Where Many Phase 4 Slates Failed, Loki However Triumphantly Rejuvenates New Life for the Future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

WARNING: This is a spoiler-free review but it will be discussing some of the show’s plot-points vaguely and some of the shows key themes.

Professional time-romancer Christopher Nolan must be trembling in his little boarding school suit. 

I’m sure at some point in everybody’s life, we’ve both asked or been asked the eons-old question “if you knew exactly when you were going to die, what would you do?” but better yet, what would you do if you heard that you were always going to be a narcissistic little s**t and furthermore a failure to your purpose-driven conquests from your conception to your final days alive? How drastic could such knowledge change the course of how you as a person would evolve if there were some sort of way to theoretically reattempt said destiny?

Between Loki and this year’s challenging show Invincible, comic-book media seems to have reached a point of such emetic over-saturation that we’ve grown a keenness to look back on how insignificant, in the grander scheme of things, many of those conventional and tedious superhero stories were, which ironically demeans a lot of the MCU’s catalog. On Earth, air fryers may be the new zeitgeist of convenient home-meal cooking, but on another planet in the Marvel galaxy they could be using them as port-a-potty trash bins at a local fair, just like how the all-mighty “infinity stones” hyped-up as detrimentally urgent throughout the multi-billion dollar 4-part Avengers franchise, considering they are elements that could literally mutate universal laws as we know it, are inventively used in Loki as none other than paperweights in cutesy, collected office spaces for time-cops. Obviously though, that self-aware nuance is only there to give weight to Loki being this true “epic”, setting forth Phase 4 of the saga as a superior: a clever way of looking past the fact that we are just entering another era of facing new “bigger” villains for both our established and joining characters to defeat. While it does almost seem like this is some sort of twisted marketing ploy to make us feel as if what we saw beforehand wasn’t even close to the tip of the iceberg of what can happen in this already 24-film and 12-TV show universe, Loki for the most part pulls this cynicism off handsomely in spirit of the character’s own devious construction. All the way back to when the blockbuster hit The Avengers (2012) landed, we’ve known Loki to be maybe Marvel’s most big-headed character, someone so convinced of his importance unlike any other, but that’s all for the better with how the show sets-up his character to be demeaned by others yet at the aim of convincingly having him reshaped as he becomes unsettled by the truths of the universe, truths that eerily seem almost too comparable to his own controlling personality.

With the show’s open establishment of the “multiverse”, consisting of the idea that there are countless timelines of us all coexisting, it begs us to wonder what copies of ourselves could insinuate about the self in definition. Is it possible that individualism is so loose and flimsy that we could be anyone or anything depending on the circumstances of events? Could our countless paradox selves be so contrasting from one another that we couldn’t distinguish them as one of us unless we were directly told who they were? Or maybe if we had the chance to awkwardly sit down and talk with one of them, could we actually learn anything about ourselves from copies living in contrasting lives or are they too different to take personally? Would the slightest of similarities delight or dishearten us when learning about our distinctions? Of course though, the show takes this to mythical degrees with its so-called “variant” term — which I’ll keep secretive in definition for the sake of not ruining any big details for those who haven’t seen the show yet — but not at the expense of how entertaining it is to see the word leading to engaging possibilities in the Loki storyline. Suffice it to say, questions such as this may just be why this is the geekiest of the Marvel shows thanks to transferring company from the acclaimed cartoon phenomena Rick and Morty, working as the writers here. The 6-episode show though isn’t just fascinated by the thought-theories of identity, but timeless topics such as “chaos theory” often discussed between Loki and a new character Mobius, looped in the inner-workings of time travel which is used as their framework. Their dynamic is bouncy yet competitive, reminding me a bit of the anime Death Note (2006-2007) where two main characters feed off by playing mind games with one another to a point though of present ambiguity where even the audience can’t be too sure what these trickster characters are up to.

Unfortunately, these sort of bittersweet relationships dwindle a little away after those first two episodes. The show also begins relying more on the MCU franchise’s infamous last-second plot conveniences and lack of explanations of these said conveniences. A character named Sylvie to me is one of the few saving graces during all of this, however, who pops up as a primary in the following episodes, shadowing as maybe too much of a plot convenience herself, but not enough to diminish how empathetic her character motivation is and how it intriguingly plays into the arc of Loki’s. There seems to furthermore be a bit of Blade Runner (1982) influence in the way that the human and replicant juxtaposition connects to Loki’s time-cop and variant juxtaposition, but at least it’s not completely identical; I’m more upset with how the juxtaposition is introduced, feeling a bit like it was suddenly plopped from the sky. If there’s anything to wholly commend though, it’s how Loki’s character streamlines throughout all the episodes. His redemption arc, unlike so many other MCU ones, is actually convincing within just the first episode, justifying his change in character to a possible slight rise in moral grounds — plus Thor: Ragnarok (2017) has already proved he is capable of evolving. There’s another character in the show, who shall remain nameless for spoiler reasons, that I think added something interesting as well, to say the least. He/she is basically an allegory for being a blindly loyal religious-like fanatic who’s in denial, and the plot sort of ties into that emphasis arrestingly, but that development to him/her felt incomplete, leaving open ends for it to be probably expanded on another time

