'Loki' borrows one brilliant trick from 'Captain America: Winter Soldier'
“I am burdened with glorious purpose.”
Those two shows spent their screentime exploring MCU characters who had only been supporting players up to that point. They revealed new emotional sides to their leads and did the work necessary to establish them as important figures in future Marvel movies. Loki is attempting to do something very different.
To put it succinctly: If WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were about building their leads up, then Loki is about tearing its down. It’s a deconstruction and reinvention happening right in front of our eyes on a level we haven’t seen since Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
How Loki forces change
Loki follows the “variant” of Tom Hiddleston’s God of Mischief who escaped with the Tesseract during the time heist in Avengers: Endgame. It’s a version of Loki from 2012 who has yet to undergo the same emotional maturation and growth he did in Thor: The Dark World and Ragnarok. When we meet him again at the start of Loki, he’s the same arrogant, conniving, and self-aggrandizing figure who considered himself the destined ruler of Earth.
It’s an odd and admittedly jarring reintroduction to the character coming off his emotional death in Avengers: Infinity War — and Loki’s writers know it.
That’s why, rather than letting him stay that way, the Loki creative team uses the character’s post-Battle of New York adventures against him. It’s why they put him in a room with access to his entire MCU story, and let him witness the results of his future actions. That includes his accidental help in the death of his mother and, yes, his death at the hands of Thanos.
In one fell swoop, the series uses established MCU canon to turn Loki’s world upside down and forces him to look inside himself in an unexpected and emotionally vulnerable way.
Loki’s defining traits
How do you deconstruct a character in a way that leaves them with no other option but to change? If you’re George R. R. Martin, you might create a character who defines himself by his ability in combat — and then cut off his sword hand. If you’re Kevin Feige and the Russo Brothers, you might take a character defined by his selfless sense of national duty and reveal that his superiors are corrupt. If you’re Taika Waititi, you take away your swaggering hero's magic hammer and cut off his beautiful hair.
If your character is Loki, you’ll take away his sense of superiority and power and then show him where his arrogance and trickery leads.
That’s just what the Loki premiere does. It puts Loki in a situation where he is alone — feeling no need to hide his emotions from others — and forces him to watch his future in all its, well, glory. It’s a brilliant narrative twist and one that is believably powerful enough to motivate the vulnerable, self-reflective admissions that Loki makes to Owen Wilson’s Mobius just moments later.
It doesn’t hurt that Tom Hiddleston manages to beautifully communicate and navigate the wide range of emotions Loki experiences while watching his future moments. The guilt he feels at watching his mother’s death, tearful joy at hearing his father (Anthony Hopkins) sayhe loves him, horror of watching himself die, and the bitterness over the nature of his death are all palpable thanks to Hiddleston’s performance.
The Inverse Analysis — Marvel has rarely ever deconstructed one of its characters as openly and aggressively as it does in the Loki premiere. The series’ narrative techniques feel reminiscent of the way Captain America: The Winter Soldier robbed Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) of many of the things he built his identity around — and that’s a major compliment to Loki.
The Winter Soldier ended with Steve totally realigning his priorities and embarking on a mission not for his government or nation, but for himself and his best friend. It saw him learning to exist again outside of his star-spangled suit. The Loki premiere ends in a similar fashion, with its lead openly admitting to many of his biggest weaknesses and — most surprisingly of all — agreeing to help someone other than himself.
The fact that Loki’s emotional swerve works at all is a testament to both Tom Hiddleston’s performance as the character and the efficiency with which the episode’s script totally breaks him down. It makes his turn feel less like an abrupt MCU retcon and more like a natural evolution.
After all, not all of us may need to see our deaths in order to grow and evolve, but for a prideful and arrogant character like Loki, it’s the perfect instrument for change.
Loki is streaming now on Disney+.