By Tim Robins
Always with the MASSIVE spoilers! All the time, already! Plus – all you ever need to know about the Thanoscopter, but forgot to ask!
I waited to review Loki until it completed its first run on Disney+, because it is hard to judge where a Marvel Studios’ TV series is going until they get there. As it turned out, creator Michael Waldron was interested in creating self-contained episodes so, although there was certainly a season story arc, each episode had a distinctive focus and feel.
Waldron has written scripts for Rick and Morty and penned the forthcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, so he is well placed for Loki, a series that involves a certain amount of time-hopping, a good deal of fretting over timelines – and sets up Phase Four’s ‘Big Bad’, Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror, slated to appear in 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (presumably set in a kingdom of tachyon particles).
One of the pleasures Marvel Studios’ TV series (WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and now Loki) offer is the Oort Cloud of enigmas and theories thrown up for fans to explore, even if few of them actually land. The twist in Loki is that the villain is exactly to whom all the clues are pointing.
Some fan theories are even validated when we meet Richard E. Grant playing a variant of Loki who escaped death from the hands of Thanos, by using his mischievous powers of projection against the Titan – exactly as fans had speculated.
Tom Hiddleston plays a variant Loki created when The Avengers went back in time in Avengers: Endgame to undo the ‘snap’. Loki seizes the opportunity to escape but is immediately nabbed by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), whose job is to protect the one, true “sacred” timeline. But Marvel’s god of mischief knows when he is being tricked, although exactly why and by whom remains a mystery until Episode Six.
Along the way, Hiddleston forms an uneasy alliance with Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), whose job with the TVA is to hunt really dangerous variants and prune them from the timeline. Although this isn’t shown, I guess the TVA is killing everyone and destroying everything in each variant timeline, a role carried out by a big, purple cloud dog called Alioth.
One of the strengths of Marvel movies and TV series is that, much like rival DC’s ‘Arrowverse’, they aren’t afraid to use, or exploit, existing comic book characters. Loki’s supporting cast of characters includes Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and even provides the character with a backstory set before she appeared in comics (Avengers #23-24, where she attracts the unwanted attentions of a love-smitten Kang).
For the most part, I had entirely forgotten Loki’s comic book cast offs, including “He Who Endures”, who has been hiding out at the end of the end of time, behind a void strewn with the detritus of Marvel Merchandising – notably the bright yellow’ copter introduced in Spidey Super Stories #39, first published in early 1979. The toy is also a remnant of a time when TV cartoons were just adverts for merchandise.
So Loki comes with all Marvel’s usual bells and whistles. Unfortunately, it also proved what I can only describe as being an unusually hard slog to watch. For example, and I do realise this was intentional, but the post-production colour filter made everything look dreary, and the colour scheme was often eye-wateringly jarring. I love 1970s interiors, but the series made my favourite colour – orange – look boring. Some of the colour choices must have been determined as a contrast to Loki’s distinctive yellow and green, although Hiddleston’s Loki was mostly dressed in a jumpsuit. (I guess Costume Design stayed clear of Guantanamo Orange).
The series also features some intricate CGI locations, such as the TVA HQ, but since these remained seen through windows or somewhere in the mid distance, there seemed a real disconnect between foreground and background.
The series low point was Episode Three, when Loki became compared to episodes of Doctor Who, and I just knew the BBC’s long-running SF series would not emerge well from this comparison. Indeed, fan critics soon pointed out protracted scenes between Hiddlestone and Sophia di Martino (a female Loki variant named Sylvie) walking and talking in a quarry and sitting and talking on board a train.
Some also felt Loki had a lot to teach Doctor Who about storytelling. Believe me, it didn’t. The structure was built around the classic SF trope of the “conceptual breakthrough” which was not so much a JJ Abrahams “Mystery Box” as a nest of Russian dolls, although each revealing a bigger threat.
It was the emotional tone of the series that really brought me down. Episode One established the series’ gloomy intent, by presenting Loki with the inevitable outcome of his escape – his actions lead to the death of his adoptive mother. A scene in which Loki discovers the Infinity Gems discarded in a draw usefully trashed the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s previous phase and established that in Phase Four, Marvel’s heroes will face even more challenging forces.
Frankly, there’s only so much unrelenting misery I can put up with. I get that Loki was being cast into a hell of his own making, but the movie version was so much more fun, particularly when playing off Thor and The Hulk. Owen Wilson’s Mobius M Mobius was also a bit too low key (no pun intended). Learning that he longed for a retirement jet skiing in the sun just made matters more maudlin.