If I wanted to pick apart episodes separately, I think I had the most gripes with the 3rd and 5th ones. Episode 3 has a great concept of developing the dynamic between Loki and Sylvie, but I think if the conversations included here were written slightly more natural and with a little more devastation, it would’ve made the show from thereon stronger. The climax of the episode is also horridly executed, with some action sequences that seriously gave me flashbacks to Black Widow — yuck! Luckily, I do think the final scene of the episode does save it with this dire closure to crisis that you could imagine would bring any two individuals close together. Episode 5 hammers a little more on the subtle existential crisis for the Loki character regarding the topic of conquest being pointless when there’s nothing to be sought after it’s been completed, as he meets some informative and awakeningly endless amounts of “variants”. However, I don’t want to be that prude, but the climax of the episode feels suspiciously similar to the climax of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), which is a climax I’m not too keen on myself.

The final episode (episode 6) you could argue is just another familiar dive into the “concealed dictatorship vs. chaotic freedom” argument of which one is more peaceful, but I’m personally a fan of how it was done, since it felt surprisingly for Marvel standards, extremely nihilistic in its discourse of empty meaning in destinies. The show ends on a firm note in its conclusion with its drawn-out discussion of how time travel, in its ability to change the course of predetermined events, could be an answer to free will. It also poses the idea that it would make sense that someone as egotistical as Loki could rightfully be the one controlling what stays and what goes in this universe since it totally fits with life: a merciless, incalculable series of events. Wouldn’t it explain a lot if it were just some careless, heartless psycho who was pulling the strings all along, letting so many tragic disasters occur in the day to day scope of life? By that point, it seemed as if the final episode was really selling it for how serious these MCU creators still are about enriching this already branch-brimmed, decade-long franchise storyline while SHOCKINGLY paralleling it well to our own reality.

Among other things though, I must vaguely add something I found delightfully hilarious in this final episode; once you watch the show you’ll know what I’m talking about. The show takes a full swing at how far a person could take his or her ego with a never before seen occurrence to my eyes that perfectly captures the *sparkling* trademark of Loki’s persona. Believe me, my jaw dropped to the motherf**kin’ floor when it happened, but good on the show for getting… weird.

On the topic of “weird”, it sure feels like that after finally seeing a good MCU-related piece since an entire pandemic has passed by, initiating the end of its hiatus by crapping out two shows I didn’t like and one movie I REALLY didn’t like too, giving me the red flag that maybe the MCU was finally coming to a coda when it came to anticipation. Yet, Loki may have just saved it for me. I don’t think I’ve been this pleased by this franchise since Avengers: Infinity War (2018) or this excited for the future of Marvel since… also Avengers: Infinity War (2018). If you want me to pull out the big, chaddy word “philosophical”… well then… this show very much does feel like Marvel’s most “philosophical” but furthermore daring thematic project they’ve completed thus far, and that may be why it’s a top-tier addition in the canon for me. The lack of action also proves to me how real the risk-factor in creating this must’ve been as well, but I’m quite pleased to see how positive the reactions to this show have been despite all that. After WandaVision attempted to progress the franchise by failing to tonally unite creative ideas with conventional familiarities, and Falcon and the Winter Soldier felt like a desperate final shot in the dark to indulge in more of the tiresome MCU formula and see if fans would still support it, Loki coincidentally feels like the aftermath to all this failure, where the 13-year-long legacy has finally decided to say, “screw it, let’s just change everything up completely and let it run our fuel from here on out no matter what the people think; it may be a major risk, yeah, but let’s just see where it takes us.” And, to be honest, all I can say is, “thank you.” I wish you all the best of luck in developing what you have introduced with Loki.

Shoutout to Ms. Minutes though. When’s she getting a spin-off?

Loki Math: 

1. Glorious Purpose = B+

2. The Variant = B

3. Lamentis = B-

4. The Nexus Event = B-

5. Journey Into Mystery = B-

6. For All Time. Always = B+

Total Verdict: B

2021 Ranked, The Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked

“Loki” is now available to stream on Disney+.

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