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Loki - How Marvel Makes Unusual Concepts Work *Heavy Spoilers Ahead*

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

If you went back in time to 2008 and told four year old me that the action movie Iron Man would start a over a decade’s worth of films and shows that would lead to the Norse God of Mischief being captured by the time police, becoming a detective, traversing time and space and meeting multiple versions of himself before ultimately fracturing the marvel timeline into a multiverse I would… probably get pruned by the TVA.

What can I say, Loki was an absolute treat. I recently watched a video essay by youtuber Full Fat Videos titled “Loki: An Antidote to Bad Doctor Who” and I agree 100%. As a massive Whovian up till the Chibnall Era and a huge fan of other whacky science fiction shows like Rick and Morty, Dark, Counterpart, Solar Opposites (and of course, a huge Marvel fan), Loki was a delight from start to finish. Its concept alone gives it the potential for unbridled creativity, and as the series progresses you can see it progressively plunge deeper into the wild depths of madness that it promises from the start.

But how does a show with such unique ideas still feel relatable to the average household viewer? And how do the team behind Loki engage viewers of all types, from diehard comic book fans to people who’ve never seen a Marvel product before? Instead of a typical review, I’m going to try and dissect what it is that makes Loki work, and will highlight the lessons we can all use when writing high concept stories ourselves.

Let’s start at the beginning. The first scene of the show is a recap of the events of Avengers Endgame, where our variant of Loki steals the tesseract. It amuses me that such a simple scene in the midst of a huge blockbuster can sprawl into a show of this magnitude, and it really is a showcase of Marvel Studios’ creative capabilities. As soon as Loki lands we get a reminder of the kind of the person he was back in good old 2012: arrogant, impulsive, greedy for power. This is vital for all viewers. For long-term fans like me, we need a reminder of what 2012 Loki was like in comparison to the changed person he was in Infinity War. For newcomers, they’ve never seen this guy before, so need to know exactly what he’s like before his journey begins.

So he’s arrested and now the plot takes it steady, taking time to really flesh out the bizarre world of the TVA and develop Loki’s character for the upcoming episodes. We get an early introduction to the ideas of the time travel and the multiverse through a clear explanatory video (some would accuse this of being blatant exposition, but I say if it makes sense to the story - which it does as Loki himself needs an explanation of what’s going on - and it’s enjoyable - which it is due to its cartoon style and humorous tone - then who cares?). We also get to see the strange burocratic workings of the TVA, and by about halfway through the episode we feel familiar with the setting that this show will take place in for the majority of its run.

The show now introduces a handful of key characters, each masterfully portrayed by their actors. There’s Wunmi Mosaku, who nails the conflicted B-52. There’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw who kills it as the complex, morally grey Ravonna Renslayer. And then, there’s Owen Wilson’s Mobius M Mobius. My word, what an addition to the cast. Wilson is fantastic this role, playing the quippy, likeable co-worker that makes a perfect match for Loki’s arrogance. It’s characters and performances like these that really ground the show and make it the entertaining experience that it is. Without such real, complicated individuals, the audience would feel lost or disinterested in a show that doesn’t otherwise resemble the real world in any way.

The rest of the episode consists primarily of Mobius interrogating Loki, providing the latter with much needed character growth and strengthening the bond between the two leads. It also recaps the events of Loki’s life, helping fresher members of the audience catch up with the plethora of films that preceded this show (who needs a Marvel Legends episode when you have Mobius’s film reel?). I’ve seen a few people complain about the slow pacing of this series, and while that may be true in places (episode 3 did drag a little I have to say), all stories, especially stories like this, need to take the time to set up their characters and world. Without properly set up characters, we have no reason to care about what we’re watching and don’t feel like these strange happenings have any significance to us; they’re just images on a screen or words on a page. Without world-building we’re lost, constantly having to work out the context of what’s going on instead of enjoying the plot.

Episode two takes us right into the action, almost feeling like a detective show as Loki works with the TVA to hunt for the new variant, while episode three sheds more light on Sylvie’s character and outlines the growth in the relationship between her and Loki. Sophia Di Martino’s performance as Loki’s variant is strong (again, really exuding those doctor who vibes) and it’s nice to see her grow from an apparent villain to one of the show’s leads. I also love how these episodes capitalise on their creative opportunities to explore vast new worlds and times. While we may not have seen as many places or time periods as I initially expected, one of its strengths is its ability to go literally anywhere the writers can conceptualise. This is something I really hope the writing team expands on even further in future series.

And then wow, does the show take a billion turns. You’d think that a story with so many twists would lose its viewers, but thanks again to it’s relatable characters and good set up, the twists just build the excitement of what’s to come. Episode four is an emotional rollercoaster, revealing the timekeepers to be fake and then seemingly killing two of our leads. The twists here work as we were never attached to the Timekeepers (we never really saw them) and the show had quickly been seeding that things were not quite right at the TVA (such as with the reveal that all its workers are variants themselves). The fake deaths don’t feel like too much of a cheat either, as we’re seeing this world through Loki’s eyes, so of course we’d need to see the pain and anger he’d feel after seemingly losing his friend (an event which motivates him for the rest of the episode).

And then episode five goes mental. Dozens and dozens of Lokis, boasting backstabbing, fighting. An alligator, a child, Richard E Grant in a ridiculous outfit (by the way, despite their lack of screentime, these Lokis also nail their performances, Mr E Grant especially). All of this set in a world crammed with all sorts of bizarre artefacts and easter eggs from various times and places. This episode proves another fundamental truth of writing: that anything, no matter how insane, can happen, so long as it makes logical, emotional and thematic sense to the story (i.e. it makes sense to occur and matters to the readers). The void itself makes logical sense because if you’re an almost omnipotent agency determined to delete rogue branches of time then yeah, why not have a garbage bin at the end of time. It makes emotional and thematic sense too, because the entire show is about Loki’s journey of self discovery. How better to learn about yourself, love yourself and better yourself than to be faced with countless versions of you, each with their own accentuated personality traits?

And then we have the finale, and blimey did it deliver. I was honestly expecting another Loki variant to be the man behind the curtain, but Johnathan Majors’ He Who Remains (a.k.a. A variant of Kang the conqueror/Immortus) stole the show entirely. This episode is almost entirely dialogue, but so much happens for the characters and for the greater plot. Having such a major villain performed in such an understated way by such an incredible actor creates this unique, sinister feeling that genuinely made me a little unsettled. And then to be told that there’s dozens of worse versions of this guy on his way, that he might be the next major villain of the MCU, and that he’ll likely have multiple appearances in years to come? Now there’s a villain who’s earned his reputation. This is probably the most excited I’ve ever been watching a Marvel product, and it’s awesome that the show is doubling down on it’s sci-fi concepts, utilising them to their fullest to deliver an exciting story ahead.

What else can I say? The score is superb, the editing and producing and cinematography are great, clearly the budget’s pretty high. Loki delivers. It knows exactly the kind of show it wants to be, and instead of shying away from the chaos, it utilises it: using grounded characters and skilful writing to create an exciting, fulfilling experience. I for one am eagerly anticipating it’s next season and can’t wait to see what they do in the future.

Happy watching! And reading! And writing! For all time. Always.

(Oh P.S. Recently saw Black Widow and it was really good in my opinion. Other than a but of a weak villain, it was a solid action movie that impressed me in how different it felt. Choreography, direction and cinematography were very unique in this film, and all the main performances were heart-warming. Just thought I’d slip a mini review in there given it’s all the same week. See you all soon!)


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