“Loki” Season 1 Ends With A (Big) Bang

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

The cost of free will in the Marvel Cinematic Universe(s) was high: so high we can’t even begin to comprehend the vast number of ramifications that will spin out of Loki‘s climactic finale…so high that I’m still not entirely sure what actually happened in this episode, except that notably no one died, leaving all our major players on the board heading into what will surely be an even stronger and stranger second season (and oh yes, season two is very much a go: Clark Gregg spoiled that over a year ago, in fact, but a mid-credits stinger at the end of today’s episode outright confirms it).

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Sylvie and Loki | indianexpress.com

I do want to touch on that latter fact before we dive into the embarrassment of riches this finale has to offer in and of itself. Unlike WandaVision and (at least for now) The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki is not and was not planned to be a miniseries, which means its stories, thematic through-lines, and character arcs don’t all wrap up conclusively at the end of this first season. They each have satisfying payoffs for the time being, but…they’re a work in progress, which makes it more difficult to pass any kind of final judgment on them.

Take, for example, the romantic arc between our dual protagonists, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). Adored by some as a positive message of self-love, loathed by others as being just shy of incest, either way it’s been building towards something: and that something is a pretty powerful kiss in the final minutes of the episode, albeit one which Sylvie uses to her advantage so she can send Loki hurtling through a portal into another timeline while she deals with the series’ antagonist alone. That arc is by no means finished. Loki loves Sylvie deeply, and he makes that clear when he tells her he can’t bring himself to fight her. Sylvie loves Loki too, and it seems to physically hurt her because of how hard it is for her to trust anyone. That kiss is a great payoff to the journey these two have been on, and it can be a great building-block for future tension and conflict in their relationship.

Similarly, throughout the series we’ve seen Loki become capable of unprovoked acts of empathy, courage, and rational thinking for pretty much the first time in his life. That’s not to say he still doesn’t struggle: when Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) pops up in the Citadel at the End of Time like a horror-movie jumpscare to offer Loki and Sylvie the future of their dreams as a last-ditch effort to save the Sacred Timeline, the pained expression on Loki’s face and Natalie Holt’s gently wailing Asgardian theme (subtly reminding us of the pain and trauma Loki suffered on Asgard, the motivation for so many of his cruelest deeds) suggest that he’s strongly tempted to take what the animated clock is willing to give him – a timeline in which he prevails at the Battle of New York, survives his encounter with Thanos, and obtains the Infinity Gauntlet.

But the thing is, Loki wants to be a better person than what the Sacred Timeline has planned for him. He’s seen the best of what people – including his own Variants – are capable of, and he wants that, both for himself, and for the people whom he’s grown to love. He wants Sylvie to live the life of her choice, without the Time Variance Authority hounding her for whatever reason. He wants Mobius (Owen Wilson) to be able to live the life that was taken from him by the TVA, maybe even get a jet-ski along the way. He wants to be good, and the only way to do that is to free the timeline…which he does. And if Loki was a miniseries, this would have allowed for a triumphant conclusion to his arc. But it’s not, so this is merely the beginning of what can potentially be a fascinating internal struggle for him as he grapples with doubt, guilt, and perhaps an acknowledgment of the fact that he no longer has an excuse to not be good.

Oh yeah, no biggie, but Loki and Sylvie opened the Multiverse…for real, this time. We all kind of jumped the shark after episode two, thinking Sylvie bombing the Sacred Timeline was equivalent to creating a Multiverse (it wasn’t, and that was something the show nearly adequately clarified), and before that during the WandaVision era we all assumed Wanda would open the Multiverse even though, ironically, she ultimately progressed enough as a character to stop herself from doing that (different strokes for different folks), but this time there can be no doubt. The MCU has officially crossed what Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) refers to as “the threshold”, a Nexus Event from which there can be no turning back: the Sacred Timeline he’s worked so hard to design and cultivate is finally unraveling piece-by-piece, shedding billions of new branch timelines every moment, and making Multiversal war a matter of “when”, not “if”.

Speaking of which, this event clearly provides the launchpad for Marvel’s fourth Disney+ show and their first animated project, What If…?, which we can now surmise will kick off with this chronological equivalent to the Big Bang, exploring timelines diverging from the events of the MCU films. Spider-Man: No Way Home will also continue the Multiverse saga (suddenly, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are in the movie), and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness will either end it or further exacerbate the situation. Given that Kang is still officially set to make an appearance in Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, and the version of Kang we met in this episode is already dead, I’m inclined to guess the latter. Loki is also now reported to appear in Multiverse Of Madness, so let’s just say the MCU is getting weird.

