Loki, revisited

Well, as far as I can tell, the show stuck the landing.

Loki is now secure as my favorite of the Marvel TV series so far. Sure, I’m excited to see what comes from What If…? but I don’t expect those jaunts to have the same emotional weight, or to be given the same time and focus. I don’t think I’m spoiling too much to say that there’s supposed to be a second season of Loki, and that I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m going to try talking around spoilers as much as possible. But I am going to talk about the show, mostly from a structural perspective. If you’re really worried about spoilers and are able to watch the show, I strongly encourage you to go enjoy the rest of Loki’s first season (when you can) and ignore the rest of this.

I was worried when I started watching Loki that the show would promise too much and give (or resolve) too little. I was also afraid that, like WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier before it, Loki would suffer from compression or similar [writing / directing / editing] runtime and continuity problems. To be clear, I think WV and F&WS worked… but I also think they suffered from narrative cuts and cramming.

So. This show promises a whole lot. I think it delivers more.

In a really wonderful way, this show kept giving me more than I expected. There was one exception—one that kind of disappointed me—but that had been foreshadowed extensively already. Mostly, the show felt free to resolve lots of issues and move things along to a new, messy resting state with new sources of tension that I quite enjoy. Best of all for me, the show leaned into the exploration of Loki’s motivations, hopes, and dreams, and played those through to the hilt.

Honestly, I think the certainty of a second season is critical here. Without it, and without the show’s writers and runners feeling free to resolve issues or create new ones as they saw fit, I think they would have felt pressured to tie things up more neatly for the end of the season (and the show). And I think that would have done a huge disservice to the story. I suspect that pressure (along with budget) is what forced WV and F&WS to compress as they did.

I believe that Loki‘s messiness is actually better than a neatly tied up story, even if we never get more Loki. I’d love to have more stories that feel free to do this sort of thing: creating interesting and exciting and difficult situations and then using them for honest explorations of characters I enjoy… without feeling locked into tidying everything up at the end. I like stories that end with open possibility.

I know other people don’t necessarily feel the same way. I have friends who love a neatly resolved story with all the loose ends tied up and all the resolutions for each character explored on screen. They abhor open-ended conclusions that only imply next steps and leave it up to the viewer to decide, or imagine, what happens next. But for me, a lot of that is boring or uninteresting. Life is full of the unexpected, and it feels more honest to me to close out a story’s arc while leaving open the shapes of arcs to come.

Loki does that. I have my guesses about where things will go, but there are many possibilities, and I look forward to exploring them even if I have to do it in my own mind.

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon is not a subtle movie. It hammers you with its themes from the very beginning, tying setting and conflict and nearly everything else into a robust and relentless thematic journey from initial action through to climax and conclusion.

And I really liked it.

Because while Raya’s thematic beats thump home like clockwork, it’s also heart-warming, dramatic, gorgeous, and engaging.

This movie did not surprise me. While it has nice little flourishes that feel right, it did not wow me with big twists or unexpected reveals. Nor did it leave me guessing about its message. But it did have me crying by the end. This story got me in my narrative soft spots even though I could see the setup coming from its first twenty minutes.

In many ways, Raya is an excellent introductory movie: it both teaches how to incorporate a central theme when making films, and offers a very clear example for audiences still learning to identify themes in movies.

A few quick highlights without spoiling anything: the fight choreography and performance is excellent (partially covered on this episode of Corridor Crew), as is the art and character design and the differentiation for the five different regions of the movie’s world. But the best part, from a narrative perspective, is that the movie feels true to its characters. The speaking characters may not be the deepest and most nuanced, but they feel relatable and human instead of paper thin. And I never really feel like they’re being made to carry an idiot ball; they aren’t roped in as plot tools without deeper consideration given to being honest to the character as we know them.

I like the voice acting and animation too! I’m not wishing for a sequel (the movie does a good job of delivering a conclusion, and doesn’t need more as far as I’m concerned), but I would happily watch and listen to these people (Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Tae Kim, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, and Sandra Oh) doing more work together… especially if the next movie they do is anywhere near as pretty as this one. Oh and points to Alan Tudyk for once again being a charming animal voice actor in a predominantly non-white movie, I continue to appreciate the role reversal.

So yes, I do recommend this movie. I liked it. It might not get you in the emotions the way it got me—I’m sure that experience will vary—but it’s good.

