It’s easy to understand why fans of the MCU are looking forward to Loki, but they may not be expecting what is essentially a throwback, slow-burn, “cops on the hunt” story dipped in slick future magic to facilitate the inherent curiosities of the sub-genre “detectives from different bureaus can’t stand each other, but have to work together.”
“Loki is working as a detective in a film noir-esque adventure through a villain’s grand machinations in a future so distant it is basically the past again,” is a tough idea to wrap your head around, and the series rather brilliantly decides not to explain the confines and world Loki now finds himself in beyond a short cartoon that, more or less, says, “Ehhh… super double magic, or whatever.”
That works because it doesn’t matter, and paying too much attention to the ultimately nonsensical “super future” is a waste of time. In keeping with the throwback to movies that few who watch Loki will have seen, the show is really only about watching Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Mobius (Owen Wilson) tilt with each other while Hiddleston plays some weird acting school game of “Ok, now Loki is in this impossible situation that he could never be in… Go!”
Sure, Loki is taken to the future (???) and more or less forced to work for some kind of Time Agency which is some sort of enforcement arm of three utterly unknown beings who rule… everything? And sure, we’ll eventually look behind that screwy curtain, and once beyond the first two episodes which have a lot of establishment work to get through, twists and turns will surely abound. It seems like there will be much to explore in terms of what must be untold eons in the future looking a lot like “the future” as predicted by a particularly unimaginative tax collector who loved Brazil. We will surely follow along as Loki and Mobius continue to debate free will and the curiosities of where we come from, much of which is still fabulously vague when it comes to Mobius, and all of that is going to surprisingly connect to everything else.
None of it is really going to matter, and though watching Loki go through motions that put him in the place of Sherlock Holmes leads to a lot of fun, it is never going to be what makes this series worth watching. There is more of what fans will love in Loki being forced to sit in a chair that isn’t there, repeatedly, than in all the unraveling of schemes the story could ever do. Having Loki shackled is the real fun, and having him stand in as a certain amalgam/archetype of all untrustworthy characters we need to use though we know he’s going to constantly plot against us, is the only point in being on the adventure. The battle of wits that is the journey Loki and Mobius are on is worth nearly any plot that throws them together.
It’s hard to tell if MCU fans are going to latch onto Loki‘s approach, which so often involves two guys jawing, or truly appreciate a lot of what it’s doing, like the nods to film noir, including the homage to many films (like The Blue Dahlia) which force their heroes to stare at a cold, “lost in progress” world they don’t recognize. There aren’t grand battles, and there is very little of superpowers, which turns everything about the franchise on its head.
Fans of Loki/Hiddleston are in store for a new favorite though and it’s difficult to describe the extent to which Hiddleston is tearing apart this role and weaving himself into it. Though some may feel that the MCU has successfully installed actors who are irreplaceable as the embodiment of their heroes/villains, Hiddleston is on another level, and finally has the chance to truly prove it. He is Loki in much the way that caused the King of Siam to always be bald.
The only problem with the series, so far, is that it is weighed down by a lot of bonkers establishment and though it tries to have as much fun with it as possible in order to keep things moving, it doesn’t always work. When Hiddleston or Hiddleston and Wilson are on the screen this is a screwy, fun, genre-destabilizing series that you’ll want to binge four seasons of immediately. When anyone else, or any other combination, is spewing backstory or scattering nuggets for future consumption, things slow down so much they feel like the series has lost confidence in itself.
In the end, within the MCU, this is like a “holodeck only” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. You like those episodes, or you don’t, but either way it doesn’t come down to there not being enough redshirts spending enough time explaining the details of the malfunction in the anti-fluglebinder array resulting in the crew being trapped here. It seems like Loki is geared toward just running headlong, as it should, with Loki finding himself in ever-screwier circumstances, and if that’s where it goes this will be among the crowning achievements of the franchise.