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Kang The Conqueror | leisurebyte.com

I mean, I already suspected that when the Loki finale opened with the disembodied voices of our beloved Marvel heroes playing over the title cards, mixing with audio of real-life figures including Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Greta Thunberg, and Malala Yousafzai – all meant to convey the disorienting effect of crossing over from the Sacred Timeline, which takes shape as a ring encircling Kang’s Citadel, into an alien region outside of time and space. The Timeline’s circular shape is interesting to me: for one thing, it once again brings to mind images of the Midgard Serpent from Norse mythology, Loki’s monstrous offspring which wraps around the world and bites its own tail. But it also explains the strange nature of time in the TVA, how everything past, present, and future, seems to be happening simultaneously even though the TVA’s own diagrams misleadingly represented the Timeline as a straight line. Circles are potent symbols, as they can have both positive and negative connotations, representing everything from perfection, wholeness, and eternity (i.e. Sacred Timeline) to a sense of meandering and endless repetition. From Crystal Clear Intuition, “A circle protects against chaos and unpredictability, and invites an element of “trusting the universe””, which perhaps helps to explain why Kang chose it: it’s foolproof against Loki’s.

Before I start rambling about the symbolism of circles (and oh boy, am I tempted), let’s move on to my next point: which is that Kang actually wants the Loki’s to succeed, as long as they do it on his terms. It’s never explained exactly why (and that is something I wish we’d learned in this season), but he’s been guiding Loki and Sylvie to his Citadel specifically so they can take over as new heads of the TVA, continuing his life’s work (did I mention that circles also represent transition?) with the same set of authoritarian instructions for how to pick and choose which timelines get inducted into the Sacred Timeline, and which get pruned; sacrificing free will for the promise of stability across all of time. The other option, which Kang wearily admits will end up with him back in the Citadel in a couple of eons starting over again, is to kill Kang and free the timeline, thereby starting a Multiversal war and unleashing the infinitely more dangerous and evil Variants of Kang who also started the first Multiversal war.

Essentially, it’s like a dark and epic twist on Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, if Wonka was a maniacal Time Lord hellbent on controlling all of existence, and the Chocolate Factory and its workforce of Oompa-Loompas were the TVA and its army of cheerfully brainwashed Variants.

Now, it’s not quite perfect. The finale, despite being a lean forty-five minutes long with credits (and no post-credits scene), drags at points, and the bulk of the episode being Kang sitting behind a desk expositing in slow loop-dee-loops about the Multiverse while Loki and Sylvie sit stone-faced across from him and do little to engage with the information or react to it is neither compelling in theory nor heightened in execution by any outstanding narrative trick from the writers (even punctuating the conversation with more frequent action beats or slight changes in location would have helped to keep the episode running more smoothly), unique cinematography, or mesmerizing acting choices.

Jonathan Majors’ Kang is an interesting conundrum: simultaneously eccentric in a bold purple and green outfit with flamboyant, theatrical mannerisms, and muted, with slow and disjointed line deliveries just grating enough to provoke a sigh of relief when Kang finally drops the act, so to speak; revealing an exhausted, weather-beaten noble figure behind all the self-gratifying affectations of a character whom I was beginning to worry was looking mighty two-dimensional for a villain Marvel intends to keep around. But of course, he’s only the first of many Kang Variants to come, and this version of the character has long since dropped the Kang from his name and scoffs at the title of “Conqueror”: he prefers the honorific He Who Remains, an acknowledgment of his permanence, and an opportunity for an interesting conversation about how his name and even his identity matter less than his place and purpose in the timeline, which helps to make this Mystery Box reveal a success. With He Who Remains dead by the end of the episode, one can reasonably hope that when our next Kang Variant appears, he’ll embody more of that dignity which we only get to glimpse in this threadbare version.

