Three episodes into the new Disney Plus series, Loki, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has already gone through some massive changes. And no, I’m not just talking about Owen Wilson’s mustache. I mean massive, cataclysmic changes that don’t just affect what we’ll see in the rest of Phase 4. I mean events that change our perception of every single MCU movie ever.
The introduction of the Time Variance Authority and the Time-Keepers forces Marvel movie fans to ask a very serious, existential question: if there are godly powers controlling every move in the sacred timeline, then were the Avengers actually heroic? Aren’t they just pawns in a cosmic game they don’t understand? Was Iron Man’s sacrifice in Endgame just a blip on the universe’s radar? Was Black Widow’s incredibly bad hair in Iron Man 2 all part of the Time-Keepers’ plan?
I say “affirmative.” While the TVA and the Time-Keepers are straight out of Marvel Comics, these characters have a very different effect on the MCU story because of the change in medium. Comic books have a clear distance between the audience and the material. It’s text and pictures; still, unmoving, and inherently artificial.
Comic books can never replicate reality, so fiddling with the nature of these characters is no big deal. We know they’re just constructs for our amusement. But in a film, where reality is replicated as much as possible (considering no giant purple men have tried to wipe out half of existence yet), it’s jarring to see these human characters grappling with whether or not what they’re doing means anything.
In a new episode of Galaxy Brains, Jonah Ray and I are joined by Jason Concepcion, the host of Crooked Media’s Takeline podcast, to figure out if Loki proves that nothing matters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s a taste of our conversation (which has been edited for clarity).
Dave: In an early stage of the Star Wars creation myth, there was a time when George Lucas saw the films as chapters in a book called The Journal of the Whills. And the Whills were these aliens that kind of observed everything in the way the Time-Keepers observe everything in Loki. That kind of went away, which I think was for the best, because the minute you create a character or series of characters who see all, know all and understand all, you lose some of the drama because now you’re not the only one observing the story. If you create a godlike figure who is manipulating events, then you have somehow created a wall between you and the drama. So does this addition of the Time-Keepers, the TVA and all of that stuff rob the Marvel universe of some of its drama?
Jason: Yes and no. If you look at the evolution of the MCU, part of what is necessary to tell these stories is a series of escalating threats. We went from Tony Stark versus the guy he worked with Tony Stark versus international terrorists to Captain America fighting the Nazis 70 years ago. Then it’s aliens who are invading Earth and want to take everything over. And next thing you know, we’re talking about Thanos, erasing half the people in the universe. So what next? Where do we go next? OK, we have to go bigger. We need some bigger reality-altering threat. So you can’t go backward and be like, OK, let’s watch Wanda Maximoff fight off a mugger in the streets. That’s not fun. We need something that could fundamentally destroy everything that we love. And everything that we love is this entire story. It’s not just any one character.
Dave: The whole idea of Loki in the multiverse is that it will be chaotic. There are many different versions of reality and some of them are good, some of them are bad. And there isn’t just a clear order. So, are you tantalized by the idea of this multiverse in the Marvel universe, the idea that characters from previous movies will show up in cameos and kind of spice things up, or are you down on it?
Jason: Listen, I’ll just put all my cards on the table. I’ve been a Marvel fan since I was eight years old. As I was reading comics at eight. I started buying with my own money at ten. The X-Men mostly. Avengers, West Coast Avengers, etc.,. This is everything I’ve ever wanted from popular storytelling. So, yes, I am excited. Your mileage may vary, but as a long-time reader of Marvel Comics, I am excited. I’m too excited because they haven’t really even scratched the surface of the amount of stories they can tell. There’s decades and decades of stuff that they haven’t even really adapted yet. And a lot of the stuff they’re adapting. WandaVision, for example, was like a tiny droplet in Marvel continuity. The comics that the show comes from were not popular or big. It was an extremely small story. So there is so much stuff that can be explored.
Dave: What is the one Marvel character from outside the MCU that you’re excited to see in one of these movies? And why is it Alfred Molina as Dr Octopus? Anything’s possible because the multiverse allows for it and because Marvel knows how to structure a contract to be able to afford Hugh Jackman if they wanted to.
Jason: Yeah, I think that it’s X-Men for me. It’s any of the X-Men, Professor X, Magneto, whoever, whoever they want to do first. I think that they are clearly heading there. I think that the Eternals will be part of the rollout for mutants. X-Men is how I cut my teeth in comics.
Dave: Patrick Stewart Professor X or James McAvoy Professor X.
Jason: Come on, Patrick Stewart. All the way.
For a deep dive into Loki, or to hear our episodes on In the Heights and the Lin-Manuel Mirandaverse, A Quiet Place Part II taking all the wrong lessons from John Carpenter, Cruella’s Disney-approved punk aspirations, Josie and the Pussycats as an anti-capitalist masterpiece, the animated soul of Star Wars, and the pro-wrestling soul of Mortal Kombat, check out the Galaxy Brains feed, wherever you get your podcasts.