This article contains Marvel Cinematic Universe spoilers.
It’s been well over two years since the events of Avengers: Endgame, and you’d be forgiven for forgetting exactly what went down during the climax of the Infinity Saga and some of the entries that led to it. There were plenty of Easter eggs and nods to other parts of the MCU in both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame – some of them edging on “blink and you’ll miss it” territory as Marvel Studios sought to wrap up a decade and change of storytelling.
Ahead of Loki’s release on Disney+ we’ve been revisiting the God of Mischief’s journey to the small screen and pondering all the reasons that this new TV version of Loki will be different to the one we now know and love, despite our better judgement.
In many ways this is a tale of two Lokis: the one we’ve already seen evolve – albeit gradually – throughout the Thor trilogy and the Avengers films, and the one we’re about to see reckon with a new fate in Loki thanks to an accidental temporal intervention.
First, let’s take stock of all the ways both of these Lokis are the same.
When we first met Loki (the excessively charismatic Tom Hiddleston) in Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 franchise-starter Thor, he was a sly and manipulative prince but still loyal to the realm of Asgard. As he prepared to witness his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) become king and take over from their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Loki decided to throw a spanner in the works by arranging a visit from the Frost Giants – a race beaten by Odin and left in ruins in the realm of Jotunheim long ago – in the middle of Thor’s coronation.
Though Loki initially sabotaged Thor’s big day as a lark, he unwittingly started a chain of events that would lead to a devastating personal discovery: that he himself was a Frost Giant, rescued as a baby from the Jotunheim battlefield by Odin in the hope that he would forge peace between the two realms one day.
Loki, who always felt like Odin’s least favored son, was overwhelmed by the trauma of what he retrospectively viewed as a life filled with lies and betrayal, so when Thor was banished to Earth for kickstarting yet another battle with the Frost Giants Loki saw an opportunity to take the throne of Asgard as Odin fell into a deep sleep.
It didn’t go as well as he hoped. For a while he was able to rule Asgard, but when the Warriors Three and Sif travelled to Earth against Loki’s wishes to retrieve Thor, things fell apart. Loki intervened and attacked Thor and the gang to prevent them from destabilizing his newfound power, but Thor stopped him and returned to Asgard. The two brothers fought and Odin woke from his slumber.
Odin’s obvious dismay at his son’s actions left Loki bereft. He let himself fall from the broken Bifrost Bridge into a wormhole in space rather than make amends for what he’d done or accept any punishment that might be forthcoming.
Thor assumed Loki died that day, but Loki was very much alive. On the other side of that wormhole was Sanctuary, an asteroid field inhabited by a violent race called the Chitauri. Also installed on Sanctuary was The Other, Thanos’ personal servant, who gave Loki both a powerful Scepter that contained the Mind Stone and command over the Chitauri army to invade Earth. In exchange, Loki was to snatch the Tesseract – a cosmic cube housing the Space Stone – and bring it back to Thanos.
Fearing Thanos’ retribution and feeling he had no choice but to comply, Loki travelled to Earth in 2012’s The Avengers via the wormhole-opening Tesseract and took the cube from SHIELD, eventually opening a larger wormhole over New York and beginning the Chitauri invasion.
Ultimately beaten by the Avengers in the Battle of New York, Loki was set to be brought back to Asgard as a prisoner along with the Tesseract and condemned to a cell in the dungeons.
This brings us to a fork in Loki’s road and the MCU timeline itself.
Dead Loki: Infinity War Timeline
Post Avengers, Loki languished in the Asgardian Dungeons until his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) was killed by the Dark Elves in Thor: The Dark World. Released by Thor, the duo attempted to defeat the Dark Elves’ leader. Naturally, Loki faked his own death during the fight, hopped back to Asgard, and ousted Odin. He then ruled over Asgard for years in Odin’s guise.
Thor eventually discovered Loki’s deception upon his return to Asgard following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The two embarked on a journey to Earth to find the real Odin, who revealed they had an older sister called Hela (Cate Blanchett) who would try to lead Asgard into war against the Nine Realms. Odin suddenly popped his clogs, leaving a confused Thor and Loki to face Hela.
They were no match for her, and both ended up stranded on the artificial trash planet Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok until Loki reluctantly joined forces with Thor, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to try and take Hela out of the equation. They were able to do this by summoning the fire demon Surtur, beginning the all-cleansing process of Ragnarök. This course of action came at a terrible price: the complete destruction of Asgard, during which Loki once again stole the Tesseract while no one was looking.
As promised in The Avengers, Thanos came looking for the Tesseract during Infinity War after Loki failed to deliver it to him. The surviving Asgardians were attacked by Thanos aboard their escape ship the Statesman and half of them were killed. A showdown with Thanos left Hulk unconscious and Thor trapped by the Black Order. In a moment of unexpected redemption Loki tried to deceive Thanos by offering up the Tesseract, and made a failed attempt on the Mad Titan’s life. Thanos killed Loki for his insolence by snapping his neck.
Variant Loki: TV Series Timeline
With Loki dead, half the universe snapped out of existence, and Asgard reduced to a tiny population on Earth, Thor fell into a deep depression during Avengers: Endgame. But there was a glimmer of hope on the horizon when the team put together a plan to go back in time and retrieve the Infinity Stones, reversing Thanos’ snap.
