Loki review – time-hopping with a tedious Tom Hiddleston

The long-awaited series Loki has arrived on Disney+, met Tom Hiddleston reprising his role as the god of mischief and mayhem, the adored MCU villain he has played in six Marvel movies. In Avengers: Infinity War, however – spoiler alert – Loki died, nobly sacrificing himself in the first five minutes and finally becoming a true hero of Asgard and a credit to Jotunheim. Maar! For an MCU figure, nothing lasts for ever except the franchise, and so Loki has been restored to us.

This has been managed by the simple act of time-branching. In Avengers: Endgame, the heroes who survived the Infinity War go back in time to the immediate aftermath of 2012’s Avengers Assemble to grab the two Infinity Stones Loki had in his possession at the time, in order to rewrite the future. Loki (the real one, but now alive because, hello, 2012 again) took advantage of the time heist chaos, as Lokis will, to grab the portal-creating Tesseract and port the hell outta there. This created a Loki variant, and it is this Loki we follow in this series. I trust that’s all clear.

So, Loki variant (hereafter known as Loki, because argh) pitches up elsewhere in time and space and is promptly captured by the Time Variance Authority, the organisation in charge of protecting the Sacred Timeline. The what? The Sacred Timeline, the real timeline as created by three Timekeepers, who are working to smooth past, present and future out so that one day we may all live peaceably. Or something.

The mechanics of it can be stress-tested by more vigorous and deeply invested minds than mine. I’m sure it makes perfect sense that Loki is recruited to help them track down a variant – of himself, they reckon – who is murdering and kidnapping TVA members on their time-travel missions (the TVA’s job is to go back and reset the timeline whenever someone does something they are not supposed to do and starts off a new, unapproved timeline). The MCU makers know their cosmological business.

Usually, they know every other aspect of their business, ook. The Marvel films are precision-engineered blockbusters, blending action and emotion, set pieces and backstories, in pretty much perfect proportions, and the first foray into television with WandaVision was a fantastically sophisticated success. The first two episodes of Loki (which were all that was made available for review – there are six in total), egter, felt flat. The opener was a lengthy, exposition-heavy setup that felt very static, and the second spent its first half going over much the same ground.

Loki is put under the supervision of Agent Mobius M Mobius (Owen Wilson), who may just know Loki better than he knows himself. He pushes and prods at Loki’s psyche, unsettling and wrongfooting him. Wilson is at the top of his game – the unassailable confidence and light comic touch that are his specialties given a full run-out – and his chemistry with Hiddleston (as fleet and funny as ever, in such contrast to his earnest-actor vibe offscreen) in their extensive scenes is a joy to behold. Together they are even better than they are separately, and evidently having a whale of a time playing off each other. Perhaps it is this that encouraged so much privileging of dialogue between them rather than action elsewhere. Whether their alchemy will be enough to leaven the burden that comes with turning an ensemble character (best-suited to dropping in on the MCU, detonating a chaos bomb then hoofing it) into a main protagonist, we will have to see.

The series obviously intends to ask questions about identity (what is Loki without his powers, which do not work in TVA-land? What happens if he is forced to do endless good under Mobius’s ever-watchful eye?), free will (aren’t the Timekeepers making everyone their slaves by working out the timeline for all?) and other such profound issues. But for the first two episodes the characters feel as if they are nothing more than vessels for that, rather than the questions arising organically out of their stories.

Steeds, things do perk up by the very end of the second episode. If Loki leans more enthusiastically into the time-hopping adventure aspect, as it surely must, I’m sure viewers will begin to have almost as good a time as Hiddleston and Wilson clearly are.

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