Update: Oh, and, because this video is accurate and made me snort, here’s the link to the Honest Trailer for Raya. Watch it if you don’t mind being spoiled (or if you’ve already seen Raya and want a laugh).

Loki (2021)

I’ve now seen the first two episodes. I like it. I rather like it. This show is great so far.

I’m a sucker for this for several reasons: one, it has time travel, which I love; two, the interplay between Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson is a delight; three, the whole Time Variance Authority and its cast is a great vibe, all the way from R. Slayer down to Casey; four, I was upset when Loki died for Thor’s character development at the start of Angry Purple Man #1 because (a) it felt like it cheapened & threw out the deeper relationship they’d built in Ragnarok, and (b) any resulting character growth for Thor was ignored in the underwhelming and too-busy Infinity War series… so watching Loki’s earnest emotional reaction to seeing all of his other self’s suffering and growth was fucking brilliant.

Honestly, giving Tom Hiddleston more of a chance to play a bigger role seems like the right choice to me. I never understood what people saw in him in the first Avengers movie (besides a pretty face with good quips), but the Loki that grew out of the subsequent movies won me over completely. On reflection, I blame Joss Whedon’s writing and the big ensemble movie’s lack of focus for anyone not dead center in the spotlight. Anyway, making this show with more room for Hiddleston (& others) to explore seems like such an obvious good move.

And in case I still had any doubts, Loki’s emotional private moments convince me that this show was a good idea. I don’t think we’ve gotten anything like as personal a view of Loki’s internal world in any previous Marvel movie. As conflicted as I feel about supporting the Mouse, I’m really enjoying watching this show and I’m glad that it’s being made. I’d absolutely go for more.

I do worry that the show will not live up to its first episode. The previous two shows (WandaVision, Falcon & the Winter Soldier) felt a bit like they suffered from being compressed—more towards the end for WandaVision, and at several different points for Falcon & the Winter Soldier. All of which makes me wonder whether Loki is going to go sideways in a few episodes and fail to live up to its promise. The fact that Loki is only supposed to have six episodes exacerbates those fears.

But the truth is, even if all we got was the first episode, I think this would have been a worthwhile jaunt. That’s how much I liked the interplay between Loki and Mobius, that’s how much I liked the emotional development of Loki in that set of interview scenes. It’s really exciting to think that we’ll get more of that.

Having now seen the second episode as well, I still have high hopes. There are more twists and I have more questions, but I’m still excited to see what comes next and don’t feel like they’ve really flubbed anything so far. That said, the six episode limit feels tight. I wonder whether the show will stick the landing.

Moana, a new and improved Disney

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I saw a number of things at the theater when I went there on Wednesday: there was a trailer for a Beauty and the Beast remake (which looked about as uncomfortable and undesirable as possible), a trailer for Hidden Figures (which looks spectacular), and there was Moana.

Holy shit I really liked Moana. It somehow feels old (in a good way) despite the fact that I don’t think Disney has done anything like it anytime recently. In some ways, they’ve never done anything like it at all; a female main character who goes on a mythic quest and succeeds without being disempowered, sidelined, or told that she must be a man.

I also felt like the movie’s depictions of human beings was simply far better than many previous Disney movies’ had been. The characters felt believably human, honest to themselves and their own desires from the audience’s perspective (even if they weren’t really emotionally honest with themselves if you know what I mean). I have a hard time thinking of which other Disney movies are operating on the same level. If you like watching animated kids movies now, this one should be at the top of your list. If you have fond memories of animated kids movies but aren’t sure whether you’d still like them, watch this one. It’s worth it. Yeah, some of it seems like it’s an obvious product of modern sensibilities, but is that always so bad?

Speaking of which, why the hell are they remaking Beauty and the Beast? The trailer made it look like they were reprising basically everything from their 1991 version… but doing it in live action with huge heaps of CGI. Blatantly cashing in on nostalgia is hardly an admirable starting point, and doing that with a story that portrays creepy manipulative abusive behavior as not only normal but romantic without doing anything to comment on that is extremely objectionable. How about them modern sensibilities.

Oh, and as for Hidden Figures, it tells the story of three women of color working for NASA leading up to John Glenn’s orbit in 1962, with Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, and Taraji Henson. Yes, that Janelle Monae. I’m very excited.