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Let’s talk ‘Loki,’ ‘The Marvels’ and the state of the MCU
It’s a big weekend for Marvel Studios, with ‘Loki’ airing its series finale and ‘The Marvels’ hitting theaters. What’s the vibe like in the MCU?
Hey, it’s a Saturday special edition of Popculturology. It’s a big weekend for Marvel Studios, with the Loki series finale airing and The Marvels hitting theaters. I didn’t want to wait until next Friday to discuss both of these MCU moments with you all, so here I am in your inbox as you kick off your weekend.
There are definitely going to be spoilers after the break …
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GLORIOUS PURPOSE, INDEED
I was up until almost midnight on Thursday night watching the Loki Season 2 finale — and it was absolutely worth it. Everyone involved with this episode nailed it. One of most, if not the most, satisfying episodes of MCU television.
And more importantly, “Glorious Purpose” closed out the Loki character arc that began with 2011’s Thor, crescendoed with The Avengers and seemed to end at Thanos’ hands in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.
It turned out that fate did have “glorious purpose” in store for Loki.
To save the multiverse, Loki made the hard choice. He didn’t walk away. He didn’t kill Sylvie to prevent He Who Remains’ death. He sacrificed his freedom to pull the strands of time together and take his place on a throne at the End of Time.
“I know what kind of god I need to be for you, for all of us”
At the end of last episode, Loki mastered the ability to control his time slipping and return to the moments before Victor Timely got spaghetti’d and the Temporal Loom exploded. After a very Edge of Tomorrow-y montage where Loki spent centuries learning everything he had to know about the Temporal Loom and how to prevent it from exploding (“I’m a fast learner and I’m a god,” he told Ouroboros), Loki learned that no matter what he did, the Temporal Loom would always explode.
“An infinitely growing multiverse” was unavoidable, Timely told Loki.
So Loki went back further, returning to the Season 1 finale when he and Sylvie confronted He Who Remains. He Who Remains eventually realized that Loki was replaying this moment and made it clear what he had to do: Kill Sylvie to undo what her killing He Who Remains had unleashed.
But Loki hoped to find a way to solve everything that didn’t come down to killing Sylvie. Going back even further in time, Loki returned to his initial interrogation by Mobius at the TVA. From Mobius, Loki realized that the burden of making the difficult choice would fall on him. And that difficult choice was not whether to kill Sylvie. It was whether to put aside any dream of life beyond saving the TVA to literally pull time back together.
Into the breach of time Loki marched, the energy stripping away his TVA attire to once again reveal Loki in his god form, horned-helmet and all. As his friends at the TVA watched, Loki pulled the strands of the multiverse together.
“There's no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top,” Tony Stark once told Loki during the Battle of New York.
After all this time, Loki had found his throne. The once God of Mischief now took his place on the seat that once belonged to He Who Remains and morphed the tangled web of timelines into a tree where the Sacred Timeline now branched off into infinite directions.
Is there another character in the MCU with a character arc as thorough as Loki’s? Yes, Tony Stark went from arms dealer to savior. Yes, Nebula went from Thanos henchperson to beloved member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. But we got to see Loki’s story play out from the original Thor when he learned the truth about his birth to his villainous turn in The Avengers to his attempts at redemption in Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. We saw his death in Avengers: Infinity War as he made a desperate attempt to kill Thanos before promising Thor that “I assure you, brother, the sun will shine on us again.” And then we saw what could’ve just been a throwaway joke in Avengers: Endgame where a past version of Loki grabbed the Tesseract and disappeared turn into a two-season show that fully redeemed Loki.
He learned to love himself. He learned to love others.
And in the end, he gave up everything to save everyone.
The foundation of the Multiverse Saga
Like I said, this entire show is based on a bit in Avengers: Endgame where Loki snags the Tesseract during the Avengers’ time heist and disappears. Did anyone in that moment expect to eventually get a story with not only this kind of emotional depth but also implications for the MCU overall?
Loki introduced He Who Remains. It introduced the idea of variants. The entirety of the Multiverse Saga is built on the framework of Loki.
Here’s to Kate Herron, Michael Waldron, Eric Martin, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead and everyone else involved with crafting Loki over its two-season run.
And here’s to Tom Hiddleston for bringing Loki to life across the MCU for over a decade. It’s impossible to think of anyone else playing this character.
Will we see Hiddleston as Loki again? I’ve seen some theorizing that Marvel Studios could swap Loki in for Kang as the major villain of this saga, with his variants being the ones to threaten existence, but I don’t see that happening. Loki’s story is complete. (I would love to see him reunite with Thor in some way, but that’s outside of this story.) I even saw one pop culture Twitter account itching for a fight between Loki, God of Time, and Kang, and — wow — did they miss the point of this finale.
Is Marvel “truly fucked with the whole Kang angle”?
As always, Jonathan Majors was riveting to watch in this episode. Thanks to Loki’s time slipping, we got to see Majors as He Who Remains again. Whether Majors continues playing He Who Remains/Victor Timely/Kang in the future depends on how his legal issues play out and what Disney decides they can tolerate. Whoever told Variety that “Marvel is truly fucked with the whole Kang angle” after seeing the Loki finale really missed the mark on that one.
Yes, Majors is still in play, but nothing in this finale put Marvel Studios and the MCU in a place where they weren’t before the episode aired. There are Kang variants out there. Those variants pose a threat to the multiverse. If Marvel wants to downplay Kang and switch gears to Doctor Doom, they can do so. If Marvel wants to recast Majors and proceed with the Kang storyline, that choice is still open. It’s not like Kang appeared in the finale, killed Loki and then attacked the Avengers.
