REVIEW: "LOKI" ON DISNEY+
"Loki" is the third Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) spin-off series to debut on Disney+, and by now, the game plan has revealed itself. These shows create little narrative loops, self-contained sandboxes in which fan-favorite characters can play around. These shows add nuance and deepen our understanding of these individuals and their world... without actually having any kind of profound impact on the overall narrative. Wanda Maximoff got to experience small-town family life, but ends up roughly where we left her, grieving and alone and mastering her expansive powers. Sam Wilson struggled against, rejected, but then ultimately assumed the mantle of Captain America, just as it seemed he would at the close of "Avengers: Endgame."
"Loki" now ups the ante in its pilot by literally throwing the Asgardian "God of Mischief" into a self-contained pocket universe. Following his escape with the Tesseract from the Battle of New York in 2012 (as depicted in "Endgame"), he's deposited in a vast, hellish, otherworldly afterlife bureaucracy that seems to take cues from both the work of Franz Kafka and "Beetlejuice." The so-called Time Variance Authority (or TVA) functions as a branch of existential law enforcement, ensuring that only authorized activities take place and no powerful beings are permitted to interrupt the inevitable flow of cause and effect. (Somehow, even Infinity Stones don't work here!)
Functionally, we're setting up perhaps the first true MCU procedural. There's a playful but insistent "Chief" (Owen Wilson) who wants to put Loki to work tracking down Time Criminals, a no-nonsense Time Judge (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a stern Time Enforcer (Wunmi Mosaku) with a violent streak, and so on. The TVA exists in the absolute Dick Wolf-iest corner of the MCU. This could easily shift into "Law & Order: Time Crimes."
Still, writer/creator Michael Waldron and director Kate Herron slow down just enough to grapple with some of the larger implications at play here. What would happen if a comic book villain ever paused to consider their long history of inevitable failures? If the TVA decides what is and what is not permitted to impact the flow of time, is free will even possible? And if all magic and super-abilities are neutered within the walls of the TVA, do any of them really have any meaning? Is the entire Marvel Universe itself just a sandbox, and the pencil-pushers of the TVA its Kevin Feige?
It's the same kind of provocative, weird-but-not-too-weird premise that fueled "WandaVision," though "Loki" has a less rigid, more TV-friendly format that I think will help to move things along at a zippier pace. It also features a more exuberant lead character, whose constant quips and joie de vivre provide the audience with a way into the TVA that I think Wanda's Westview somewhat lacked. While the pilot feels burdened not only with glorious purpose, but an excess of exposition, I'm largely confident that future episodes can make do with less set-up and get on with the zany, time-skipping adventures. Regardless, this is a promising start, and the best MCU Disney+ pilot to date.
Where to Watch: Disney+
When: New episodes debut on Wednesdays
Episodes: 6 episodes (1 so far)
Genre: Fantasy adventure