Time travel isn’t what it used to be.
Time was (ahem), any film or TV show that utilized the trope stood out as being rather special. Going back in time to fix mistakes, repair timelines, save the universe – it all made for important stakes and fantastical drama. Why, author H.G. Wells probably would have been astounded by home many variations based on his clever masterpiece The Time Machine spooled out of Hollywood. Everything from PLANET OF THE APES to DOCTOR WHO to BACK TO THE FUTURE to QUANTUM LEAP to GROUNDHOG DAY have done quite a riff on Wells. Time travel movies and shows have become perhaps the most reliable staple of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. (THE SIMPSONS even did one of their very best “Treehouse of Horror” episodes in 1994, with Homer discovering a time-traveling toaster. Hilarious!)
The trope may have reached its zenith when the Marvel Cinematic Universe utilized it as such a vital ingredient in the epic movie AVENGERS: ENDGAME in 2019. Traveling back in time to save the universe was so essential to our heroes in that storyline that the MCU powers returned to that ever-dependable trope time and time again throughout the features and shows they’ve done since then. There have been numerous live-action or animated Spider-man movies that have utilized it. So have sequels to Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy. And three of the major Disney Plus streaming series made it a huge part of their narrative: WANDAVISION, MOON KNIGHT or LOKI.
That latter series, the one starring the God of Mischief from the THOR franchise, placed Loki in a plot chasing down his various duplicates that had been unleashed on Earth via the shenanigans in AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Thus, the first season of the LOKI series made for a time-traveling character-study, almost a variation on Ebenezer Scrooge’s story, as Loki was forced to confront his past as well as his sins that led to ripples in the multiverse’s timeline. It was an inspired fantasy/comedy with Tom Hiddleston’s roguish Loki playing odd couple with his earnest Time Variance Authority (TVA) handler Mobius (Owen Wilson).
Now, as the second season starts, Loki is trying to figure out how to get the universe’s timeline back in order after unwittingly unleashing more ripples by trying to stop intergalactic overlord He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) from killing millions to thin out the herd of those on the overgrown timeline. Loki now needs all the help he can get and not only has Mobius at his disposal, but a number of TVA allies as well. If Loki’s first season was about introspection, this one is about taking action before it’s too late.
And, as evidenced from the first few episodes dropping on Disney Plus to start off season two, the bigger stakes make for both high comedy and tense drama. It’s fun to watch a panicked Loki rushing about from world to world to try and thwart the villain’s plan, but it’s also thrilling to know that this time, his mistakes have real consequences. One blunder and he might accidentally get millions killed. Not to mention he could eradicate his cohorts. With timelines all under pressure, there’s no clear certainty that Loki’s machinations could save the day. They could also screw things up irreparably.
Hiddleston is always fun to watch alone on screen, but this season he’s even more delightful playing off of the entire cast bouncing around him. His banter with Wilson is still a stitch, but so too is it with the ever-so-serious TVA police officer Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku). Hiddleston has great moments too with new regular Ke Huy Quan as O.B., a befuddled handyman in the basement of the TVA. Sylvie, the semi-love interest and ‘female Loki’ played by Sophia Di Martino continues to be a hoot too, and it’s great that the series still keeps milking the gag about Loki’s affections toward her meaning himself in its way. Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ravonna Renslayer returns too, this time wrestling with her conscience about the havoc she has added to by betraying the TVA. (She also looks to the manor born in the late 19th century period frocks this time out when they visit Old Chicago.)
Still, despite all those positives, there are some legitimate downsides to this second season. If anything, the ‘techno-speak’ mumbo-jumbo seems to have been dialed up to an 11. There’s too much blather about physics and tears in the timeline. Additionally, Majors struggles with his villainy here, as well as other versions of his character he plays in different periods. (He’s a little too straight for this comedy, if anything.)
The production values continue to impress, and it’s continually amusing how the show loves to make fun of the garish interior designs of the 60s and 70s. The visual effects are well-done, but also a bit cheeky, suggesting that the CGI wizards realize that of lot of the time travel here is designed to be amusing. I also like the sly lessons from Mobius interwoven about taking the time to stop and smell the roses, no matter how many universes you get to visit.
I do suspect that a lot of LOKI, season two, is the set-up for a much bigger story coming soon from the MCU on the big screen. Disney also likes to connect every single dot, but it would be a more satisfying watch if this show had more of a definitive conclusion to its second season. We had to wait over two years to get this one, and it’s all just to set up a new Avengers film, then the time spent here may be wasteful. Let’s hope not, because so far this season is a lot of fun and seems to be going somewhere, even if that somewhere may exist in several multiverses.