Review: Disney Plus’ ‘Loki’ is ripe with potential but needed more time to develop
“Loki”’s limited nature and complicated plot weaves an intriguing storyline, but leaves much to be desired in a disappointing finale.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe announced a wave of new television shows, it was no surprise that the charismatic brother of Thor, Loki, secured a series all to himself. Played by the beloved actor Tom Hiddleston, Loki won over viewers with his debut in 2011’s “Thor.” Despite his introduction as a villain, MCU fans have watched him develop into a reformed hero. Disney Plus’ new show “Loki” follows this evolution and expands on Loki’s character development by exploring the meaning of free will, faith and identity.
With its promising premise and beautiful production, “Loki” had a strong start that was unfortunately lost in the final episodes. Limited time bred convoluted plot lines that left viewers with too many questions and little resolution. Releasing one episode a week since June 9, the mini-series just released its sixth and final episode. While “Loki” should have given a well-deserved expansion to Loki’s character, the exposition-heavy story instead feels like a prequel to a movie the audience has not seen and did not ask for.
Documenting the protection of the proclaimed “sacred timeline” by the Time Variance Authority, “Loki” tells the story of the titular character’s diversion from his intended path and his subsequent removal from his timeline. In an important turn of events, Loki is hired to track down the supposed villain of the story, a female variant of himself named Sylvie. Presenting intense questions about the illusory nature of freedom when a predetermined timeline exists, the power of “Loki” stems from its unique and open discourse about the factors dictating identity and free will. Addressing issues like determinism and predestination, “Loki” pushes the creative boundary of MCU as it adds intricate layers to the future of Marvel with its thoughtful investigation of the nature of existence.
Hiddleston once again delivers a superb portrayal of Loki as he brings the script to life with quick one-liners and dramatic monologues. Revealing a new, softer side to the quick-witted character, the series unlocks a side of Loki that adds dimension and vulnerability to the seemingly untouchable god. As the show progresses, audience members watch Loki’s hard ego slowly break down while befriending new characters Mobius and Sylvie — played by Owen Wilson and Sophia Di Martino, respectively. Having previously sworn to only trust himself, Loki responds to Mobius’ question “so, I just have to trust the word of two Lokis?” — referring to Loki and Sylvie — with “how about the word of a friend?”. His answer illuminates his shifting identity and indicates that internal change is possible.
The limited nature of “Loki”’s mini-series format created weakness in the later episodes. “Loki” introduced too many concepts to be fully developed in only six episodes, creating a deficit of information for viewers and a myriad of missed opportunities for writers. Tackling the meaning of life and free will within a total of less than six hours was already an impossible task. Simultaneously trying to set up the multiversal rules for the incoming Spiderman and Doctor Strange movies proved to be too much. As a result of its vast amount of content, “Loki” missed the opportunity to explore aspects of the show that would have been revolutionary, like the titular character’s genderfluity and bisexuality.
The interesting concept of self-variants introduced in the show was also not fully explored and was disappointingly tarnished when Loki fell in love with Sylvie. While it’s fitting for the narcissistic god to fall in love with himself in female form, some fans were uncomfortable with the relationship and deemed it incestuous. Rather than exploring Loki’s recently confirmed gender fluidity or bisexuality, “Loki” instead only granted these a passing mention with little circumstance. Further problems arose when other variants were introduced as only brief cameos, used as brief plot devices or comedic relief. Whereas a further exploration of identity could have bettered the show, its time constraints instead created stale background characters that fell flat.
In a show shrouded with mystery and confusion, the vitality of the finale cannot be understated when it comes to engagement. Having watched five episodes and receiving few to no answers, audience members were excited to see the intricate plot details finally come together, but were left disappointed when Loki was sidelined and the occurrence of all events was credited to a previously unmentioned, omniscient character called “He Who Remains.” Tying up the many loose ends of the show with an unseen, all-powerful presence is not only cliché, but undermines the entire show by removing the free will that the protagonists had fought so hard for. The problem is encapsulated by “He Who Remains” when he says, “You can’t kill me because I already know what’s going to happen.” Any suspense or intrigue left with the viewer is removed from the series as they disappointingly realize that the villain is unbeatable.
The heavy exposition and narration made it clear in the finale that “Loki” was a set up for future Marvel endeavors, meant primarily to explain the rules of time travel within the MCU rather than serve as an examination of Loki’s character. When “He Who Remains” came through and swept the agency from the characters to artificially explain the inexplicable plot, the series’ ingenuity fell flat.
With revolutionary ideas and amazing design, “Loki” brought fresh mystery to the MCU in an engaging way, creating rules for time travel while simultaneously exploring the layers of free will and multifaceted nature of identity-enraptured audiences. However, “Loki” was able to explore these ideas only tangentially because of its obligation to set up upcoming Marvel movies. Due to a variety of small problems regarding writing, plot and development, “Loki” has room for improvement in the future. However, with the incoming season two promising to resolve the tangled plot and answer remaining questions, “Loki” has not yet lost the opportunity to be great.