Loki is here, and as well as being one of June’s major releases, it shakes up the Marvel formula in multiple ways. The MCU’s third Disney Plus exclusive TV Show has changed from a Friday debut to a Wednesday. This seems to be happening to allow breathing room for the streaming service’s other properties scheduled for a Friday release.
It’s also the most restrained debut in the current MCU TV trifecta. While WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier were tonally very different premiers, they set a clear roadmap for where the show was going. Loki Season 1 Episode 1 differs in that it’s not entirely clear what direction its characters and story are headed for. What is clear is it is just as polished as any other MCU product, but that it’s not without some flaws.
Loki is available to stream exclusively on Disney Plus.
Story – Time for a variation
Glorious Purpose the episode may be called, but gloriously purposeful the story is not.
It opens with a flashback to Avengers: Endgame and briefly retells the circumstances that lead to Loki’s involvement with the TVA (Time Variation Authority), an inter-dimensional organisation that doesn’t like it when divergent ‘variations’ occur during the ‘sacred timeline’. This opening is a serviceable way of catching up any casual MCU viewer. However, the debut’s biggest flaw is its reliance on similar flashbacks to tell its story. Fans looking to dive straight into the MCU universe again might want to wait until future episodes release to start watching, as this one is more of a character study.
There are a couple of scenes involving Owen Wilson’s Mobius that do a solid job of setting up the series’ mystery. Mobius works for the TVA investigating dangerous ‘variants’, and when he learns of Loki’s capture by his organisation, he takes an interest. Mobius’ scenes make for an interesting drip-feed of information on what the structure of later episodes might look like—but this is almost immediately uprooted by a significant revelation at the end. It spends so much time focusing on Loki and his future/past/alternate selves that the story didn’t develop at an even pace. However, the show makes up for this with its tantalising promise of future mysteries and revelations.
The best aspect of the premier’s story is the seamless way that the scriptwriters work exposition into the plot. The TVA is a weird, retro, confusing organisation in a weird, retro, unknown area of space and time. Instead of ignoring the oddness of this setup, its characters do a great job of weaving TVA lore into their excellent comedic performances. It never feels like you’re being told an info dump because of how entertaining its characters are, like the straight-laced Ravonna (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and bumbling Casey (Eugene Cordero).
Characters & Performance – Now we’re talky-talky talking
Arguably one of the best aspects of Disney’s Marvel division is its casting choices, and casting directors Krista Husar and Sarah Finn keep this stellar reputation alive. Smaller roles like Wunmi Mosaku’s Hunter B-15, a TVA agent, and Ravonna, an intergalactic judge and jury, do a fantastic job with the small amount of material they have. Prolific voice actor Tara Strong even has a small yet memorable performance. There isn’t a lot of character development with these smaller roles, but Mbatha-Raw’s Ravonna looks like she might get a more significant role as the series progresses.
Owen Wilson gets the most material to work with of the secondary characters, so it’s a good thing he has a great rapport with Hiddleston. Wilson is known for his prolific comedic roles, and while he is funny, it never feels like he’s hamming it up. Mobius is essentially grilling Loki for a whole episode, and like the other great performances on the show, Wilson manages to balance story elements with a humorous delivery. I can’t wait to see what the creative team does with his character in the future.
The rightful star of the production is Loki, and Hiddleston gives a standout performance as the disgraced former Asgardian Prince. However, this isn’t the new-and-maybe-improved anti-hero shown in later MCU films. This version of the God of Mischief exists because of the time-travelling antics of The Avengers in Endgame, so his moral compass has been reset to villain status. This debut explores what that means and makes for some exemplary acting from Hiddleston. His facial expressions convey his character’s varying emotions perfectly. On the flip-side, he still acts like the comedic trickster that endeared him to so many fans.
Pacing & Editing – Trim the fat
The show focuses on Loki’s character for a bit too much of the runtime. However, these scenes are so well performed that they rarely feel like a slog to watch. Each scene is worked well into the next. It’s never jarring, even with the time shenanigans occurring. Although, the burning question of what the series’ storyline is actually about might make the dialogue-heavy moments drag for some. However, by the end, it’s very tempting to go back to the start and try and catch what you missed the first time.
It’s a well-constructed episode, but it might be one of the few MCU TV offerings that could have benefited from trimming the runtime slightly.
Cinematography & Sound – Business as Usual
The debut is gorgeous. When obvious CGI is used, it doesn’t take you out of the moment. Instead, it enhances the wonder and the weirdness of the TVA. Its physical structure is equal parts office cubicle and cosmic megastructure. The different types of shots used to convey these differences are always appropriate. From the close-ups of the Mobius/Loki interactions to the panning grandness of other-worldly infrastructures and statues.
This sci-fi slant is greatly enhanced by Natalie Holt’s musical score, which appropriately pins the strange tone of the first episode. By using warbling synth cues, epic organ sounds, and a cleverly worked-in ticking clock sound, Holt creates a Twilight Zone meets Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. Appropriate for the grandiose God of Mischief.
As always with the MCU, the costume design and set decoration are spared no expense. At no point did it feel like the show was limited in its budget. The overall look and feel of the ’70s-inspired TVA mixed with the more sci-fi-leaning structural designs and costumes help to carve out a unique position for Loki within Marvel’s small screen.