Loki Season 2 is ending soon, and gosh, what an interesting show. It’s not perfect by any means. It can trod along slowly, dragging its heels along the floor. It can even be muddled at times. But I don’t think it’s controversial to say that right now – as Marvel execs reportedly panic about the future – that it’s the only thing the Marvel universe has going on that’s even remotely interesting right now.
Why is that? What is it about Marvel’s raspy gasp for television notoriety working when its films aren’t? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, and without spoiling anything for you, I think I know why. It’s character. Loki – more than the Marvels, or The Eternals, or Ant Man – has characters with… character. Not quirk. Not quippy. They’re interesting and multi-faceted.
As to who to give the credit to, it’s got to be a combination of the writers, directors and actors. The merits of Tom Hiddleston are well known to anyone familiar with his work, but Owen Wilson, Ku Huy Quan, Kate Dickie all breathe life into the excellent writing on display. That writing, first penned by Michael Waldron and then carried on by Justin Benson in season 2, is worth much praise. It has managed to present a time travel story – complicated by Marvel audience standards – and make it presentable to an average audience. Their writing also does wonder for building up each character and turning them into personalities you can be genuinely fascinated by.
This is found most obviously with Loki himself, though his growth beyond a cartoon villain isn’t exactly new with Loki. It’s more importantly found among side characters. It says a lot that right now that I care more about Mobius and Silvie than I do for Captain Marvel or Ant Man.
In spite of vast consequences laid bare in Loki season 2, the show is – at its heart – about the characters and the relationships between them. It’s about what they want, and what they don’t want. It’s about selfish desires, and personal agency. The time doodads and fancy gizmos are devices that allow for sometimes complicated, often intriguing interactions between Loki and his gang of historical outcasts. The writers clearly understand this well.
As do the directors. Season one director Kate Herron would jump in a phone box and shoot off to do Doctor Who, but both her and season two director Aaron Moorhead understand the value of keeping events up close and with the actors. Vast, epic events may be taking place, but we’re rarely zoomed out and glimpsing at them from afar. We’re right in their faces, seeing their reactions and diving inside their thoughts.
The sad truth of the matter is that it’s hard to care much about what The Eternals and Captain Marvel are doing because we are given little reason to care about their problems. They are so astronomical, so fanciful, that we’re rarely given time to connect to the people themselves. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is cool, smart, and badass but I don’t actually know who he is aside from an old soldier facing world-ending problems. Morbius likes pie, and jet skis, and has personal problems that are far less drastic but far more interesting than wondering if the guy who just served me chips is a skrull.
It’s with this hindsight that the current problems with Marvel become clear, at least to me. Scale it down, way down. You can’t get people to cry over Iron Man in Avengers Endgame if we don’t first see him eat a Cheeseburger, flirt with his secretary, and come to terms with his own personal issues. Dig further into that well that Loki is drawing water from, that the old Daredevil and Punisher shows did to, and build on that. Or, you can just bring Tony Stark back again… If you want, sure. Just don’t expect me to care.