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‘Loki’ brings the fun, falls short on romance

| Monday, August 30, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

Warning: Spoilers for “Loki” season one!

Loki is probably the most charismatic character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise that thrives partly due to its witty banter and the charming characters that fuel its stories. “Loki,” the latest Marvel miniseries on Disney+, tells his — or rather, their — story. Perhaps the most defining feature of the show, as well as the feature that drags it down most, is the fact that it functions as a bridge to the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, “Loki” attempts to provide the most important world building in the MCU so far while also following the titular god of mischief. “Loki” is equally dedicated to both of these tasks. The first episode makes that much clear, equally dividing its time between providing one of the biggest exposition dumps in the MCU and, as Mobius M. Mobius himself says, exploring “what makes Loki tick.” These two elements converge when the show introduces the concept of variants, one of my personal favorite tools of characterization (and one that is unique to sci-fi and fantasy).

Unfortunately, the opportunity to explore this concept is mostly wasted, as Sylvie’s characterization is so drastically different from Loki’s that there’s little insight to be gained into either character through a comparison of the two, despite the fact that this very difference serves as a focal point of the series. “Loki” doesn’t really take full advantage of the concept of variants until the fifth episode, during which “Loki” encounters a diverse cast of variants of himself at the end of time. Seeing classic Loki, kid Loki and President Loki gave insight both into the Loki we’ve been following since the first film and into his relationship with Thor.

That episode was also a highlight because it was incredibly silly, with the inclusion of gator Loki and the Loki-versus-Loki fight being obvious highlights. The show-runners for “Loki” clearly learned a lot from Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” which got a lot of mileage from throwing Thor and Loki into a bizarre and unfamiliar environment. Likewise, the TVA’s melding of mid-20th century American office design and sci-fi aesthetic is really interesting. And where in “Thor: Ragnarok,” we got a hilarious performance from Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, in “Loki,” we get Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), Loki’s de facto parole officer/therapist. Wilson’s performance and his dynamic with Tom Hiddleston are some of the highlights of the show. Seeing Loki actually develop a friendship with Mobius was handily the best piece of characterization that the show had to offer.

The most important relationship in the show, though, is between Loki and Sylvia, not between Loki and Mobius. Unfortunately, this relationship is also the least compelling part of the show. This is a shame, because there was a lot of potential in the premise of Loki meeting a female variant of himself. The best of their content is when they are fighting each other. I really appreciate the novelty of introducing the concept of “selfcest,” a term that refers to a romantic relationship between different versions or incarnations of the same character, something that often appears in sci-fi stories that deal with variants. In fact, the potential the story had with this concept excited me much more than the revelation that Loki is bisexual, a piece of information that Sylvie elicited from him with the same subtlety of a mother trying to ease her son out of the closet. Of course, because this is Disney, it is never brought up again, and I actually think Marvel did more for gay representation with all the homoeroticism and tension between Bucky and Sam in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”

I suppose that Sylvie’s proficiency in magic and their conversation on the train about their mothers taps into the more Oedipal side of Loki’s character, an undercurrent that has always been present for both him and Thor. Despite the interesting premise of “selfcest,” though, the romantic tension between Sylvie and Loki feels very empty. Though Sylvie and Loki are each very charming and fun characters in their own right, the way the writers try to build a relationship between them feels very forced and pushes each of them out of character. It was also pretty boring compared to the rest of the show. I liked it a lot more when the characters tried to kill each other.

The show’s final episode introduces Jonathan Majors as He Who Remains, an individual who is largely implied to be a variant of the next major villain of the MCU, replacing Thanos. His introduction takes over the last episode, bringing the focus back to exposition. That being said, if that exposition had to be dumped by anybody, I’m glad it was done by Jonathan Majors doing his best impression of an overenthusiastic high school guidance counselor.

As a whole, “Loki” engaged with a lot of concepts I find fascinating and I really enjoyed Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston’s performances, but ultimately, I feel that the show fell apart when the relationship between Loki and Sylvie fell flat. In light of this, while “Loki” was fun, my main takeaway was a feeling of anticipation: I am excited to see how Marvel will utilize the concepts of the multiverse and variants.

 

Show: “Loki” season one

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino and Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Favorite episodes: Episodes 1 and 5

If you like: “Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle” (manga), “Back to the Future,” Marvel Cinematic Universe

Where to watch: Disney+

Shamrocks: 2 out of 5

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