripped, put in in a prison jumpsuit and “processed. A mountainous computer printout is shoved in his face.
“Please sign to verify that this is everything you ever said.”
His “powers” gone, helpless in the clutches of those who control time, he gets read the Marvel riot act by a judge (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and placed in the hands of Major Mobius, ace detective of the agency. He’s played by Owen Wilson.
Mobius wants to study the lying, double-dealing, back-stabbing (“literally fifty times”) “variant” so that he and his team can catch this other Loki from another timeline, the most cunning of all, from whatever evil scheme he is up to.
We’re whisked from 1549 Aix-en-Provence, France to A.D. 79 Pompeii to the Medieval fair of…Oshkosh, Wisconsin (1985) as Mobius chases his quarry and Loki seems to help, always with an Asgardian finger crossed behind his back. The lad knows how to work the angles.
“If you sheathe your smarm for a moment,” he sneers at one point. “Trust is for children…and dogs,” he opines. “Those you underestimate will devour you,” he counsels.
The dialogue isn’t Shakespeare but is pithy enough. And the big, overarching theme, with hints of Biblical self-determination — Loki doesn’t want to be told what’s “NOT supposed to happen” and resents these unseen “time lords” ordaining that he stay-in-his (temporal) lane — seems more interesting in theory than anything the series will seriously wrestle with.
Hiddleston and Wilson aren’t the next great comic duo, but they mesh well enough as the series unfolds (Disney provided a couple of episodes for reviewing).
The one sentimental thread running through the many Marvel multiverses, in their big and small screen forms, is nostalgia — for characters, and for the era which much of the base-audience for these productions vegan reading comics. The jokes play into that, a fight set in a Medieval Fair tent with Bonnie Tyler singing “I Need a Hero” playing over the PA. Stuff like that.
The effects are primo, if not exactly novel — time portals as translucent blocks, etc.
There’s little pretense to social satire here, so “Loki” is easier to get into the spirit of this than “WandaVision,” although I’m of the minority opinion that none of these Marvel small-screen spinoffs pack enough wit, action, pathos or what have you into them to justify “series length” treatment.
But Loki and Hiddleston — in all their many colors — are fun enough to bring one back to the stream to catch each new episode to see what that “scamp” is up to now.
MPA Rating: TV-14
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, Sophia Di
Martino, Richard E. Grant, Sasha Lane
Credits: Directed by Kate Herron, scripted by Michael
Waldron. A Marvel Studios/Disney + release.
Running time: episodes Six episodes @52-55 minutes each.