Loki review, season two: Even Tom Hiddleston can’t save Marvel from turning into a failed state

The British actor returns as the Asgardian antihero for a time-hopping sci-fi adventure that’s too involved and difficult to get invested in

Louis Chilton
Friday 06 October 2023 06:41 BST
Loki Season 2, trailer

Loki has come unstuck in time. Not in an interesting, allegorical, Billy Pilgrim sort of way, but in a very literal, plotty sense: Tom Hiddleston’s impish mischief-god begins season two of Loki spasming between time periods. It’s an appealing idea, one would imagine, for Marvel Studios – the notion of being spontaneously yanked back to the past. The Disney-owned company – whose recent output includes streaming series She-Hulk, Moon Knight and Secret Invasion, and films such as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania – has increasingly taken on the feel of a failed state. What they would surely give for it to suddenly be 2012 again, when Avengers ruled the box office, and the world was a beckoning hand gloved in dollar bills.

Picking up where the first season left off, Loki sees Hiddleston’s martini-dry antihero confronted with a new reality, in which his friends at the Time Variance Authority (or TVA, in one of the show’s many instances of numbing jargon) seem not to recognise him. He’s shaken up, following his introduction to He Who Remains, a multiversal iteration of Kang (Jonathan Majors). Cast as the crossovering Big Villain of Marvel’s new era, Majors filmed his role in Loki season two before his arrest for domestic violence back in March (the actor has denied the charges and is set to face trial later this month). It’s a difficult situation for Marvel, with Majors’ innocence or guilt yet to be legally ruled upon, but I imagine the Creed III star’s substantial involvement in this series is an issue that many won’t be able to look past.

Without me going into specifics, Loki extricates its protagonist from this opening bind relatively quickly, and moves onto more liberated time-based capering involving Loki’s female self and paramour Sylvie (Sophia Di Martin). Hiddleston’s best moments come when he plays off whispery TVA agent Mobius (Owen Wilson), even if their buddy dynamic sometimes reads like two mismatched straight men straining for levity. Wilson’s exasperated company man may be the most winning performance in the show; recent Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan adds pep – too much, perhaps – as chipper TVA technician Ouroboros.

To Loki’s credit, there are some commendable elements here. The production design is impressive, with the retro-futuristic bureaucracy of the TVA an original, if just slightly drab, visual idea. The story is also genuinely unpredictable from one episode to the next, albeit fruitlessly so: unmoored from time and space, it’s hard to care about anything that’s happening. The stakes are often so incomprehensibly high – whole universes, realities, on the precipice of oblivion – that they’re functionally meaningless.

More than anything, Loki has started to resemble what it truly is: an ill-advised spinoff in the old tradition. A too-bright spotlight for a side character who was never best suited to lead. A dinner comprising only hors d’oeuvres. The problem for Marvel is that Loki isn’t alone in this regard. It’s one series of pap among a multiverse of others.

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