Time-bending 'Loki' has potential once it puts the past away
The first episode of "Loki," now streaming on Disney+, offers glimpses of a clever sci-fi pastiche in between rehashed scenes from the Marvel villain's previous film appearances. Tom Hiddleston's god of mischief, the main antagonist in 2011's "Thor" and 2012's "The Avengers," took a convoluted path from the big screen to your living room, and this week's 51-minute premiere goes to great lengths to explain it.
Of course, the hard-core Marvel Cinematic Universe fans already know it, and the uninitiated won't be able to follow it -- they'll just wonder why they're watching Loki watch scenes from his own movie. (This literally happens.)
Surely the subsequent episodes, which will premiere at 2 a.m. over the next five Wednesday mornings, will be more forward-looking now that the setup is out of the way.
The reader-friendly version of that setup: Archvillain Loki breaks the space-time continuum when he steals a magical cube called the Tesseract from the Avengers, and is captured by timecops called the Time Variance Authority. Instead of being imprisoned, he's recruited by Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson, a perfect counterweight to Hiddleston's preening trickster) to help the TVA hunt down another time-traveling criminal. You'll find out who in the last scene.
Not content to merely be a continuation of the biggest movie franchise in the multiverse, "Loki" also revels in science-fiction homages. The TVA's drab offices recall the obtuse bureaucracy of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." Some key exposition is delivered by a cartoon character named Miss Minutes, who must be a distant cousin to "Jurassic Park's" Mr. DNA. There's a cityscape that looks like a matte painting by French comic-book artist Jean Giraud (his pseudonym: Moebius). And the glorious synth-heavy music by Natalie Holt will please fans of "Blade Runner" and "A Clockwork Orange."
Creator Michael Waldron is no stranger to comedy and sci-fi, having been a writer for "Community" and "Rick & Morty." The director, Kate Herron, previously helmed four episodes of "Sex Education," a British import made popular here on Netflix. Their show has the potential to be the best Marvel/Disney+ collaboration yet, a riff on "Doctor Who" where the doctor is a certifiable monster.
January's "WandaVision" was, until its finale, a delightful departure from the Marvel formula that lampooned television tropes and told a relatable story about personal loss. And then it ended with two witches flying around shooting magic at each other, and the notion that all the tragedy suffered by its heroine (Elizabeth Olsen) can be undone.
This spring's "The Falcon and The Winter Soldier" rightfully put Captain America's shield back in the hands of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), but not until we slogged through five episodes of uneven writing and confusing filmmaking.
"Loki" begins as half of a good show. Hiddleston and Wilson seem like the right duo to make it whole.
• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor who particularly enjoyed the joke about the Infinity Stones in this episode.