And while it’s hard to imagine Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Kang’s love-interest in the comics, ever falling for He Who Remains, it’ll be interesting to see if the series pursues a romance between her and one of Kang’s Variants. Renslayer is one of those characters who’s really grown on me over the last few episodes, as Mbatha-Raw has gotten a chance to dig into what makes the villainous bureaucrat tick. She genuinely wants to know who’s behind the TVA, and she’s angry at being lied to, but not for quite the same reasons as Mobius or Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku): rather than being upset about having her past life stolen and erased by the TVA, she’s simply annoyed that something is preventing her from doing her job to the fullest and hurting the maximum amount of people that she could be hurting if she knew the will of the TVA’s founder. Near the episode’s end, she departs on a search for Kang that will inevitably lead her to one of his Variants – a far cry from her past life as an elementary school teacher in Ohio, but a way to keep the character deeply intertwined with Loki‘s story.

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Ravonna Renslayer | radiotimes.com

As for Loki and Sylvie themselves, the finale separates them in time for the cliffhanger ending that leaves Loki in an alternate timeline where the TVA is ruled over by a Kang Variant who makes his presence known with giant statues replacing those of the Time-Keepers, and Sylvie in the Citadel, watching with horror as the Sacred Timeline disintegrates before her eyes. A lifeless Kang with Sylvie’s sword plunged into his chest offers no guidance or words of advice for how to deal with the catastrophe. I guess it’s time to get Doctor Strange on the phone! And maybe Wanda Maximoff too, while we’re at it. We are totally going to see Marvel’s holy trinity of magic-users onscreen together in Multiverse Of Madness before we even get around to Loki season two, and I am HYPED.

Episode Rating: 8/10

“What If…?” 2nd Trailer Review!

In a franchise that has historically been very strict about what is and what is not canon (nobody knows that better than Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans), the medium of animation provides Marvel an incredible opportunity to expand upon the potential of Loki‘s Multiverse shenanigans and explore alternate universes branching off from the so-called Sacred Timeline – in an anthology series named What If…? that will remain (at least as far as we know) entirely separate from the live-action MCU. But although you might think that would narrow its appeal with hardcore fans who tend to get obsessive over the canon debate too, the broad variety of stories being explored in What If…? will likely make this a must-see event.

What If...?
What If…? | etonline.com

The format of the series is simple yet unique. One episode for each Marvel movie released thus far, but putting a twist on the version of events we know from our canon, and following the consequences of that twist down a winding rabbit-hole of endless possibilities. Until today, the marketing for What If…? had largely focused on just two or three storylines: one in which Peggy Carter took the Super-Soldier Serum during World War II instead of Steve Rogers and became Captain Carter (not Captain Britain, although the Union Jack is emblazoned on her vibranium shield); one in which a young Prince T’Challa was abducted from Earth by aliens and became a Ravager in place of Peter Quill; and one in which Bucky Barnes fights a zombie version of Captain America, in what I think might be the series’ Captain America: Civil War episode.

Everything beyond that had been just quick glimpses and unconfirmed rumors until today’s new trailer, which starts out in the back of an armored vehicle moving through the Middle East – yep, the same one where Tony Stark was ambushed in the opening of Iron Man and nearly got blown to bits by one of his own Stark Industries missiles, commencing his journey to becoming Iron Man. But this time around, something unexpected happens. Killmonger – as in Black Panther‘s Killmonger – leaps in to save Tony Stark’s life, effortlessly lifting the missile and tossing it into the sky. And from there, the trailer only gets weirder.

We see an armored Natasha Romanoff zipping through the battle-damaged streets of a city on her motorcycle, having been the only member of the Avengers to survive Ultron’s extinction-level apocalypse in Age Of Ultron. Pepper Potts, wielding some kind of high-tech gun, fights alongside Shuri and the Dora Milaje. Loki invades Earth, not with hordes of Chitauri aliens, but with Asgardian troops; while a tattooed frat boy Variant of Thor parties it up on the planet’s surface. Okoye hurls a spear at a levitating Wanda Maximoff. T’Challa and Yondu fight a muscular, cybernetically-enhanced Variant of The Collector from Guardians Of The Galaxy. Doctor Strange duels Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One. Howard the Duck is just…there, for whatever reason.

What If...?
Captain Carter | buzzfeed.com

Before Loki, I was intrigued but bewildered by the concept of What If…?, but now we know so much more about the mechanics of the Multiverse in the MCU that we can kind of get a sense of what’s going on, and perhaps even why. These are all timelines that branched but never got pruned, Nexus Events allowed to spiral further and further out of control, leading to chaotic crossovers with other alternate timelines, and what Miss Minutes described as “multiversal war”. We can see some of that going on in this trailer: Variants like Captain Carter and T’Challa as Star Lord won’t be confined to single episodes, but will also join forces across time and space – leading to a clever recreation of the iconic Avengers group shot in the first Avengers movie that also includes frat boy Thor, a Gamora Variant who’s dressed in golden armor like her adoptive father Thanos and is even wielding the Mad Titan’s sword, and a character who is possibly Killmonger, wearing the Black Panther suit.

