At this point, it requires a mental effort to commit to a piece of Marvel content. The problem is that I know exactly what it’s going to be: a frothy comedy with some ugly CGI action sequences. WandaVision had its moments, but totally wimped out on following its internal logic to an honest conclusion. For a long time, every time a Marvel narrative has approached moral seriousness, it has veered skittishly back into irony, burying sincerity beneath a stream of sitcom joking.
Could Loki be the exception to the rule? As the story has developed, it has drifted worryingly into the same old Marvel tropes. But what a beginning! The premiere felt like a shot in the arm for the aging MCU—punchy, ambitious, smart, and patient. It even attempts to ask big questions about free will. It’s a lot of fun; it’s smart; it’s unpredictable. It’s … Marvel? It doesn’t feel like it!
Free will and choice are very relevant questions for Loki, Norse “god” of mischief, who, as the Big Bad in 2012’s The Avengers, strutted about pompously explaining to crowds that “the unspoken truth of humanity [is] that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”
Looking back at that Avengers speech on freedom, a character in Loki makes the point that those who rail against freedom are always those who consider themselves the superiors—the only ones who are truly free. “Freedom is an illusion,” is the text; “except for me” is the subtext. Loki thinks no one is free but himself, and he is … a god.