"The first and most oppressive lie ever uttered was the song of freedom."
Disclaimer: Spoiler-free review based on the first episode only.
An addendum has been added following the series conclusion.
Succeeding the grounded Falcon and the Winter Soldier is Marvel Studios' Loki, created by Michael Waldron and directed by Kate Herron. Following a 2012 variant of the titular character (played by Tom Hiddleston), who, after attracting the attention of the Time Variance Authority finds himself on a bizarre journey of self-discovery in search of salvation. As a result of the outstanding quality of Marvel's two previous series, it's hard not to draw comparisons to this entry, despite the immensely different genres. So how does Loki stack up?
As far as a premiere goes, the show gets the job done. Frankly, it's quite jarring heading into Loki after the gritty finale of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, particularly due to the light-hearted comedic tone. Right off the bat, the biggest issue is said tone. In a blatant attempt to replicate the distinct style of Thor Ragnarok's director Taika Waititi, the writers bombard the audience with constant one-liners and, while some fit perfectly, many unfortunately fall flat. The genius of Waititi's style is his ability to flow between heartfelt and comedic moments without causing the viewer to bat an eye, which was not authentically preserved here. The sad reality is that, at least in the first half, this portrayal of Loki feels out of character.
Luckily, most of the qualms end there. As usual, Tom Hiddleston brings charm and charisma to the character and does a superb job of conveying emotion, particularly through his voice. Alongside him is Owen Wilson's Agent Mobius, a newcomer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After his introduction, the pilot truly picks up, due in no small part to his phenomenal chemistry with Hiddleston. Their conversations feel fleshed out and real, and work to bring a shallow variant of the villain up to speed emotionally with the version viewers knew and loved.
Luckily, the story works to balance out the oddities in Loki's character. In what might seem exposition-heavy to some, the show very carefully establishes its complex plot points in a way to discreetly avoid some of the pitfalls of Avengers: Endgame, and ironically answers some of the questions viewers had about Endgame. From Loki's amusing backstory to the poignant story beats, Loki feels like a fresh entry in the universe.
Marvel President Kevin Feige has stated time after time that Disney+ serves as a platform to explore new realms of stories to appeal to the diehard fans of the cinematic universe, and Loki is no different. The show can only be described as a fast-paced chase through time, with a hint of mystery thrown in. Stood next to its predecessors, Loki feels significantly more "Marvel-like" than the others but still manages to include the same messages of self-doubt and fear of failure that seem to be a recurring theme across the original series, albeit in its own unique way.
One shocking disappointment from such a unique show is the poor visual effects. Most of the green screening is horrendous, particularly inside the TVA, in which, what was intended to be a vast, bustling city, looks flat and robotic. On top of that, the time-manipulation effects look unpolished, and not on par with the quality expected of a Disney production. On the flip side, some scenes were downright gorgeous, particularly one featuring hand-drawn animation that's sure to leave some jaws on the floor.
Particularly with this type of series, nobody can say from just one episode how the story will shape up as a whole, but it promises an intriguing premise, fun surprises, and a slew of easter eggs.
Addendum: Throughout the next five episodes, the quality remained quite inconsistent. The main issue was the sloppy writing and confused story, featuring two filler episodes in a short, six-episode season. While the highs of Loki were quite high (episodes four and six), the lows were extremely low. Marvel opted to drip-feed information to the point that the full picture wasn’t even revealed until the final episode, when it became clear that Loki wasn’t a show meant to develop the titular character, but to set up future MCU projects in a way that felt somewhat disingenuous to the fan-favorite anti-hero. That said, the groundwork laid (particularly in the finale) was strong and did feel like a worthy payoff to the big questions after weeks of theory-crafting. Consistent positive points were the score as well as Owen Wilson’s "Mobius," and milage tended to vary on other aspects such as set design and dialogue. While calling this show inconsequential would be flat-out untrue, it‘s not unfair to say that the Marvel method of creating strong, self-contained stories went out the window here.