Loki, the one-time Marvel villain played by Tom Hiddleston for over a decade now, is about to star in his own series. Instead of playing the scene-stealing antagonist – or, later, begrudgingly, sidekick – against Chris Hemsworth’s square-jawed Thor, the God of Mischief will finally be in full spotlight. It’s something fans have been asking for since the character first made his landscape-munching debut in 2011 2011 Thor – but the new show looks a lot more detached from the MCU than any of its previous adventures.
Loki is a new breed of series for Disney Plus. It’s the first one that intentionally feels like a capitalized spin-off. The first two Marvel shows, WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, played very different roles in the overarching storyline Kevin Feige oversaw over the last 23 odd films.
Those two shows may well be continuations of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, giving more breathing room and scope for exploring events that may have been referenced obliquely between films at an earlier stage of the Marvel experiment. WandaVision, at the end of the day, is a prelude to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; Falcon and the winter soldier is a lineup for the upcoming fourth Captain America movie rumored to have Anthony Mackie playing the star-spangled Avenger.
If someone was feeling particularly cynical, you could watch Loki as less tied to a grand storyline and more like Disney and Marvel just giving people what they want. Hiddleston’s portrayal of the character has long been a fan favorite. His repeatedly faked deaths and journey from murderous villain to near-hero speak to Marvel’s hard work to keep the character in the game.
It’s easy to watch Loki in a similar vein: Disney’s latest attempt to cash in on popularity by resurrecting Loki one last time for an adventure that will get fans who may not care about Wanda’s grief, Vision’s existential crisis, or Falcon’s internal struggles with race and power given in America to buy a Disney Plus subscription.
Loki is as much a thread of a natural story as a backdoor pilot with a shoehorn stuck in it Endgametime robbery. It’s not the bridge between blockbuster movies. It’s a show that tries to come out on its own and start a new story for the impostor god who – at least in theory – is less tied to future movies. But by the same approach, its relatively unrelated status means there’s (besides pandering) the opportunity for Marvel to actually make a more standalone series that can actually be a good TV show, rather than just serve as blockbuster-lite fare stretching over too many episodes.
It’s a dichotomy that the original modern-day Marvel TV series — ABC’s Agents of SHIELD – struggled over his run. The earlier seasons still tried to cram themselves into a movie-limited box, with key plot points and character cameos dictated by the blockbuster release schedule, at the expense of the show. But once SHIELD started to ignore the films and carry on on its own (helped in part by the shaky relations between Marvel Studios and the separate, and now closed, Marvel Television division) it turned out to be a much better series.
By ignoring the bigger MCU movies, SHIELD was able to branch out with storylines like the Ghost Rider and Framework arcs instead of trying to hide between the movies. And the show’s final seasons—a time-traveling adventure—drop the “everything is connected” mantra that dominated the first two seasons completely overboard to become an almost completely self-contained series that didn’t suffer from awkward continuity issues or shoehorned. cameos.
Loki, as a character, has been the best so far in small doses: a mean twist here, a monologue there, a few back stabbings on the way to redemption. It’s possible that a full series is too much for the character – that Loki, without his brother’s foil or the Avengers, isn’t too convincing on its own.
But Loki could help elevate the Disney Plus series into more standalone stories that don’t just serve as way stations to movies (or at least as self-contained as a Marvel-related story can be). It’s a lesson the comics that all these movies and shows are based on learned long ago: sometimes the best stories are the standalone one-off spin-offs, not the 1000-song epics.