Loki, the one-time Marvel villain played for over a decade now by Tom Hiddleston, is on the verge of starring in his own series. Instead of playing the scene-stealing antagonist — or, later, grudging sidekick — to Chris Hemsworth’s square-jawed Thor, the God of Mischief is finally going to get to be fully in the spotlight. It’s something that fans have been asking for since the character first made his scenery-chewing debut in 2011’s Thor — but the new show looks far more detached from the MCU than any of his previous adventures.
Loki is a new kind of series for Disney Plus. It’s the first that intentionally feels like a capital-S Spinoff. The first two Marvel shows, WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, occupied very different roles in the overarching storyline that Kevin Feige has been overseeing for the last 23 odd films.
Those two shows are arguably continuations of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, providing more breathing space and room for exploration of events that might have, in an earlier phase of the Marvel experiment, been obliquely referenced in between movies. 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 setup for the upcoming fourth Captain America film rumored to star Anthony Mackie as the star-spangled Avenger.
If one were feeling particularly cynical, you could view Loki as being less tied to a grand storyline and more to Disney and Marvel just giving the people what they want. Hiddleston’s depiction of the character has long been a fan-favorite. His repeatedly faked-out deaths and journey from murderous villain to an almost-hero speak to Marvel’s hard work to keep the character in play.
It’s easy to look at Loki in a similar vein: the latest attempt by Disney to cash in on the popularity by resurrecting Loki one last time for an adventure that will get fans who might not have cared about Wanda’s grief, Vision’s existential crisis, or Falcon’s internal struggle with race and power in America to pony up for a Disney Plus subscription.
Loki is a natural story thread as much as a shoehorned backdoor pilot stuck into Endgame’s time heist. It’s not the bridge between blockbuster movies. It’s a show that’s attempting to strike out on its own, starting a new story for the trickster god that’s — at least in theory — less tethered to future films. But in the same approach, its relatively disconnected status means that (in addition to pandering) there’s the opportunity for Marvel to actually make a more standalone series that can actually be a good TV show, instead of just serving as blockbuster-lite fare stretched across too many episodes.
It’s a dichotomy that the original modern Marvel TV series — ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — struggled with over its run. The earlier seasons still attempted to stuff themselves into a box constrained by the films, with major plot points and character cameos dictated by the blockbuster release schedule, much to the detriment of the show. But once S.H.I.E.L.D. started to ignore the movies and strike out on its own (helped in part by the fraying relationships between Marvel Studios and the separate, and now shuttered, Marvel Television division) it became a far better series.
By ignoring the larger MCU films, S.H.I.E.L.D. was able to branch out with storylines like its Ghost Rider and Framework arcs instead of trying to hide in the cracks between movies. And the show’s final seasons — a time-travel-infused adventure — completely jettison the “everything is connected” mantra that dominated the first two seasons to become an almost completely standalone series that wasn’t weighed down by awkward continuity issues or shoehorned cameos.
Loki, as a character, has been best in small doses so far: a villainous turn here, a monologuing speech there, a few back stabbings on his way toward redemption. It’s possible that a full series for the character will be too much of a good thing — that Loki, absent the foil of his brother or the Avengers, just isn’t too compelling on his own.
But Loki could help elevate Disney Plus’ series into more standalone stories that don’t just serve as way stations toward films (or as standalone as a Marvel related story can be, at any rate). It’s a lesson that the comics that all these movies and shows are based on have taught long ago: sometimes the best stories are the standalone one-shot spinoffs, not the 1,000-issue epics.