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In season 2, 'Loki' keeps its charm while reflecting on some of Marvel's problems

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Marvel Universe's anti-heroic god of mischief, Loki, returned yesterday for a second season of the Disney+ series which bears his name. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show retains its singular charm, while also reflecting some of the ongoing problems with Marvel TV shows and films.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I couldn't imagine being a first-time viewer trying to understand the first episode of "Loki's" second season. That's because of dialogue like this, where Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is trying to explain to his friend and ally, Mobius, played by Owen Wilson, that the killing of a villain who was manipulating the multiverse in the show's first season turned out to be a bad idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOKI")

TOM HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) We thought it was about freeing the timeline, but that brings only more malevolence, more violence, more war, more of him. They're coming. They're all coming.

DEGGANS: OK, let's back up a bit. Loki, brother of Thor, adopted and himself a villain in a few Marvel movies, was something of an anti-hero in the delightfully entertaining first season of this Disney+ series in 2021. He resisted efforts by a group of timeline cops called the Time Variance Authority to stop the unbridled creation of alternate universes by eliminating key people known as variants. Turns out - spoiler alert - this whole system was created by a bigger villain - a version of the character Kang, played by Jonathan Majors.

Now, as the show's second season begins, reality is coming apart, multiple versions of Kang are springing up and Loki is being dragged between the past, the present and the future. He turns for help to Mobius and an engineer called O.B., played impishly by Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan, who has a name for what's going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOKI")

KE HUY QUAN: (As O.B.) Time-slipping.

OWEN WILSON: (As Mobius) Wait, time - you know that?

QUAN: (As O.B.) Yeah.

WILSON: (As Mobius) You've seen that?

QUAN: (As O.B.) Yeah.

WILSON: (As Mobius) Can you fix that?

QUAN: (As O.B.) No. It's impossible to time slip in the TVA.

WILSON: (As Mobius) I know, but we just saw it happen.

QUAN: (As O.B.) Yeah. I'm having trouble reconciling that.

DEGGANS: What follows is a frenetic effort to save Loki from time-slipping and save reality. But it's also an example of how storylines built around the multiverse can be both good and bad for Marvel TV shows and films. Yeah, it was fun to see many different variants of Loki in the first season, and Loki's bouncing through time this season is a cool throwback to classic comic-book moments. But it also makes the ongoing storylines complicated and tough to join midstream. We don't see much of the charismatic partnership between Hiddleston's Loki and Wilson's Mobius early in the second season because they're too busy lurching from one fountain of explanation to another. Even a scene where Loki has jumped to the past and is trying to explain his problem to Quan's O.B. feels a little clunky.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOKI")

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) I was just with you in the future.

QUAN: (As O.B.) Mmm, I think I would remember that.

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) Yes, but it hasn't happened to you yet. Do you see?

QUAN: (As O.B.) Good point. It sure would be more convenient if we were having this conversation in the future and this were the past.

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) We were. This is the - never mind.

DEGGANS: Still, the second season of "Loki" promises to be more entertaining than recent Marvel streaming shows, thanks mostly to its strong cast and striking visuals. It is, however, a bit jarring to see Majors here, given the actor faces prosecution in real life on charges of harassment and assault. As a comics nerd and Loki fan, I remain hopeful the show will maintain its status as one of Disney+'s best original series in its second season, but it's going to face obstacles a lot more challenging than time-slipping to get there.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATALIE HOLT'S "LOKI GREEN THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.

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