In fact, the TVA is closely monitoring He Who Remain’s variants, noting that they don’t even know about the TVA.
“One of them caused a little bit of a ruckus on 616-adjacent realm but they handled it,” Mobius remarked to X-15 as they discussed those variants. “A bit of ruckus on 616-adjacent realm” is a funny way of playing down the events of Ant-Man and Wasp: Quantumania where Scott Lang and friends defeated Kang in the Quantum Realm.
Natalie Holt’s score
In addition to Hiddleston as Loki, one constant of the show across both seasons has been Natalie Holt’s iconic score. One of the best in the MCU. She somehow elevated it to an even higher level in the finale, starting with the opening Marvel Studios titles played in reverse and closing things out with a triumphant version of the Loki theme.
A closing ouroboros
Loki ended as it began: With an episode titled “Glorious Purpose.” Is it confusing to have two episodes with the same title? Sure, but in a show about time loops, what’s one final ouroboros?
“THE MARVELS? YES!”
I don’t understand why the knives are out for The Marvels.
I saw the movie on Friday night in an almost-full theater. Not only did I think it was a fun movie, but so did the people in that theater. I heard more laughs and bits of applause during The Marvels than I have in several of the recent MCU films.
The Marvels should not be teetering around the fresh/rotten line on Rotten Tomatoes. (We shouldn’t even be talking about Rotten Tomatoes, but I’m part of the problem.) The Marvels should not be in line for possibly the worst opening weekend in MCU box office history. (Behind The Incredible Hulk?) This movie has a ton to offer, including seeing Brie Larson fully click as Captain Marvel and watching Iman Vellani become the MCU’s brightest star.
“Is Captain Marvel pressuring you?”
The Marvels is worth seeing purely for the chemistry between Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers, Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan and Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau. This is the first time we’ve seen Larson really be allowed to have human emotions while playing Captain Marvel, and she couldn’t have been scene partners than Vellani and Parris.
Vellani steals this movie. If you weren’t already in love with her after watching Ms. Marvel, I’m going to assume you just didn’t watch Ms. Marvel. At the end of the day, playing these characters is a job — but it’s so much more fun to watch these actors do that job when they love the world they get to play in. And that’s Iman Vellani. I can’t wait to see what Kamala Khan does next in the MCU as she pulls together the next generation of superheroes. Young Avengers, you could even call them …
The Marvels is a funny movie. And not funny in a way like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania thought it was, but funny in a genuine way.
Good chance I’m as confused as you are
The Marvels is good … but it isn’t perfect. It relies heavily on another round of Kree/Skrull lore. It was one thing to follow Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy when we got to watch Lee Pace chew scenery and rant about how he will “bathe the starways in your blood” and all, but don’t feel bad if the Kree storyline in The Marvels loses you. I definitely had a few moments of “wait, did I forget that bit from Captain Marvel?” while watching this one.
The main villain in The Marvels might be the MCU’s most forgettable villain yet. I just looked it up, and her name is Supremor Dar-Benn. That definitely didn’t stick while I watched the movie. (My apologies to Zawe Ashton, who’s doing the best she can with this character.)
There’s also a bunch of Nick Fury/S.A.B.E.R stuff in The Marvels that I wasn’t sure I missed from skipping Secret Invasion on Disney+ or if it was being newly introduced here. I’m still not fully sure when Earth got its own set of Guardians of the Galaxy-esque jump points to travel through space.
X marks the spot
The Marvels has just one credits scene (Kamala recruiting Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop is actually the end of the film), and it’s a big one.
After going through a giant rip in space-time, Monica wakes up in what appears to be a hospital bed and is shocked to see Maria Rambeau, her mother, sitting next to her. Things take a turn when the Kelsey Grammer version of Beast from the original X-Men movies enters the room.
It appears that Monica is now in what we’re to believe is the universe containing the Fox X-Men movies, a theory that’s driving home when Beast leaves the room, muttered something about talking to “Charles” and passes by an X-shaped doorway that looks very much like what we saw for years in Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies.
On top of the Beast reveal, Maria has no idea who Monica is and appears to have her own set of superpowers. (It looks like she’s playing Binary.)
THE MCU FUTURE …
The narrative leading into this weekend has been that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in danger, that it’s falling apart, that the bottom has fallen out.
I don’t see that.
Maybe there’s a course correction in how the MCU movies are being reviewed. Perhaps a decade of near-stellar Rotten Tomatoes ratings was inflated, and now we’re seeing the curve pull too far to the other side in hopes of making up for that.
The Marvels is a good movie. Loki was a great series.
The course of the Multiverse Saga is becoming even clearer now, between Loki taking his place at the End of Time and Monica Rambeau finding herself in the Fox X-Men universe.
Our next MCU movie is Deadpool 3, which now hits theaters on July 26, 2024. A recent report said that this movie is the “most important project for the studio outside of anything with Avengers in the title,” and it’s easy to see why that’s the case now. Seeing Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool team up with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is only going to be the beginning of where the MCU is headed.
The X-Men are coming. Incursions are coming. Any piece of Marvel storytelling, whether it’s a TV show, a cartoon or a movie, is going to be in play.
The drama around Jonathan Majors and Kang? It’s going to be a blip on the journey to an ambitious culmination of not just where the MCU has been going since Avengers: Endgame but where and how Marvel has brought its characters to life for the past two decades.