How Loki's Two Seasons Carried the MCU Post-Avengers: Endgame
This weeks Your Nerd Side Show:
The following contains spoilers from Loki Season 2, Episode 6, "Glorious Purpose," now streaming on Disney+.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has not had a pleasant time of late. While Phase 4 made for a nice coda to Avengers: Endgame by covering figures like Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch as they dealt with the fallout from the Blip, Phase 5 has by and large laid an egg. The Marvels'disappointing box office returns put the capper on an underwhelming year, leaving the mega-franchise with a decidedly unclear path forward.
Loki Season 2 has been a rare bright spot, building on the considerable goodwill of Season 1 to deliver a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the God of Mischief's post-Endgame adventures. A Loki Season 3 has not yet been confirmed as of this writing, but even if Season 2 is the end of the road, it closes Loki's story on a creative high note. More importantly, it's done the one thing that no other MCU property has done since Endgame: move the saga forward. Without it, Marvel would be in even worse shape than it is now.
The MCU Has a Momentum Problem
Armchair quarterbacking the MCU's woes has become a cottage industry. Phase 5 thus far has been littered with misfires, from Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to Secret Invasion.Besides Loki, the biggest winner thus far has been Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, with its success eclipsed by director James Gunn's subsequent departure to co-lead the DCU. What's left is a surprisingly disjointed collection of projects, linked in the usual manner of Easter eggs and intertwining supporting figures, but failing to gel into an overall storyline. The Skrulls in The Marvels, for instance, make no reference to the events of Secret Invasion besides acknowledging their status as intergalactic refugees.
Similarly, Quantumania -- billed as the formal introduction of Kang the Conqueror -- quickly turned him into just another villain, dispatched in summary fashion and limiting his true potential to a brief post-credits scene. That was fine in Phase 4, when everyone needed a pause to absorb the impact of Endgame, and the franchise produced winners like WandaVision and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. But most of them looked backwards instead of forward, providing closure for veteran characters who required a coda after Endgame. New heroes like Shang-Chi and Jennifer Walters weren't allowed to better establish themselves as successors to the heroes from Phases 1 through 3. Shang-Chi hasn't returned to the franchise since his first appearance in 2021, nor has Sam Wilson's new version of Captain America.
Both have sequels on the way, but fans are still waiting to see them. Similarly, there hasn't been a proper Avengers team-up since Endgame, with a ways to go yet before one arrives. It's led to a notable stall in forward progress, among other issues. The MCU leaves 2023 with fans uncertain of its direction, and while the likes of Echo and Agatha: Darkhold Diaries may deliver entertaining stories, they don't look to correct that underlying problem. Sooner or later, it will all lead to Secret Wars and the presumed arrival of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. But how it gets there -- or indeed whether the journey will be worth it -- has suddenly become open questions.
Loki's Two Seasons Have Been a Big Exception
Kang the Conqueror has been built up as the successor to Thanos in the next three phases of the MCU. He's been characterized as a reality-hopping tyrant rising from the creation of the Multiverse, and presumably leading the MCU straight into Avengers: Secret Wars after Phase 6. Both Kang and the Multiverse itself sprang from the first season of Loki, as the variant Asgardian created during the Time Heist in Endgame gets a look at the man behind the curtain of the MCU's reality. Loki's variant Sylvie is directly responsible for the creation of the Multiverse in Season 1, Epsiode 6, "For All Time. Always." while Season 2 concerns itself almost entirely with saving the TVA in anticipation of an invasion from Kang.
Those two factors have been almost entirely responsible for evolving the MCU beyond the events of Endgame. Other projects have focused on the personal development of individual heroes, along with a precious few Big Picture notions like the attempted Skrull takeover in Secret Invasion that amount to very little. Only Loki directly addresses the saga's supposed raison d'etre post-Endgame in any meaningful way: by setting the ground rules of the Multiverse, establishing why Kang is such a danger, and -- in the TVA -- preparing an entity with a means of fighting back. Season 2 ends with Loki himself taking the reins of the Multiverse, which will doubtless have big implications as Avengers: Secret Wars grows closer.
Without Loki, The MCU Would Be in Even Worse Shape
For all the bumps in the MCU's road in 2023, it still has the same destination in mind. Secret Wars is coming, in one form or another, and with it the creation of an integrated onscreen Marvel universe at last. Loki has drawn the clearest road map to it, not only by defining the parameters of the Multiverse, but showing the dangers of meddling with it, and the threat posed by figures like Kang. Ironically, it has received more help from What If…? than any other project. The animated series proved a sleeper hit in Phase 4, and Season 2 -- due sometime in 2024 -- might take the ball left by Loki and run with it.
At the end of the day, the burden has fallen on the God of Mischief, which ironically has helped make his series a badly needed success. Loki always dreamed of power, and seizes it in the Season 2 finale only after learning Ben Parker's famous adage the hard way. In the process, he's kept the MCU from falling even further into the doldrums, and if the path is muddled, he's at least kept the destination in mind. The MCU franchise is set for significant damage control as the Hollywood strikes come to an end and Phase 5 continues into 2024. It has Loki to thank for whatever progress it's made so far.
The first two seasons of Lokis are streaming in their entirety on Disney+.