The joy of vacation is that the world keeps going while you’re away. It meant that by the time I came back the entire season of Loki was ready for a binge watch. And it is a worthwhile binge.
I won’t get into specific spoilers here, since that’s part of the ride. I will hit some broader strokes, which I think make this the most “comic book” of all the Disney series so far. The larger plot point tries to answer the question about free will or pre-destination.
The series deals with a time travel agency (TVA). You learn this in the first 5 minutes, and the set design is astounding. It’s borderline brutalist in architecture design, but also full of whimsy – making for a very anachronistic setting. Each episode has something going on within the TVA, and it always feels real. This is a big contrast to the Easter-egg-a-thon of episode 5, which is almost entirely CGI. Comics work because they don’t live in the grey. They have a base foundation from where people start, then end up in space or another dimension.
With the exception of the last episode, every other one manages to build an idea and then subvert expectations. It’s very close to Dr Who under Moffat, where it feels like a roller coaster in the dark, never quite sure of what twist is coming along, but it’s a fun ride. It’s supremely helpful that all the actors here do a great job with the material (casting Owen Wilson seems madly appropriate in his role). The last episode is almost entirely exposition, which I’ll get to in a bit.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the development that Loki goes through. He’s one of the most interesting villains in the MCU, and has been in as many films as the Avengers (10+ years). MCU isn’t known for character development, and Loki was certainly in that package. He was interesting because you were never quite sure what his next crazy plan would be to betray everyone. He was consistent in his inconsistency – sort of like Jack Sparrow. That is not the case in this series – he goes through ample character development, to the point where he is all but unrecognizable by the end. It’s a bit weird that a being thousands of years old has a major change in a couple day’s adventures. He’s not causing any mischief – which is sort of his bag.
The last episode is pure comic book exposition. Love it or hate it, comics books follow a story line for months, then when it’s about to close, they put on bigger stakes or a bigger villain. Loki goes all in on this, and sets up phase 2 of the MCU multi-verse with the grace of a sledgehammer. Which, fine if it wasn’t preceded by 5 episodes of character progression. The sole saving grace in the last episode is that the character doing the exposition is frankly the most interesting character I’ve ever seen in MCU.
Some caution on the multi-verse… I read comics in the 80s when this took off. Without a leash, it goes off the rails super quick and nothing matters anymore because there’s another version to make up the gap. You get something like Sliders rather than Fringe. I’m less worried because it’s clear that Marvel has the larger plot points locked up 5-10 years down the road (as compared to DC), and yet the movie audience is not going to see these movies for the plot.
I liked Wandavision’s slow burn reveal, which was also wonderfully acted. I didn’t like Falcon and the Winter Soldier as it wasn’t episodic, with a really weird pace and structure. Loki feels like the best of the MCU series, while still being handcuffed to the larger story arcs.