Marvel's WandaVision channelled David Lynch, and there were moments when the otherwise underwhelming The Falcon and the Winter Soldier threatened to turn into an unofficial sequel to Keanu Reeve's John Wick. So it was probably inevitable that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would eventually get around to its David Fincher moment.
That, at least, is how Loki (Disney +) is framed by its director, Kate Herron, who describes the series, which airs its first episode on Wednesday, June 9th, as "heavily influenced" by Fincher. Given that Fincher's most recent project was the dreadful Mank, this might not be quite the endorsement she thinks it is. Nor is it especially accurate – if Loki's enjoyable if often slight opening episode resembles anything it's Doctor Who remade by Wes Anderson.
We're watching a TV show set inside a movie set inside another movie. This raises deep questions about the nature of reality – a bit like whenever RTÉ tries to turn Marty Morrissey into a light-entertainment presenter
Loki is pacy and full of Marvel’s patented quips and zingers. First and foremost, it’s a showcase for Tom Hiddleston as the eponymous trickster god and estranged brother of Thor. It’s also got Owen Wilson as a senior figure at the Time Variance Authority, or TVA, a bureaucratic organisation charged with keeping time flowing in the correct direction. Think of it as An Bord Pleanála for temporal distortions, only without the Thanos-like hostility to high buildings.
The action opens with the flashback within a flashback from Avengers: Endgame, in which Tony Stark and the gang revisit the first Avengers film. In other words, we're watching a TV show set inside a movie set inside another movie. This is obviously hugely unmooring and raises deep questions about the fundamental nature of reality – a bit like whenever RTÉ tries to turn Marty Morrissey into a light-entertainment presenter.
Marvel aficionados will know what happens next. As the Hulk spreads chaos, the enterprising Loki grabs the interstellar McGuffin that is the Tesseract and vanishes. Alas, rather than conveying him to safety, the Tesseract sweeps him off to a desert, where he is arrested by TVA officers for mucking up the space-time continuum.
Loki, we discover, is no longer fully himself. He’s a “variant” – an interdimensional anomaly whose mere existence threatens the quantum foundations upon which the universe is built.
So it’s off to the TVA with him. Much comedy ensues as this organisation devoted to keeping time ticking over is revealed to be a Kafkaesque twilight zone with a colour scheme and technology straight from a mid-1970s county-council office.
And with Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s TVA judge Ravonna Renslayer set to pass judgment on Loki, it looks like he’s set for a sticky fate. But then Wilson’s Mobius intervenes. He sees the good in the god of mischief and hopes to convince Loki that he has the potential for redemption. This isn’t mere altruism. A dangerous foe is tracking down and eliminating TVA officers in the field. Might Loki be the one to stop them in their tracks?
Loki is the third MCU show to debut on Disney+, and it falls somewhere between its predecessors. It’s nowhere near as avant-garde as WandaVision yet far less conventional than The Falcon and the Winter Solider. For now, however, what it really has going for it is the double act of Hiddleston and Wilson, who share a cracking chemistry as they sling back and forth across the centuries. We’ll have to wait and see whether that’s enough to sustain an entire series.