'Loki' review: Season 2 raises the stakes and the confusion
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Considering the recent doldrums of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (diminished box office returns, depleted quality, and the death blows by Martin Scorsese), one of the recent bright spots was the first season of “Loki.” A 6-episode series that seemed unbothered by the expectations thrusted upon it, and untethered from the cinematic world building which had plagued the franchise. Plus, there was the whole Owen Wilson jet-ski monologue. It was also messy when trying to explain the logistics of time travel, though Tom Hiddleston’s laxed energy was always enough to pull you through to the finish line.
For the second season (the only Marvel Studios series to be given one), it’s much of the same, albeit the stakes have been raised considerably, but the plotting has become more complex. Whether or not one understands these mechanics in “Loki” season two could be the difference between enjoyment and utter despair. I fell in the middle. On one hand, enamored by the stylish production design and the return of both Hiddleston and Wilson (and a new character played by the immensely likable Ke Huy Quan!) and frustrated at its execution. Even rewatching the four episodes Disney sent in advance proved a daunting task.
The new season picks up in the immediate aftermath of season 1 where Loki was sent through a time portal by one of his variants, Sylvie (Sophie Di Martino) after she killed Jonathan Major’s He Who Remains (fans will know him as Kang, a new Thanos-esq baddie who was introduced earlier this year in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”). Now, with the risk of multiversal war at stake, Loki, working alongside the Time Variance Authority (TVA) and its members, including Mobius (Wilson) and hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), are trying to contain the fallout from Sylvie’s actions. The timelines are branching out in unpredictable ways and the TVA, usually pros when it comes to controlling the chaos, can’t get a lid on it.
What follows are laborious expositional scenes around implements dubbed “The Temporal Loom” or procedures called “time swapping.” And if not for the new character Ouroboros played by Ke Huy Quan, I’m not sure I would have tried to keep the narrative straight. Another issue is the lack of human qualities when it comes to these characters and their inability to dive deeper into their past selves. A key component of the new season is how folks like Mobius (and a new hunter played with swagger by Rafael Casal) were tricked into being a part of the TVA and had their memories erased. What kind of life did they lead before getting roped into all this madness? At least through four episodes (and only two remaining) it’s hard to see how this could be resolved.
Finally, the third episode brings back He Who Remains (again, played by Majors) and with it a boost of much needed energy, although the actor’s off-screen controversies could hinder one’s enjoyment. At least Majors seems to be having fun in a role that allocates him plenty of creative liberties. Like playing an eccentric scientist modeled after Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Elsewhere, the cartoon clock sidekick Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) is given a sizable upgrade and proves one of the more interesting arcs of this season. It comes in favor of demoting Di Martino who, outside a brief conversation about the power of free will, doesn’t equate too much. And for those keeping track at home, season two yields zero Alligator Loki’s.
Still, its wild and convoluted swings (no matter how small) offer a kinetic breath of fresh air compared to the formulaic tendencies of recent Marvel iterations. And infusing the show with someone like Quan is exactly how you keep things afloat. The rotating arsenal of directors (among them genre filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) bring their own flair of the dramatics, attempting to hook audiences with a silver of emotional investment that may or may not pay off.
I guess time will tell.
LOKI season two premieres October 5th on Disney+