Since at least Westworld in 1973, Hollywood has adored making films about how the massive industrial bureaucratic machine of Hollywood creates pictures. The new Disney+ MCU Loki movie picks up where Jurassic Park and The Truman Show left off. It gives you a glimpse behind the curtain, to the place where dreams are made by boring paper-pushers, lawyers, and cubicle dwellers.
The meta-story is cleverly performed. There’s one gag in which you find out that the all-powerful infinity stones are used as paperweights by clerks as if they’re just props—which is what they are. But possibly the best part of the show is that it understands that all the planning and cataloging and coordinating plotlines don’t work without some fire of chaos. At least after the two episodes available for review, Loki movie is the most openly demystifying MCU narrative. But it’s also one of the few that survives to retain a bit of genuine mystery.
LOKI MOVIE : CHAOTIC ROLLER COASTER
The series is set after Avengers: Endgame. In that story, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), God of Mischief, died protecting the universe from Thanos. However, to defeat Thanos, the Avengers had to go into the past, to 2012 when Loki was less into battling the good fight, and more of a megalomaniacal mind-controlling God of evil bent on the conquest of the world. After being defeated, bad Loki in the past can use the turmoil resulting from superheroes Chrono jumping to seize the Cosmic Cube and teleport away. He believes this means he gets to fight another day. But before he can get far, he’s seized by the Time Variance Authority (TVA). They notify him that he’s mixing up with the single sacred timeline set by the three lizard-like Timekeepers. He’s due to be erased from existence. Unless he agrees to help the TVA defeat a much more powerful and vicious time oddity.
The Timekeepers here are an obvious metaphor for Kevin Feige and the boring people who run the MCU. The joke is that these pedestrian corporate drones are in charge. All the colorful empowerment fantasies and megalomaniacal wizard demons have to do their bidding. “You ridiculous bureaucrats will not dictate how my story ends!” Hiddleston declares with a mix of godlike indignation and petulance. But he’s wrong. The bureaucrats do write the end of his story over and over. And since Loki’s a villain, as Mobius (Owen Wilson), one of the TVA agents tells him, that means the end of his story is always that he loses humiliatingly so that, “others can achieve their best versions of themselves.”
The remorseless plot teleology of villains who always lose and heroes who always win has been a scourge upon the first two MCU Disney+ shows. Both WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier felt all along like they were trundling along towards a pre-approved TVA end. We always knew that WandaVision was an illusion and that in the end Vision would still be late and Wanda would be back with her grief. Falcon and the Winter Soldier was always taking off to end with Sam becoming Captain America. The holy timeline was already set by the Timekeepers in the movies. The TV shows were just providing elaboration and filigree as we headed towards the unavoidable fate.
Loki movie protagonist is different. He died. The star of this series is an alternative Loki, and it’s not precisely clear what his story is, or will be. We’re not sure whether he’s a hero or a villain. At moments, he seems apologetic about how much harm he caused in the timeline he never completed. And then he learns about the destruction of his home and family and just shrugs before moving on to the next scheme. Hiddleston puts on a wonderful achievement here, shifting effortlessly from sincere deception to mendacious sincerity. You don’t know when he’s lying and when he isn’t, or what his lies are intended to obtain.
MARVEL STUDIOS BACK WITH A BANG :THE ETERNALS
Viewers have a feeling of where the old Loki fit into the MCU. But this Loki doesn’t fit. And if the central character doesn’t fit, then the narrative itself is out of tune. The timeline could go anywhere. In the MCU, the heroes always win. But it’s blurred whether Loki’s a hero, and more unclear what winning for him would imply.