The slow wind-up has characterized all three of Marvel’s Disney+ series, but the pacing feels particularly sluggish — and the endgame, pardon the expression, elusive — watching the first two episodes of “Loki.” Seeing Tom Hiddleston reprise his role as the suave Thor villain certainly has its charms, but thus far the god of mischief hasn’t taken the shape of a wholly compelling concept.
Part of the difference between this latest Marvel show and predecessors “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which offered similar promotions to supporting players, stems from the lack of a clearly mapped direction. In the former’s case, it was Wanda working through her grief, while consciously satirizing the long history of sitcoms. In the latter, the story built toward the transfer of Captain America’s shield into new and deserving hands.
“Loki,” by contrast, initially exists primarily as a showcase for Hiddleston, picking up the string from a loose end in “Avengers: Endgame” and teasing it out (and out).
As the introduction reminds us, Loki escaped into parts unknown during the events of “Endgame,” as the Avengers tinkered with the past to alter the future. The result of that has left a Loki “variant” (a term with another distracting usage right now) on the loose, drawing the attention of an organization whose mandate is to police the time continuum.
The problem with time-travel plots is that they tend to work best the less you dwell on the details. Thanks to the premise, the audience can think about little else, since the source of the drama (and considerable comedy) fixates on the threat that a glitch in time poses to reality itself.
The program’s primary kick thus boils down to Hiddleston, as well as his interactions with time cop Mobius (Owen Wilson), who realizes Loki isn’t trustworthy but sees him as the means to an end. An early template would be “It Takes a Thief,” where a skilled cat burglar’s insights were employed to help catch other thieves.
With the time element and buddy aspect of that, the opening episodes could be called “Tom and Owen’s Excellent Adventure.” There’s less to do for the rest of the cast, which includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Mobius’ boss.
On the plus side, “Loki” looks fabulous, creating a bizarre world that feels distinctly different from other quadrants of the Marvel universe. Being weird, however — especially in those moments when it seems to be mostly for the sake of that — has its drawbacks too.
For the most part, Marvel has proven exceptionally shrewd in capitalizing on the Disney+ platform to offer richer characterizations than the movies allow, while providing the streaming service with marquee titles that echo through the pop-culture space.
Early on, the series asks a question at the heart of its appeal: “What makes Loki tick?” “Loki” clearly could have more tricks up its sleeve, since the format has dictated that these Marvel shows can only truly be judged at the end, not the beginning.
Even so, the clock is ticking on whether the series can rally enough during the remaining chapters to fulfill its promise, as opposed to simply killing time.
“Loki” premieres Wednesday, June 9, on Disney+.