The Marvel series “Loki,” which debuted on Disney+ two years and three months ago — a mere 27 months! — is back for a second season. If you’re looking for sarcasm, consider the irony that a show about time has really stretched the boundaries of a reasonable season gap.
Those who are more invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe may disagree, but it appears to be a blunder. The first season began with Tom Hiddleston’s endlessly entertaining Loki, the Norse god of mischief, getting a taste of his own medicine in the bowels of the Orwellian-sounding Time Variance Authority, before teaming up with Owen Wilson’s laconic TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius to… honestly? I can’t even remember.
But the universe’s fate is at stake! And Kang, the agent of chaos also known as He Who Remains, played by Jonathan Majors, is at the heart of it all.
Majors, as you may recall, is dealing with some real-world issues of his own. The actor was charged earlier this year with assaulting and harassing his then-girlfriend, and the case is still ongoing. He’s also been accused of being violent or abusive in other workplaces. All of this casts a shadow over his presence here. Even his performance — primarily as one of the character’s variants, a crazed professor named Victor Timely — feels like it came from a Saturday morning cartoon, with clunky choices and a halting delivery. “We don’t need him,” says one character at one point. “Maybe we never did.” It’s a line that works as a comment on Majors’ presence, as if the series is all but (inadvertently) admitting the obvious.
The six-episode season picks up where the previous season left off, with Loki fleeing through the halls of the TVA, pursued by Mobius, who doesn’t seem to recognize the man. That’s because Loki is time-traveling and we’re in the past, before he and Mobius met.
Finally, Loki convinces Mobius to stop the dogs and listen. He forewarns of impending war. And it all boils down to He Who Is Left.
Mobius: “That’s what he’s called.” “Is that what you’re calling him or is that his name?”
Thor: “That’s how I was introduced.”
“Pretty arrogant,” says Mobius. It’s like claiming to be “Last Man Standing.”
Wilson underplays everything, regardless of the project, and it works here to add weight to the series. I particularly enjoy a quieter moment between the two, when they sit down for a slice of Key lime pie and consider their options. What show couldn’t take a break for a slice of pie?
Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan (“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once”) joins the cast as Ouroboros, also known as OB, the TVA equivalent of the information technology department. There’s a clever scene where he, Loki, and Mobius experiment with different ways — mid-time slippage — to solve Loki’s problem.
But, in the end, they have bigger issues to deal with, such as a battle for the soul of the TVA, which is on the verge of collapse. Entire timelines will vanish and people will die (despite many heartfelt speeches to the contrary), and there are significant concerns about the temporal look, whatever that is. Welcome to the club if you suddenly feel like you’re failing a physics class. Quan, on the other hand, is an excellent addition to the cast, frantically running around the TVA shouting jargon and attempting to rig a fix. You half expect him to steal a line from another franchise: “I’m giving her all she’s got, captain!”
It’s probably best to approach “Loki” as a pure action-adventure film, disregarding the plot. (Spoiler alert: there is no plot.) It’s a collection of set pieces, some of which are better than others. When Loki and Mobius attend a movie premiere, the sight of Hiddleston looking dapper in a tux reminds them of the James Bond they might have been.
They travel through different time branches sparingly, and we get just a smidgeon of them (Mobius really) noodling around during a trip to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago to gather up Victor Timely and bring him back to the TVA so that his aura can be scanned in order to open the blast doors. Bravo to the cast for delivering these lines with a straight face.
If there’s one thematic thread in “Loki” that I wish writer Eric Martin had pursued more aggressively, it’s this: The TVA employees have all been abducted from their respective time branches, their memories erased in order for them to function as drones. There may be a critique of capitalism’s heavy hand buried in there, but the show quickly moves on from it. There’s nothing to see here, people!
The show’s calling card is the retro-futuristic production design (by Kasra Farahani), which includes bulky computers, rotary phones, reel-to-reel machines, and pneumatic tubes. At the TVA, there’s even an Automat. That is a fantastic detail. Christine Wada, the TVA’s costume designer, has dressed the TVA’s office workers in a shirt-and-tie ensemble with an endless collar that extends subtly on both sides to blend into the shoulder. It’s an intriguing garment!
If emo Loki is a drag — “Stop trying to be a hero,” someone says, “you’re a villain.” You’re very good at it. Do it.” — Hiddleston adds a touch of class to the whole thing. Nonetheless, he lacks character motivation. Loki appears to be concerned about the fate of the many unseen people who exist across all time branches. Those branches are visualized on a large screen in the control center, which looks like a diagram of veins and arteries.
Unfortunately, there is no heart.
2.5 out of 4 stars
TV-14 is the rating.
Disney+ is the only way to watch.
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