Speculating wildly about Marvel's films and TV shows is a favorite internet pastime. Sometimes, the obsessive analysis results in truly mind-boggling theories — remember the oddly specific speculation that Al Pacino was going to show up as the Devil (AKA Mephisto) in WandVision? Others, obsessively poring over details reveals a nugget of something legitimate.
Such is the case of the final trailer for Disney+'s Loki, which dropped this weekend and revealed to eagle-eyed viewers that the titular God of Mischief is gender fluid.
The detail is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. Owen Wilson's bureaucratic time cop — tasked with working alongside Tom Hiddleston's Loki after the latter causes chaos across the space-time continuum (catch up on all that here) — presents the sometimes-villain with a dossier, on which the gender is marked "fluid."
But hidden though the detail may be, it's got tremendous implications both for the show and the future of the MCU.
Loki's gender fluidity is a part of Marvel's long history
Loki has been a part of Marvel lore since 1962, appearing alongside Thor as the God of Thunder's adoptive sibling. Canonically, Loki is the God of Mischief who has adopted many different identities over time.
For the most part, Loki existed on the fringes of pop culture, bopping around Jack Kirby's particularly psychedelic corner of the Marvel catalogue where intergalactic eccentricity reigned supreme but most of the stories remained solely in the wheelhouse of deep-cut comics fans.
That changed in 2011, when Thor introduced Hiddleston as the conniving Loki, who sparred with Chris Hemsworth's Thor for the crown of Asgard. The following year, Loki became a worldwide fan-favorite as the main villain of The Avengers, catapulting the character into the international spotlight at the center of the world's biggest movie series. Hiddleston would go on to play the character in five different blockbusters before the TV series was announced.
While the character has frequently been presented as male, the character's gender-fluid and non-binary status has been frequently addressed in the years since Loki transitioned from cult-comic icon to international superstar. As pointed out by The Daily Mail, a 2014 comic saw adoptive father Odin refer to Loki as "my son, and my daughter, and my child who is both."
Among fan circles, Loki's fluidity has long been discussed as something the mainstream Marvel machine could bring to the fore. Marvel has been frequently critiqued for its lack of LGBTQ representation: the studio patted itself on the back for including a gay man in one scene in Avengers: Endgame, and while Thor character Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) was declared bisexual, she was denied a love interest in Thor: Ragnarok.
And that's it: A cameo and a character mentioned to be bisexual, but not in the movie in which she appears.
Loki seems like a small step toward establishing a more representative culture in the wide world of superheroes, but it also seems to be using Loki's gender identity to further expand the MCU's possibilities.
How Loki's gender identity could change the MCU
Establishing the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't likely just to be a nod to inclusion: It is more than likely to be a plot point that will help establish Marvel's direction going forward.
Loki is poised to introduce the concepts of multiple dimensions, realities and timelines to mainstream Marvel audiences in earnest. And in sending Loki on a reality-hopping, shape-shifting adventure across the universe, it's likely we'll be meeting multiple versions of the character.
As in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and DC's Arrowverse Crisis on Infinite Earths, Marvel is poised to establish different versions of its characters living in n different timelines, allowing characters to cross over lines of good and evil, life and death and gender.
As extensively detailed in an explainer by AV Club, Marvel has long relished in reimagining different versions of Loki. That includes a popular character variant known as Lady Loki, who some fans speculate will be played in the show by Sophia Di Martino, whose role in the cast is being kept under wraps.
That would make Loki's gender-fluidity exceedingly literal, but it's worth noting that Lady Loki is the actual reincarnation of Loki in the comic books. She is the same character. That distinction is important to make, given the next Thor film, Love and Thunder, is confirmed to feature Natalie Portman's Jane Foster becoming Thor, which we learn is a title not a name. Comic-book logic is tricky.
If Loki does in fact feature different versions of the God of Mischief interacting, it opens the doors to pretty much any comic-book scenario imaginable. Whether that includes featuring multiple actors as the same character — which Spider-Man: No Way Home is rumored to embrace — or resurrecting fallen heroes is anyone's guess. And it absolutely means that casting is no longer limited by gender, race or age.
One thing's for certain: Al Pacino is probably not playing Lady Loki. But we'll know for sure when Loki debuts on Disney+ Wednesday, June 9.
See Time Out's ranking of Marvel's 22-film Infinity Saga