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‘Loki’s’ latest variant is still a pretty good way to kill time

<i>Gareth Gatrell/Gareth Gatrell</i><br/>Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston star in Season 2 of Marvel's
Gareth Gatrell/Gareth Gatrell
Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston star in Season 2 of Marvel's "Loki."

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — “Loki” didn’t deliver unqualified magic, but the Disney+ series was weird and inventive enough to cast a spell over fans, while introducing controversial actor Jonathan Majors’ mysterious villain into the Marvel universe. Returning after Majors’ theatrical debut in the less-than-scintillating “Ant-Man” sequel, the second season of “Loki” feels more assured and focused if still decidedly out-there, all while toting around its fair share of baggage.

It was a bit of a jolt when “Loki” concluded on a cliffhanger in 2021, leaving the story of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his new posse at the Time Variance Authority unfinished. While trying to explain what’s at stake requires a whole lot of time, suffice it to say the complications associated with alternate branches of reality continue, leaving Loki and Mobius (Owen Wilson) frantically seeking to avoid a “temporal meltdown” that would be very, very bad.

As they endeavor to save the TVA, the pair acquire some new allies in this second season, perhaps foremost among them Ke Huy Quan, fresh off his Oscar for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” as an eccentric Mr. Fix-It type. There’s also the matter of finding Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), the revenge-minded variant who might hold the key to staving off the feared implosion.

As for the baggage, the aforementioned Majors does return in a role related to his Kang persona, which has been earmarked as the antagonistic linchpin of Marvel’s next phase of movies. Unfortunately, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” got that arc off to a rather unsatisfying start, and off-camera issues surrounding the actor – who faces misdemeanor assault charges in a case still working its way through the courts – have clouded his future involvement.

Broadly speaking, “Loki” derives a great deal of its pleasure from things that have little to do with advancing the larger plot, beginning with watching Hiddleston and Wilson playfully banter as if this were a time-traveling buddy cop show. There’s also an intriguing internal battle going on between Hiddleston’s suave charisma (which explains the off-the-charts fan response) and the character’s notorious “God of Mischief” nature, which originally saw him battling Thor and then the Avengers.

If nothing else, give Marvel credit for extracting this much mileage from a character who wound up on the very wrong end of a fight with Thanos way back in 2018.

That said, the multiverse concept and associated emphasis on alternative timelines – occasionally rendering death a mere inconvenience – can have a slightly numbing effect by fostering the impression that what happens doesn’t seem as if it truly matters, while running the risk of demanding graduate-level classes just to keep track of the endless possibilities.

“Loki” tacitly acknowledges as much in one of the later episodes previewed, as the title character tells someone, “I promise you this will make sense.”

Based on what’s gone before it, there’s not a whole lot of certainly the second season of “Loki” will deliver on that pledge. Thankfully, its namesake provides the kind of good company that makes it fun just getting there, even when it feels as if it’s getting nowhere.

“Loki” season 2 premieres October 5 at 9 p.m. ET on Disney+.

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