The cunning Norse god of the title has a reckoning early on in Loki, Marvel’s new superhero side dish on Disney+, a come-to-Stan Lee moment, if you will. He gets a glimpse into what might be his future (a future we’ve already seen in several Marvel flicks, allowing for the reuse of some expensive intellectual property), and it doesn’t sit well with him. It doesn’t completely scare him, but it does encourage him to join the good guys and become a wisecracking consultant to a team of highly armed time cops.
Hiddleston is, as usual, enormously overqualified for the character’s mixture of jesting confidence and slightly buffoonish insecurity. With the same ease with which Loki, when not wearing his prison collar, snaps himself from one place to another, he carries off Loki’s astonishment at the authority’s existence (its agents are able to erase all traces of their intrusions into the time stream) and his indignation at being its captive. It’s almost too simple, and as the lead rather than a supporting character, Hiddleston might come across as coasting through the poor material.
The Marvel-Disney+ productions’ self-conscious effort to prove that they have more on their minds than normal superhero shows has been a key feature of them thus far. Loki also adds some extra roughness in a relatively subtle and thus successful way.
The hurried clerks and claustrophobic warrens of the time authority have a hilarious touch of unpleasant office comedy. There’s also a light-handed metafictional thread about how managing the chronology is similar to writing a fantasy novel — or, by extension, running a huge comics-based entertainment empire.
Because of Disney+’s tendency for sparingly distributing review episodes — its release of only three episodes of WandaVision, with its backloaded plot, done early reviews practically useless — you have to wonder if Loki will up the ante as it progresses, adding more energy and wit to match the talents of its cast.
Michael Waldron, the show’s chief writer, is a rising Marvel star — he’s also the writer of the upcoming Doctor Strange film — whose prior work was in Dan Harmon’s wacky-cerebral world on Community and Rick and Morty. Something to look forward to would be a bit less Marvel and a little more Rick and Morty.