Of course, if the Time Variance Authority isn’t around to prune these timelines and prevent a Multiverse, it raises the question of why. My guess is that at the end of Loki, the God of Mischief’s efforts to burn the TVA to the ground are successful, finally freeing the universe from authoritarian control and allowing time to do whatever the hell it wants. Whether the characters in What If…? will discover that and try to hop over into the MCU’s reality remains to be seen, but that could precipitate the Multiverse Of Madness which we know Doctor Strange will be dealing in with his hotly-anticipated sequel.

The only person who seems to have any answers is an ethereal cosmic being known as Uatu the Watcher, who will narrate the series and preside over events, hopefully cluing in audiences as to what’s really going on. Will he always remain on the sidelines, watching but never interfering with time? Will he be mentioned in the MCU at any point? Where does he even come from? As Darcy would say, “don’t know, don’t know, and…don’t know.”

What If...?
T’Challa and Yondu | nerdist.com

What I do know is that the animation on this series looks brilliant: crisp, clean, and richly detailed, allowing for the kind of spectacle sometimes unattainable in live-action except through extensive use of CGI. With the exception of Robert Downey Jr., the voice-acting is provided by the same actors who originated these roles in live-action, including Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, in what will be his final posthumous performance. And my expectations for the next wave of Marvel Disney+ shows are at an all-time high after the resounding success of Loki. I was always excited for What If…? because I’m a big fan of animation, but I’m sold on the concepts at play here too after this amazing trailer.

Trailer Rating: 8.9/10

“What If?” 1st Trailer Review!

Whereas the Star Wars franchise long ago learned how to span multiple mediums, with a strong foothold in the crowded field of animation thanks to series like The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t ever been quite as successful at that. But that’s all about to change, with the upcoming What If…? series that explores unbelievable alternate realities branching off from the main MCU timeline. What if T’Challa took Peter Quill’s place as Star Lord and traveled the stars? What if Peggy Carter, not Steve Rogers, took the Super Soldier serum and was transformed into Captain Britain? What if Stephen Strange…well, actually, I’m not entirely sure what it is we see Stephen Strange doing in this first trailer for What If…?, or how it’s much different from what he actually did in Doctor Strange, but it’s cool: whatever it is.

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T’Challa as Star Lord | comingsoon.net

What If…? will have episodes corresponding to each of the current MCU movies, though so far we’ve really only seen footage from a handful, particularly the Peggy Carter as Captain Britain episode (which, of course, correlates to Captain America: The First Avenger). Linking all the stories in this massive anthology is the mysterious character of The Watcher, voiced by Jeffrey Wright: a cosmic being composed of starlight. It’s unclear if The Watcher only exists in this show, or if he’ll make an appearance in the MCU movies as well. For now, though, he’s just a really cool voice.

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Captain America as a zombie | slashfilm.com

Speaking of voices, perhaps the most exciting thing about What If…? – apart from its intriguing premise – is the fact that it’s compiled the voice talents of almost all the actors in the MCU, even those who have since departed the franchise…or, tragically in the case of Chadwick Boseman, passed away. Boseman’s performance as an alternate Star-Lord (in either the Guardians Of The Galaxy or Black Panther episode: it’s still unclear) will quite possibly be the last of his brief but glorious career, and we hear just a snippet of his voice work in this first trailer.

I do hope that we soon find out more about this series, since thus far we still only know the basic premises of two or three episodes. There are quick shots of Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor, Captain Marvel, and, for some reason, The Collector from Guardians Of The Galaxy – all of them just look like how we remember them from the movie. There’s also that one tantalizing clip of Bucky Barnes fighting a zombie version of Captain America that we’ve seen before, but which still looks very interesting – and which I have to assume comes from an alternate Winter Soldier where it’s Steve Rogers, instead of Bucky, who was brainwashed by HYDRA: though why he got turned into an undead corpse is anyone’s guess.

