Tom Hiddleston may have done Shakespeare, but everyone knows what put him on the map. Having famously auditioned for Thor along with every other actor on the planet, he got selected without a casting call for something else. Kevin Feige and those in high places made a judgement call. One that involved drafting in Chris Hemsworth to play the erstwhile God of Thunder, alongside his brother from another mother to portray the titular God of Mischief.
In retrospect, Loki was the role Hiddleston was destined to tackle. Quintessentially English and subtlety sinister, this anti-Avenger walks a tightrope of audience empathy in every outing. His desire for power is forged in insecurity, fanned by inferiority and invites underdog sympathies. Although there is no way of knowing how things would play out, Marvel took a risk which paid off in spades.
With candour, flair and a certain omnipotence, the studio have now fashioned this charismatic rogue his own breakaway show. One that arrives in the slipstream of two other incarnations, which were received by audiences in decidedly different ways. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier underwhelmed, while WandaVision reinvented television. A fact that left Loki with minimal wriggle room for anything other than Phase Four levels of progression.
Thankfully, what we have in this opening episode is self-assurance harnessed to a performance of clarity. There is no doubt who this show belongs to from the outset, even if the actor is now an executive producer as well. Hiddleston slips back into the skin of Loki without pausing for breath. A sense of depth, coupled with masterful moments of understated chemistry between MCU newbie Owen Wilson as Mobius, mean things move swiftly. Elsewhere, Gugu Mbath-Raw proves pivotal in providing the requisite friction early on as Ravonna. A judge, jury and executioner incapable of believing Loki might change. However, beyond the shared MCU nostalgia and presence of Hiddleston on powerhouse form, the series impresses for several other reasons.
As far as showrunners are concerned, Michael Waldron might seem like a left-field choice to helm Loki. Then again, Marvel have a tendency to pick unique collaborators for exactly that reason. A decision which on this occasion has deeper ramifications, as he was also tasked with writing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. An indication that this series aperitif might be the tip of an insanely absurd iceberg, destined to set up much broader MCU elements.
Either way, there’s no denying the worldbuilding originality on display as the Time Variance Authority gets introduced. Endless architecture, ingenious infomercials and retro technology define a world devoted to maintaining Marvel timelines. Within its perfectly poised production line panache existence goes on infinitely. Not only does this conundrum provide audiences access to Loki-centric moments in the MCU, but puts the character himself in a unique position. Slowly the arrogance gets eroded, gradually the trust in Mobius is established and then things kick up a notch.
Within the fabric of this long-form six part series, audiences will spot other filmmakers. Some have influenced the look, others the slick exposition, but homage is fine when backed up by originality. A defining X factor which is overabundant on this occasion. Key to that is writer Michael Waldron, who’s offered up an existential opener that fully exploits the leading man chops of this RSC approved Hamlet. Kong: Skull Island, Highrise and The Night Manager may have worked to an extent, but Loki confirms it on a global scale.
Prior to release there was already talk of three seasons happening, and even in the opening fifty-three minutes there are indications that whole worlds are being made ready. Glimpses here, flashes there and a sense of permanence impossible to ignore.
In comparison, WandaVision felt like a comic book masterfully expanded within an existing universe. Loki, meanwhile, feels distinctly new yet fundamentally grounded in something tangible. From an emotional perspective, both protagonists share a deep seated grief that affects those in their orbit. Each of them are in denial and have intentionally constructed their lives around an illusion centred on themselves. However, their all too human frailty makes them instantly relatable and ultimately tragic. That is why Loki and WandaVision succeeded where others missed the mark. A theory that may prove fortuitous as this Tom Hiddleston headliner reveals itself, ushers more uninitiated into the fold and Marvel gears up to implement Phase Four in its grand plan.