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Mischief managed: ‘Loki’ equal parts workplace comedy, time-hopping adventure, murder mystery and superhero fantasy

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in Marvel Studios’ “Loki” exclusively on Disney+. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Illusion Projection involves depicting a detailed image from outside one’s self which is perceptible in the external world, whereas Duplication Casting entails re-creating an exact facsimile of one’s own body in its present circumstance, which acts as a true holographic mirror of its molecular structure. But you already knew that.” – Loki in “Loki,” talking in his Loki way about Loki’s powers.

If you ask me where the new Disney+ series “Loki” takes place along the MCU timeline, I’ll tell you the action primarily takes place shortly after the devilish God of Mischief made off with the Tesseract in New York City in 2012 (as seen in “Avengers: Endgame”), but at times it’s set in 1549 France and 1858 Oklahoma and 79 A.D. Pompeii and 2050 Alabama and even a Renaissance Fair in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1985 – but it’s actually more complicated than even that. That’s why the first two episodes of this breezy, funny, offbeat and potentially great spinoff are filled with moments when various characters and/or artificial entities take a pause to explain what’s happening and how it’s happening.

Even then, there might be occasions when all but the most hardcore of Marvel fans might feel they’re in the weeds, but that’s OK, because our love-to-hate-him, hate-to-love-him antihero Loki is often just as confused as we are as he endeavors to, well, to do his Loki thing.

With Tom Hiddleston once again combining impeccable comic timing with the occasional Shakespearean dramatic flourish as the title character, and Owen Wilson delivering some of the finest deadpan work of his career as Loki’s unlikely partner in crime-solving, “Loki” is a great-looking, well-paced, original piece that’s equal parts workplace comedy, time-hopping adventure, murder mystery and superhero fantasy. Thanks to the terrific cast, the first-rate production values and an intriguing storyline, this series has the potential to join “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” as an elite Marvel TV show.

Shortly after Loki grabs the Tesseract, literally falls out of the sky, lands in the Gobi Desert and proclaims, “I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose,” he finds himself arrested, restrained and unable to use his powers as he’s hauled off by the Time Variance Authority for “crimes against the Sacred Timeline,” and here we go.

The Timeline Variance Authority, aka TVA, is an infinitely vast and all-encompassing bureaucracy tasked with maintaining a universal timeline so all history can flow in the direction it’s meant to flow. Loki has been charged with being a Variant – someone who has veered off the path the Timekeepers have created and has thus thrown a roadblock onto the timeline. It’s a serious charge and Loki could spend years imprisoned within the seemingly endless TVA compound, which for all its omniscient technology and power looks like something out of the mid-20th century, from the art deco interiors to the clunky computers to the 1960s-era TV monitors to the fact everyone is bogged down with paperwork, actual paperwork. It’s all very weird and very eccentric and quite charming.

Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) and Mobius (Owen Wilson) in Marvel Studios’ “Loki,” exclusively on Disney+. (Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)

Owen Wilson owns the role of one Mobius M. Mobius, a veteran agent with the TVA who has the look and demeanor of a world-weary detective in a 1980s cop show. Mobius is fascinated by Loki and is his intellectual and psychological equal, and he persuades the highly respected Judge Ravonna Renslayer (the wonderful Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to allow Loki to team up with Mobius on a time-hopping mission to apprehend a Variant who has been committing mass murders across the centuries. Hiddleston and Wilson have an electric connection from the get-go, trading quips and barbs and verbally fencing every step of the way, to wit:

Loki: “I’d never stab anyone in the back; that’s such a boring form of betrayal.”

Mobius: “Loki, I’ve studied every moment of your entire life. You’ve literally stabbed people in the back, like, 50 times.”

Much of those first two episodes is devoted to setup and exposition, though we do get the occasional CGI-infused action sequence and an extended shape-shifting fight scene. This is an action comedy with Loki often on the butt end of the humor, but there are some dramatically effective moments as well, e.g., when Loki is given a glimpse of tragic events WE know about but he has yet to experience in this particular timeline.

Tossing his flowing black locks around like a 1970s rock star as he struts about, Hiddleston infuses Loki with bad-boy charm but also a wounded-soul vulnerability – the same formula that has made Loki a breakout MCU star since he first appeared onscreen. We can’t wait to see what Loki will do next, even as we realize there’s a 50-50 chance it will be something self-serving and terrible.

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