What If
Peggy Carter as Captain Britain | geektyrant.com

What If…? also seems to have beautiful 2D animation, which is pretty rare these days and gives the series a unique look – nothing like the 3D animated Star Wars shows that we’ve seen before (and which, to be fair, look stunning and are proven successes). Whether What If…? fits into the great big jigsaw puzzle that is the MCU, or whether it’s just an awesome way to explore endless possible outcomes, I can’t wait to watch it, and I would rank this among the most exciting new reveals from the Disney Investors Call.

Trailer Rating: 9/10

Marvel’s Ghost Returning? Thunderbolts Explained!

It’s time for another Marvel theory! (I feel like I randomly make up times for Marvel theories because I don’t actually have a well-defined schedule for anything: well, we’ll say today is MCU Theory Saturday).

For today’s theory, we’re looking at some interesting comments made recently by Ant-Man And The Wasp actress Hannah John-Kamen (star of Netflix’s new series, The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance): the actress hinted coyly that her Marvel character, Ghost, might make an unexpected return to the big screen. Obviously, she can’t reveal too much about details – she mentioned that signing a contract with Marvel is like taking a blood oath not to spoil anything – but her words have already sparked a fair amount of debate among Marvel fans over where the quantum-phasing antihero could show up again.

Marvel's Ghost Returning? Thunderbolts Explained! 1
bustle.com

Some speculate that John-Kamen could be referring to a voice-acting role in the upcoming animated Disney+ series What If…?, which will explore 23 alternate timelines branching out from each of the 23 Marvel Cinematic Universe films: presumably, the Ant-Man And The Wasp episode will feature at least a bit part for Ghost, who was the central antagonist of the 2017 summer blockbuster. But that’s too easy an answer for me: I like a little more substance to my theories, so I’m going to say that, even if Ghost does show up there, there could be another place for the villain-turned-heroine to make an appearance – and in the main Marvel timeline, at that.

Over and over, for the past year or two, we’ve seen rumors that Marvel is considering a film (or even film franchise) based off the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers comic runs, two relatively similar stories that could easily be merged into one cohesive whole. In Thunderbolts, the one most likely to be adapted, a group of reformed villains and antiheroes comes together, sometimes under the leadership of Norman Osborn, sometimes under Helmut Zemo (who has already shown up once in the MCU, and will return in Falcon And The Winter Soldier next year). to sell their services to government organizations: lots of chaos results, as some of them revert back to their villainous ways, backhanded deals get made, and political mayhem erupts in their wake. The actual team roster has been pretty fluid throughout the years, but one notable iteration (Osborn’s Thunderbolts) included Ghost. Since Norman Osborn is a Sony character, and Sony isn’t sharing with Marvel anymore, it looks like Zemo could take his place as leader of the team, with no problems. Other Thunderbolts members have also been featured in the MCU already, but in bit parts, such as Justin Hammer, and Thaddeus Ross (the human alias of Red Hulk). Yelena Belova and Taskmaster, both of whom will make their MCU debuts in next year’s Black Widow, are also key members of the comic team.

It’s always a tricky business, handling villains and antiheroes and trying to make them sympathetic, but Marvel has done a pretty good job in their movies of achieving this: Ghost, for instance, was originally Ava Starr, who was debilitated by a condition that made her body literally fade in and out of existence and visibility – something which also allowed her to walk through walls and disappear from sight. While Ghost’s condition was at least temporarily healed by Janet Van Dyne and her Quantum Realm powers, it seems that she wasn’t fully cured by the end of Ant-Man And The Wasp, since the whole reason that Scott Lang went microscopic and got trapped in the Quantum Realm for five years was because he was looking for more antidote for her. She and her guardian, Bill Foster, haven’t been seen since, but John-Kamen confirmed that Ghost, at least, never died. Whether she was snapped by Thanos is unknown: it’s possible that she survived, and had to endure five more years of her excruciating pain – perhaps she’s been driven back to her dark ways, and is once again wreaking havoc? How long did she hold out hope for Lang’s return? Where is she now? All these questions could be answered in a Thunderbolts movie.

Then again, maybe she’s going to have a role in the third Ant-Man film: however, as of right now, there actually isn’t a third Ant-Man film, so…that’s a bit of an obstacle. Personally, if there is an Ant-Man 3, I hope that we get to see one of Marvel’s craziest villains (and another part-time Thunderbolts member), Gypsy Moth, on the big screen, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Ghost show up again, whether as an antagonist or in a supporting role.

How would you feel about Ghost returning to the MCU as a semi-reformed villain? Could Marvel pull off a Thunderbolts movie? Share your thoughts in the comments below!