With the onslaught of comic-book adaptations and cinematic visions based on characters from superhero stories, it’s become easy to feel a bit of fatigue when facing yet another season of television focusing on another group within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Over the past decade, the MCU has transcended precedent in its journey to have more films and television shows focusing on a central story than any cinematic universe should. There are things that didn’t quite reach potential within the MCU (Thor: The Dark World, Secret Invasion), but there are also certain aspects that have kept audiences returning to see these stories. One of those is Tom Hiddleston’s god of mischief, Loki. Now back for a second installment, the Disney+ original series Loki returns with an even more concise story, higher stakes and performances that elevate the season to the top of the ranks amongst its MCU counterparts.
Loki’s first season ended with Sylvie (Sophie Di Martino) inadvertently destroying the Sacred Timeline after making the decision to kill He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors). In a bid to exact revenge for dealing with a lifelong rage, Sylvie manages to do exactly what Kang warned of by seemingly beginning a multiversal war. The audience is immediately relaunched into the action, Natalie Holt’s mystical score swelling over images of He Who Remains before finding the titular character running in the timeline he found himself last time we saw him. There’s a sense of urgency to the storytelling that fits the plot and allows the series to raise the stakes and provide some of the more interesting storytelling within the MCU. The thrilling first scene cleanly jumps back into Loki’s world and captures everything audiences love about him: his newfound desire to help those around him – at any cost – while being the most facetious God in the multiverse.
This time around the series focuses more closely on Loki’s search for Sylvie and a greater understanding of the multiverse. In this search, there are returning and new characters that permeate the TVA and its inner workings, with the entire cast fitting their roles and adding authenticity to every scene. Tom Hiddleston emanates charisma in this role and has since he first appeared in Thor, but his clear understanding of Loki and his motivations are what makes Hiddleston’s performance worth tuning in for. He plays the god of Mischief with the confidence of someone visiting an old friend and naturally slips back into his skin. Returning players include Owen Wilson and Gugu Mbatha Raw, who play Mobius and Ravonna, respectively, both with different motivations in the world they reside in and their actors understanding this perfectly. Wunmi Mosaku, who deserves an award any time she enters a scene, has more to do now as Hunter B-15 and takes it in stride, adding a new dimension to a character that was already interesting in Mosaku’s reliable hands. Jonathan Majors returns as He Who Remains, but without knowledge of what the role might originally have looked like before charges were brought against Majors, it remains to be seen exactly how the MCU will handle these allegations towards an actor who was set to be the center of the entire next phase Marvel was leading into.
Standing out amongst his peers is Academy Award winner Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All at Once), who joins the series as O.B. (government name Ouroboros), a lovable, fast-talking man who works at what appears to be a service kiosk in the basement of the TVA. He’s down there ready to discuss time and space at any moment, and Quan brings a curiosity to the role that sears and intellectualism to O.B. that makes him even more interesting. Unfortunately for everyone who shares scenes with him, Quan will hold your attention anytime he appears and have you wondering when he’ll return. The character has much to offer the series, as Ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a dragon consuming its own tail, a symbol of time, some cultures specifically tying it to the notion of infinity. In a series that depicts time the way it does, it’s an interesting addition to the story and an easter egg for anyone who fancies mythology and Egyptian iconography.
Throughout the four episodes provided to critics for review, Loki outdoes itself by providing a concise story that feels isolated to these characters yet matters to the overall construction of the MCU at large. While the first couple episodes felt stronger than most of the previous season (which was still good television, to be sure!) as Loki’s search for Sylvie and understanding leads him through the depths of TVA and time itself, the next couple add convolution to the story that can be more tenuous to make sense of. Loki and Mobius team up and go through time while on their search for Sylvie, running into a man named Brad Wolfe (Rafael Casal, Blindspotting) that they hope they can get answers from. Ravonna doesn’t make as many appearances as last season and her motivations are still close to keeping order in the TVA, while the motivations of others are revealed in a fashion that begs to be understood, but ultimately falls a little flat. The series works better when the focus is on Loki and his understanding of the world he finds himself in with a newfound affection for another person, even if that person is a variant of him. When the episodes start focusing on bringing the supporting characters into the main storyline, it can feel forced and explanatory. There are many things that do work for the show, but the narrative’s frayed ends start to become more noticeable with each passing episode.
Natalie Holt returning to compose the score of the series is a highlight, arguably one of the best parts as the music fuels a specific mythicism to the world. The title sequence composition of this series is some of the best music in the MCU, courtesy of Natalie Holt, and sets the exact tone of the series and is reminiscent of older series with exaggerated theme music. The deeper color palette stands out with different shades of burnt oranges and browns that make the emerald green bits stand out beautifully in frame and on each set, with production designer Kasra Farahani to thank. Mix this with the camerawork from Isaac Bauman and you have a series that feels fresh, exciting and engages the audience with the world by creating a lived-in interior. While the series does have opportunities in some aspects, mostly character work and tedious plot, the other work on the show manages to mostly make up for the spots that have unrealized potential.
Tom Hiddleston could feasibly play this role until the Marvel Cinematic Universe eventually comes to a close or until he decides he’s bored with playing Loki, but both of those possibilities seem highly unlikely anytime soon. Hiddleston has become synonymous with the character after playing him for more than a decade and deservedly so. He radiates confidence in the role, as do the others around him, which is a huge reason Loki is so much fun to watch. While there are moments that struggle in the second season, it is an exciting ride with high-stakes entertainment and performances that will remain through time.
Loki premieres October 5, 2023 exclusively on Disney+.
Photo by Gareth Gatrell / 2023 MARVEL