Episode Five picks up when we meet a host (a gaggle? A Mischief?) of variant Loki, pulled from hither and yon in the Marvel comic book universe. The one bit of fun the series offered was the introduction of ‘Alligator Loki’ who might just be an alligator in a Loki hat, or even a manifestation of the baddie behind all baddies.
While I was pondering that, the creature went all Peter Pan’s crocodile and bit off another Loki’s hand. Well, at least I laughed. But even this sequence was overshadowed, by this point, by Loki’s developing, albeit doomed, relationship with Sylvie, which was just creepy and weird, and not in a good way.
Loki himself is an interesting character. Recent scholarship suggests that in Norse mythology, Loki’s name means knot, or even “entangler”, which gives the character a literary quality to modern, critical ears (think ‘denouement’ which, depending on context, can mean the tying together of plot strands or their final unravelling). Loki’s gender fluid nature also makes him a god for today’s questioning times. In myth, Loki became a mare and gave birth to Odin’s eight-legged steed Sleipnir. In comics, Marvel has, at times, sought to integrate their Loki with he/she of the Prose and Poetic Eddur. Their character retains a lot of the fun that wasn’t apparent in this TV series.
Alas, Episode Six’s reveal of “He Who Remains” pretty much killed my interest in Phase Four. I don’t care what excuses the narrative provided for Jonathan Majors’ performance, it was ghastly; camp without cleverness, and his costume didn’t help. Majors flounced about like a childrens’ TV science presenter, while delivering no moves we hadn’t already seen. There are a multiverse of evil “Kangs” out there but at this moment, I am uninterested in meeting them.
I am, however, curious to meet the Fantastic Four, because although Kang has various other identities, including Rama Tut, Immortus and the Scarlet Centurion, he is currently just another identity of Nathanial Richards.
Fant4stic (2015) caused controversy by casting Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm, but will a rebooted FF be the MCU’s first African-American family?
A second season is now in development
Dear reader, a review is an opinion. Other opinions are available, including yours.
Available now from Panini UK
The God of Mischief is back! And he’s stronger, smarter, sexier and just plain sneakier than ever before.
As Asgardia’s one-man secret service, he’s ready to lie, cheat, steal, bluff and snog his way through the twistiest, turniest and most treacherous missions the All-Mother can throw at him!
Collecting Loki: Agent of Asgard #1-10 & All-New Marvel Now! Point One #1
With a silver tongue and a snake-like smile, Loki’s here to shake things up and give the people what they think they want – an honest liar in charge! But is this merely another scheme? This Presidential election just got a lot more interesting…
Plus! We go from spinning lies to spinning webs as Loki teams up with the wall-crawling Spider-Man to stop a dangerous sorceress, along with a classic retelling of the Trickster God’s first encounter with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers!
Reprinting Vote Loki #1-4, The Amazing Spider-Man #503-504, material from Avengers #300 and Journey into Mystery #85
• LA Times: Marvel’s ‘Loki,’ explained: An episode-by-episode guide (Some subscription only links)
This article, published last month, reveals why Marvel’s Marketing for Loki is so important
Published 15th July 2021: This article contains details of the first five episodes of Disney+’s Loki, and maybe the finale. Maybe.
• Polygon: Loki’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw digs into her arc as Ravonna Renslayer
The strange comics history of Ravonna Renslayer
AS PROMISED – THE THANOSCOPTER CORNER!
Compiled by John Freeman
The Thanoscopter (also noted as the Thanos-Copter or Thanos Copter in some places) is a yellow helicopter with the word THANOS displayed on its tail, piloted by Thanos, first seen in Spidey Super Stories #39, published in 1979 and, in 2015, in the 250th issue of Deadpool.
The panels of the comics gained notoriety following the release of Marvel’s Avengers film franchise, with Thanoscopter later appearing in fan art, memes and online petitions
“I was just so pleased with just all of the fun easter eggs we managed to get into Episode 5,” says the British director of Loki, Kate Herron. “I can’t take credit for all of them because it was definitely a collaborative team effort. For example, the Thanos Copter, Kevin Wright, my executive producer, that was him.
“I didn’t know about that, and I remember he told me about it and I was like, ‘That’s so funny. We have to, can we put that in there?’ And they [Marvel] were like, ‘Yeah, we totally can.’ So I think that was really fun, and Throg obviously, getting him in.”
Packaged inside of its very own Cosmic Cube, in 2018 Hot Wheels pays tribute to 1979’s Spidey Super Stories #39 by recreating one of the most talked-about and unlikely vehicles in the world of comic books, the Thanos Copter.
• The Thanoscopter in LEGO Avengers!