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October 22 2021 7:08 PM ˚

Is ‘Loki’ a True Marvel Variant? Or Just a Fun Experiment?

(Photo: Unsplash)
(Photo: Unsplash)
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One thing Marvel knows how to do is expand a story. Think back to the nascent days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the early 2000s. The so-called phase one was about building out the superhero roster with individual film narratives that would dovetail into a big crossover movie: “The Avengers.” A decade and a half later, the crossovers are old hat, the Easter eggs are expected, and a spate of new movies and TV shows continue to provide an influx of stories and characters that branch off into their own universes.اضافة اعلان

You could even say the MCU resembles a branching timeline; that’s what a member of the Time Variant Authority, or TVA, the bureaucracy at the center of the Disney+ series “Loki,” would say. Because for all the interdimensional fun the series has, “Loki,” which wrapped up last week, is a philosophical dialogue that also functions as a metacommentary on Marvel’s storytelling. The show’s central theme about the value of order versus chaos reflects how the MCU, as it expands across Disney+ and beyond, alternatively presents and breaks from contained, linear narratives and rote character types.

Although Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the sometime nemesis and sometime ally of the Avengers, was killed by Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” the Asgardian now appears — resurrected! — in his own series. But it’s only a resurrection in a branding sense: The series centers on an earlier version of Loki, one who escapes the Battle of New York, from the first “Avengers” film, with the all-powerful glow-box (known as the Tesseract). His escape with the Tesseract causes a branch in the timeline, an offense that gets him first arrested by the TVA and then recruited by one of the group’s agents, Mobius (Owen Wilson), to help catch a female “variant” Loki (Sophia Di Martino) who has been disregarding the rules of other timelines. In an inspired, if awkward, Freudian twist, the two Lokis fall for each other and team up to dismantle the TVA before eventually finding themselves at odds.

From the beginning, “Loki” was an odd addition to the MCU because it, like the recent “Black Widow” film, tried retroactively to give a back story and growth to a character who was already dead in the central MCU timeline. More intriguing, it repositioned a character who had been an antagonist and a foil to Avengers like his adopted brother, the Norse golden boy Thor, as the hero of his own story, one that undermined what we had already seen happen in the franchise.

By making another version of Loki a hero, the series itself is acting as a variant. In general, Marvel has been using its latest Disney+ shows to deviate from the often wearying, even oppressive, timeline that the films have established. These side stories open up the world to more subtle, interesting narratives: “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” allowed their heroes to develop in terms of both superhero abilities and emotional depth.

But whatever their divergences, these stories always end up leashed to the main MCU narrative: Marvel’s own inviolable timeline, which often yields an awkward result. “WandaVision” used its classic TV parodies to cleverly explore the contours of grief and emotional escapism until its “Avengers” adjacency apparently demanded a requisite explosive ending. Sam Wilson (Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) wrestled with trauma and its consequences, but the specter of Captain America and the question of whether Sam would ultimately take up the shield took over the story in the end.

In “Loki,” the Asgardian discovers that everything is predestined, even his identity. Loki is supposed to be a villain, and he is supposed to lose. There are no other options. What the series asks is, how does a character whose purpose is simply to accentuate, by way of contrast, the strengths and flaws of others lead his own story?

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