Marvel’s multiverse has been turning out variants of all shapes and sizes over the last several years. But could anything have prepared us for Loki: The Hero?
In Season 2 of the MCU’s most popular Disney+ series “Loki,” Tom Hiddleston’s Norse God of Mischief is all about saving his new friends at the Time Variance Authority from annihilation, along with billions who reside on ever multiplying timelines throughout the cosmos. Hiddleston, who’s played one of the most malign forces in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a dozen years, convinces us of Loki’s newfound altruism, only referencing his evil past in soul-searching conversations and using it as a threat when doing good cop/bad cop routines with his new best bud, TVA functionary Mobius (Owen Wilson).
This makeover should not work but it does, along with everything else in the first four episodes of Season 2’s six shown to critics. Characters with compelling issues, high existential drama, quirky comedy and world-threatening action are blended better than in any other Disney+ show to date. “Loki” Season 2 may be the most spectacularly cinematic of the streamer’s Marvel series too, awash with cool FX and reality-shaking mobile camerawork that blasts through awesome sci-fi tableaux. We also explore goofy/brutalist new corners of the TVA bureaucracy’s planet-sized HQ, and each episode so far incorporates beautifully detailed period locations, whether a 1980s McDonald’s seen through adoring alien eyes or a funhouse mirror re-creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Deft cross-cutting helps make reams of technical exposition come across smooth.
In fact, “Loki 2” manages to make the whole, dicey multiverse concept work better dramatically than it has in any Marvel production since it was introduced in, well, 2021’s “Loki.” Can’t guarantee you’ll understand it after this season, but at least it won’t draw winces like it did in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
We still can’t explain how it all works here, but basically the TVA is a kind of space/time continuum FBI that has kept the universe’s Sacred Timeline free of alternate history branches since time immemorial. Loki’s arrival there disrupted that, and Hiddleston’s incarnation, along with an unruly variant of the same character called Sylvie (Sophia di Martino), made things worse by finding the ultimate, multi-avatar temporal threat, known here as He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors).
Sylvie kicked Loki through a Timedoor at the end of Season 1 and killed HWR. That unleashed a slew of variants (like Majors’ Kang in that “Quantumania” travesty) who changed millions of dimensions – including one Loki painfully phases in and out of in this season’s first episode, where nobody at the TVA remembers who he is – and threatens to overload the Temporal Loom in the bowels of TVA HQ. If that happens, everyone dies.
It gets way more complicated, though still accessible and packed with fun. Basically once Loki finds a Mobius who remembers him, they take off through time to hunt for Sylvie, who’s one of the keys to setting things right. She’s still elusive, volatile and determined to kill every HWR/Kang variant she comes across, so maybe leave her alone? Nah; while the romantic tension between Loki and themself (Sylvie, that is) has dissipated, their debates form the core of Season 2’s many inquiries into right and wrong, chaos agency vs. inner peace, free will and self-delusion, gods and monsters. Credit the season’s head writer Eric Martin (“Heels”) with making this thing a philosophical adventure along with the more traditional kinds.
The TVA gang, who all learned they’d been kidnapped from other timelines at the end of Season 1, have their own distinctive views and active responses. The paramilitary enforcer Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) dedicates herself to the cause at hand, though she knows a better life awaited her elsewhere. Former top judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is still going rogue across the timelines, doing terrible things and some interesting variations on what the character was like in the comic books. Clock-faced cartoon A.I. Miss Minutes, voiced again by the deceptively sweet-sounding Tara Strong, proves herself a powerful malevolent force and potential girlfriend from hell. And along with his unmatched comic chemistry with Hiddleston, Wilson locates a quiet poignance in Mobius’ refusal to examine his pre-TVA life; he so enjoys the green key lime pie at the TVA automat, and he’d rather not know if a more authentic world with yellow key limes tastes better.
Among new characters, recent Oscar-winner Ke Huy Kwan’s Ouroboros, aka O.B., provides endless comic relief as the TVA’s long-forgotten, loneliness-addled engineering repairman. He’s the only guy who knows how to fix the Temporal Loom, but can’t do it alone. He’s the ultimate, socially awkward geek who the entire multiverse’s survival depends on. Well, one of them…
Which brings us to Majors. Seen only in flashbacks in earlier episodes, the problematic lynchpin of whatever this current Marvel phase is numbered manifests in Episode 3 as 19th Century inventor/Kang variant Victor Timely. Soft-spoken with an endearing speech impediment, under a Frederick Douglass fright wig, Victor is kind of a cad, but he may possess something similar to Loki’s hero DNA. Anyway, Majors’ performance combines high theatricality with specific behaviors in marvelous, watchable ways. However the assault accusations against him play out, Majors exhibits the imaginative talent to embody Phase 500-or-whatever’s big bad, whether he continues to or not.
Now that Thor’s wicked brother is so integral to saving the multiverse, where Hiddleston takes the character next will surely be something to see. Don’t expect further personality changes in “Loki S2’s” pair of closing episodes; with so many other big things and fascinating people requiring some semblance of resolution, there aren’t worlds enough and time for that. But if anyone can pull off President Loki or Lokigator in the future, Hiddleston has once again proven it’s him. But of course, trust could be the Mischief God’s greatest deception.
“Loki” Season 2 returns Thursday, Oct. 5 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Disney+.