The Marvel Cinematic Universe is nearly 3 years into its tenure on Disney+, and it has failed to coalesce into anything that feels as exhilarating or captivating as the franchise’s first decade in the zeitgeist. Sure, there have been some out-and-out successes (WandaVision, What If…) and some imperfect but vibrant cinematic experiments (Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel), but the massively popular studio has floundered a bit in its attempt to execute its post-Endgame phase largely on television. The first season of Loki came along when the MCU Disney+ era still felt shiny and new, and as such, it was just shiny and new enough to work. The second season is dropping into a much more cynical TV landscape, and while it’s a fun, eye-catching watch, it doesn’t quite have the juice to turn the franchise around.
Loki season 2 is an ingratiating mixed bag – one that looks so good and is filled with so many good-looking people that it’s too easy to ignore the fact that its sense of narrative coherence is nowhere to be found. The season picks up right where the first left off, with the trickster god turned roguish antihero Loki (Tom Hiddleston) facing a version of the Time Variance Authority that doesn’t recognize him. He’s also experiencing something called “time slipping,” a painful, jolting movement through time and space that looks like a horrific visual glitch. Time and space are out of whack, and the season focuses largely on setting the world right – and figuring out what the right world would look like.
You’d think a series that tackles big topics related to predestination, free will, and a whole host of ethical dilemmas related to the existence of variants would attempt to cultivate some depth, but Loki’s sophomore season is more focused on hopping from one crisis to the next than it is on making its characters’ world-shaping decisions resonate. A surplus of screen time is devoted to explaining plans that are quickly undermined or talking about complicated doohickies that are meant to save everyone’s lives but are forgotten a few scenes later. It can get exhausting, but new supporting castmate Ke Huy Quan single-handedly saves many of these scenes by playing his jack-of-all-trades character OB with a wry sense of humor. OB is at once cognizant that everything unfolding around him is nonsense and convinced that it makes perfect sense within the show’s own labyrinthine sense of logic. At its best, Loki has a Douglas Adams-like sensibility, presenting the ever-shifting end of the world as both serious and undeniably silly.
Another smart cast addition, Blindspotting star Rafael Casal, helps facilitate this tricky tone, but not every member of the ensemble is as well-utilized. Wunmi Mosaku’s Hunter B-15 falls mostly by the wayside, and Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie is partly sidelined too – though when she does appear, she feels more like the emotional heart of the show than ever. Jonathan Majors, who Variety has confirmed is returning as a variant called Victor Timely despite accusations made against him earlier this year, feels the most ill-fitted to the series. The new character slows down each scene he’s in, and Majors’ performance feels distractingly self-indulgent. The overcrowded cast list makes Loki season 2 a slightly bumpier ride than it otherwise would have been, but high points like Quan, Casal, and the charming one-two punch of Hiddleston and Owen Wilson’s Mobius keep the show moving. The latter pair’s low-key chemistry is on full display this season, and anytime the show focuses on their whimsical partnership, it’s better for it.
Overall, Loki season 2 succeeds most when it allows for comedic tension breaks, which are cleverly executed but a bit too few and far between. With the future of the world hanging in the balance, the first four episodes of the season possess the hurried pace of a story that’s all climax, and it’s impossible for any show to keep its high stakes feeling high for so long. Anytime Mobius cracks a joke or he and Loki take time out to eat a slice of pie, glimpses of another, more wholly enjoyable show shine through. Instead, the show builds impressive set pieces and visits intriguing time periods, only to speed past them as if in a rush to make it to the next jargon-filled discussion about the mechanics of time and the TVA’s master plan. Character motivations are constantly re-explained yet still remain muddy, and too often the show feels like it’s moving its chess pieces around to no real end.
Despite its shortcomings, Loki season 2 looks amazing. New genre favorites Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who specialize in trippy sci-fi stories with a disturbing edge, direct several episodes of the show with a keen eye for both the beauty and the strangeness of its world. Plenty of complaints have been made about the artless Marvel “house style” that can make the work of auteurs feel unrecognizable, but that’s not a problem here. Instead, the show plays with visual textures, shot compositions, and editing choices that perfectly complement its retro-futuristic TVA setting and accompanying cosmic undertones.
Narratively, Loki season 2 is as messy as anything else in the recent MCU repertoire, but it benefits from a strong cast and a cool cinematic style that feels like an oasis in the desert of homogenous-looking blockbusters. With 2 episodes unavailable to screen, it’s unclear whether the season sticks its landing or continues overindulging in its less coherent elements. If the show could just follow Mobius’ lead and slow its overwrought plot down long enough to enjoy a piece of pie, it might yet live up to its full potential.