This “time heist” placed Tony Stark, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner, and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) back at The Avengers’ Battle of New York in 2012, and their plan to grab the stones went smoothly at first. Steve acquired the Mind Stone in the form of Loki’s Scepter and Bruce convinced The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) to hand over the Time Stone, while Tony and Scott hit Stark Tower to lift the Tesseract.
Unfortunately, Tony forgot that he made the Hulk take the stairs instead of the elevator when the Avengers originally accompanied an imprisoned Loki down to the lobby. As Hulk smashed through the lobby door he sent Tony and the Tesseract flying. Loki saw an opportunity and didn’t hesitate: he picked up the Tesseract and jumped through a wormhole.
This is the version of Loki we join as the character’s Marvel spinoff series gets underway. Not the Loki who saw the fall of Asgard and perhaps got to make amends for some of his previous crimes by supporting Thor in the aftermath, but the Loki who just led a deadly invasion of Earth.
“With Loki taking the Tesseract, fans will see exactly what that action means and what a bigger ripple he’s made in time doing that,” Loki director Kate Herron explained. “It causes him to be more reflective about his actions and why he’s done what he’s done.”
Responsible for many human deaths – including Agent Phil Coulson on a SHIELD helicarrier before the Battle of New York had even begun – this Loki is still full of rage following the exposure of Odin’s lies about his origin.
He is, by all accounts, a total butthole.
Thanks to marketing materials for the upcoming series we already know that following his Battle of New York escape Loki will be apprehended by the Time Variance Authority – a bureaucratic organization which monitors the state of the MCU’s timeline. It’s unclear if the show will fully redeem the God of Mischief from a post-Battle of New York state of trauma and vindictiveness, but the show has apparently found a different way to do so than we’ve already witnessed, which is a good thing – as charming as Tom Hiddleston absolutely is, we need to see Loki nudged further away from 2012-era villain territory for all this to work long term.
Loki writer Michael Waldron has described the show as a “struggle with identity, who you are” and “who you want to be” so it’s definitely a possibility that Loki will become a better version of himself than we’ve ever seen before.
“Loki is a character that’s always reckoning with his own identity, and the TVA, by virtue of what they do, is uniquely suited to hold up a mirror to Loki and make him really confront who he is and who he was supposed to be,” Waldron explained.
The TVA will recruit the God of Mischief to help clean up the temporal mess he made when he grabbed the Tesseract and skedaddled – it seems The Ancient One was quite right when she said that any major disruption to the flow of time would create branch timelines where things have gone badly wrong. Could Loki really become a valued TVA asset, righting wrongs and setting things straight? Maybe, but as we know, Loki is gonna Loki, and he probably won’t enjoy being told what to do by anyone.
“I love this idea [of] Loki’s chaotic energy somehow being something we need,” Hiddleston told EW. “Even though, for all sorts of reasons, you don’t know whether you can trust him. You don’t know whether he’s going to betray you. You don’t why he’s doing what he’s doing. If he’s shapeshifting so often, does he even know who he is? And is he even interested in understanding who he is? Underneath all those masks, underneath the charm and the wit, which is kind of a defense anyway, does Loki have an authentic self? Is he introspective enough or brave enough to find out? I think all of those ideas are all in the series — ideas about identity, ideas about self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and the difficulty of it.”
Hiddleston added “[That] was very exciting because in the other films, there was always something about Loki that was very controlled. He seemed to know exactly what the cards in his hand were and how he was going to play them. And Loki versus the TVA is Loki out of control immediately, and in an environment in which he’s completely behind the pace, out of his comfort zone, destabilized, and acting out.”
Perhaps if Loki actually met Loki he’d have a fresh perspective on whether anger and spite are worth clinging on to?
Lokis All the Way Down
Even as the show intends to explore Loki’s struggle with his own identity, it seems set to introduce other Lokis from different timelines and realities, which leaves the storytelling door very much open. Not just in terms of new angles on previous MCU tales and major cameos, but to inspiration from the pages of Marvel Comics as well.
“Part of the fun of the multiverse and playing with time is seeing other versions of characters, and other versions of the titular character in particular,” confirmed Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige.
The comics are certainly ripe with possibilities. There’s Kid Loki – a vessel for the trickster reborn after he manipulated Hela into taking his name out of the Book of Hel. Then there’s Old Loki – a real bastard who makes the current Loki seem like a Care Bear in comparison. Loki even found himself inside a body intended for Lady Sif at one stage, becoming Lady Loki (later incorporated into Loki’s fairly casual gender fluidity).
Loki: Agent of Asgard
Interestingly, Waldron has also said that the show will explore whether Loki could ever make a friend, which is the focus of Al Ewing’s 2014 Agent of Asgard run. In these comics, Loki meets a woman called Verity Willis who can see through any lie, making her the perfect person for Loki to have an open and honest friendship with.
It was around this time that the Loki of Marvel Comics also had an epiphany: that a lie is just a story and a story can be rewritten. This allowed him to turn over a new leaf, redefining his character from the God of Lies to the God of Stories. Thinking back to Hiddleston’s first official comment when Loki was announced, this could be just one way that Marvel has approached further seasons of the show and Loki’s continuing journey through time and space.
“Loki,” Hiddleston wrote. “More stories to tell. More mischief to make. More to come.”
Marvel’s Loki will be streaming on Disney+ from June 9.