It's been nearly two years since the last Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home, hit theaters. But as fans anxiously await the July 9 debut of the long-delayed Black Widow, Disney+ has kept the superhero train going with its comic-focused series. And next week, fans will get a big infusion of MCU hijinks with the debut of Loki.
The six-episode series sees Tom Hiddleston reclaim the ornate headpiece of fan-favorite anti-hero Loki, a role he's inhabited for more than 10 years. The show looks bonkers, featuring alien worlds, time travel and an abundance of charmingly sinister banter from Hiddleston. But what exactly is this show about, and how will it affect the future — and the past — of Marvel's master plan? Here's what we know going in.
First things first, when does Loki debut?
Loki debuts Wednesday, June 9 on Disney+. It runs six episodes, with one episode dropping each week through July 14.
Ok, so what exactly is this show about?
The show will follow Hiddleston’s Asgardian God of Mischief and frequent bad guy Loki as he falls in with the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a clandestine interstellar bureaucracy tasked with ensuring that the very fabric of space and time isn’t torn apart by heroes and villains’ tendency to jump back and forth in time.
From the looks of the trailers, it appears that Loki’s time-hopping shenanigans (more on those in a moment) has led him to cause a rift across multiple timelines and dimensions. Working with Owen Wilson’s Mobius M. Mobius — an agent of the TVA — Loki will be sent back across the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in addition to several real-world events (the DB Cooper airline heist is heavily referenced, and one storyline seems to show Loki as President) in order to thwart a threat that could see the entire universe go kaput.
That means we could see Loki taking a page from Quantum Leap in order to bop around time. In a sense, it looks like an intergalactic take on Back to the Future as he tries to eliminate his own influence on what’s come before and ensure things play out like they always have. And per the Marvel house style, the show looks funny, twisty, action-packed and extremely trippy.
What’s Loki’s history so far?
Fan-favorite Loki has featured in Marvel’s movies since 2011: He’s the adoptive brother of hero Thor and the Norse god of Mischief. He's also a shape-shifting frost giant (comic-book mythology is complicated even before it gets plunged into actual Nordic lore) with a long history of back-stabbing and power grabbing with eyes on father Odin's throne.
He lived for millennia in the kingdom of Asgard — an interplanetary realm based on actual Norse mythology and connected to Earth by a trippy rainbow bridge — before it was subsequently destroyed. Again, comic-book storytelling + actual mythology is wild.
He was the primary antagonist in the original Thor movie and the big bad in the first Avengers. Loki went on to redeem himself (in a way) in the maligned Thor: The Dark World, then went full hero (also in a way) in Thor: Ragnarok.
By the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, he was on the path to being a full-blown hero. Too bad the evil space titan Thanos murdered him pretty thoroughly before the credits even rolled.
Wait, so Loki's already dead?
Comic book characters are almost never really dead, though there seemed to be some finality to Loki in Infinity War. But in Avengers: Endgame, the heroes went on what they referred to as a "time heist" in order to claim some of the powerful Infinity Stones — which Thanos used to snuff out half the universe's life — from the events of past movies.
That included a trip back to New York and the events of the first Avengers. In a quick kerfuffle following a massive battle, the handcuffed Loki of that timeline took advantage of a moment of confusion, grabbed an Infinity stone, and disappeared into a cosmic portal, as one does.
So in essence, Loki — the Loki that viewers spent several movies getting to know, sympathize with and watch grow from power-mad villain to redemptive team player — is dead. The Loki of Loki is the Loki who never bonded with his brother and sacrificed himself for the greater good of the universe. He's still a charismatic slime ball: A "variant" of the original.
What is a variant?
A variant is a version of a character from another version of reality. According to the multiverse rules laid down by comic books, there are millions of different versions of reality, and once a character rips through his or her own, it sends things off kilter across all of them.
Like the schlubby Peter Parker and other bizarro web-slingers of Into the Spiderverse, this Loki variant has broken into a different version of reality, which can set the fates of millions of alternate realities into a tizzy. It could also lead him to interact with multiple versions of himself: Some good, some bad, and all engaged in their own wildly differing version of reality. Given Loki is the God of Mischief and this variant is still power mad, it’s likely he’ll attempt to team up with his other selves for nefarious purposes.
Also of note, Loki isn't the only one hopping around time. The Avengers themselves used the Time Stone to travel back in time to undo Thanos' snap, which wiped out half of the life in the universe. It was the Avengers' meddling that unleashed the Loki variant in the first place, effectively setting the evil version of Loki loose in time and into the clutches of the TVA.
Dr. Strange — Benedict Cumberbatch's sorcerer supreme — mentions that he has seen millions of alternate realities. And Chris Evans' Captain America hopped back in time after defeating Thanos to return the Infinity Stones to their original places. That could have also caused multiple disruptions in time, though it appears Cap escaped accountability with the TVA.
Which is to say, now that the MCU has opened the cosmic door to interdimensional travel via the Quantum Realm introduced in Ant-Man and The Wasp, there could be endless time loops and altered histories to set right.
Loki has reportedly already been greenlit for a second season. The way things are going, it could feasibly continue forever.
Who is the villain?
It's hard to say, but fans' obsession over WandaVision's secrets — which ranged from the correct assumption that Kathryn Hahn's Agnes was pulling the strings to wild false theories that Al Pacino would appear as the MCU's version of the devil, Mephisto — people are going to be trying to unwrap the mysteries of Loki throughout the next few weeks.
It could be revealed that Wilson's Mobius is up to something more sinister, or the show could take a cue from the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home and resurrect villains from previous films as time portals enable fallen foes a new lease on life.
The MCU is poised to introduce time-hopping Kang the Conqueror as the primary antagonist in 2023's Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and some speculate the character could make his first appearance in Loki much like Thanos did at the end of the first Avengers. And, of course, with the potential for multiple Lokis to appear, the title character could become both hero and foe.
One thing is for certain: It's very unlikely that Al Pacino will be showing up as Mephisto.
Do I need to have watched the previous Marvel movies to get this?
It certainly won’t hurt, especially with all the lore we've already discussed, especially with Loki appearing to pop into other movies' plotlines. So while you’re probably not required to binge all 23 movies that came before it — and can definitely skip Disney+'s WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier — some familiarity with what’s come before is probably key to enjoying this.
Will Loki affect future Marvel movies?
It's very likely, given the character's impact on the previous arcs. Unlike WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier — which largely left their characters in the same places they were at the beginning of their respective stories — it seems like Loki could be introducing a ton of information, characters and overarching narrative concepts that will ripple into everything to come.
In fact, Loki head writer Michael Waldron recently told Total Film that he expects the show to have a pretty big impact on the MCU going forward.
“All of these stories, in their own way, are interconnected, and have ramifications," he said. "I think that certainly our aim with the Loki series was for it to have wide-reaching ramifications across the MCU moving forward. So, you know, was I having to clean up some of the messes that I made [with Loki]? Maybe so.”
How that impact will play out will slowly be revealed when Loki debuts June 9 on Disney+.
See Time Out's ranking of Marvel's 22-film Infinity Saga