Loki (The Series): Conviction, Self-Love, and Glorious Purpose

This is not gonna be a typical recap and review of Marvel’s Loki series on Disney Plus. I think the general consensus is that after that jaw-dropping finale, nothing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is ever gonna be the same ever again.

What I want to do instead is give my thoughts on Loki’s character arc and the debate of free will vs determinism. If there’s anything that we can learn from Variant-Loki, it’s that a person’s purpose isn’t limited to what other people say. When given the right motivation, even the worst people can learn to love themselves, find the conviction to do the right thing, and discover their own glorious purpose. So obviously, there will be spoilers!

The biggest lie that gets introduced right off the bat is the philosophy of determinism, that everything was predetermined and that free will is non-existent. If there’s anything I learned from The Matrix and The Good Place, it’s that in reality, while we are somewhat limited by our circumstances, our actions within those circumstances will always have consequences and we have the potential to create a change within said circumstances, even when powerful institutions try to prevent us from doing so.

Loki starts out constantly (and rightfully) questioning the TVA’s authority and eventually teams up with Sylvie to find the man behind the curtain, so to speak. In contrast, Renslayer digs in her heels and tries to find a sense of meaning even with the revelation that the entire TVA is a lie. As someone who’s Catholic, but deconstructing, I can relate to Renslayer’s personal crisis and have seen people dig in their heels and believe the lies created by various institutions in the hopes of finding something that makes sense and feels secure and safe.

In contrast, the truth of everyone in the TVA being variants allows for an opportunity for Mobius and the hunters to find their authentic selves, in a similar way that Loki did. Loki coming face to face with his “inevitable” death was a huge “Memento Mori” moment. I also like to think that while he was totally falling in love with Sylvie (which is not something the entire fandom is happy with, myself included), Loki was basically learning how to love himself as he was in the present. He may not be the Loki we knew from 2012 up until Infinity War, but this Loki learned how to love himself in a completely non-narcissistic way, which (according to Whitney Houston) is truly the greatest love of all.

He Who Remains is a very interesting “final villain.” He is very understated and way too chill, but that comes from just being omniscient (to some extent). He’s like a very genre-savvy MCU fan who knows Loki and Sylvie as well as what they seem to desire most. However, the paths the two Variants take deviate because by the last episode, Loki has a sense of conviction that came from seeing the multiple, equally bad versions of himself (literally) and the desire to make sure that Sylvie stays safe. I also think that Loki was trying to look for a third option that would dismantle the TVA while preventing a multiversal war, but obviously, that wasn’t going to happen.

The difference, in the end, between Loki and Sylvie is that Loki found a sense of conviction and the glorious purpose he so desperately desired while Sylvie was merely driven by revenge. While her desire for revenge is completely understandable, it won’t really get her far. Revenge isn’t much of a glorious purpose, nor is it much fuel for conviction.

So in the end, was it all for nothing? The entire Infinity Saga? Loki’s efforts to dismantle the TVA? Loki and Sylvie’s (ahem) questionable romance? I honestly don’t think so. Loki might have ended up in a different timeline, but somewhere out there is the Mobius he knew. I like to think that somehow, the TVA will be dismantled or at the very least reformed and repurposed because the real threat isn’t the multiverse itself, but the evil variants of He Who Remains aka Kang the Conquerer.

The Infinity Saga has ended and therefore, the Infinity Stones have served their purpose. (As much as I wish that Thanos could’ve been stopped before he snapped!) One era has ended and now a new era is beginning. And we don’t know what to expect.

I’m gonna close this philosophical contemplation with a quote from Angel that kinda sums up the idea of finding meaning within a universe that doesn’t make sense. “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do…if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.”

Of course, our actions actually do matter and they do make a difference. We shouldn’t be doing the right thing out of a sense of getting some kind of reward, though. Our glorious purpose is to just keep trying in the hopes that things might turn out right, that our actions can make the world just the tiniest bit better.

Black Widow: One Story Ends, Another Begins

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It’s no secret that a Black Widow movie was long overdue. For what it’s worth, long story short, I feel like this movie was very good. It’s by no means an “S Tier” movie on the same level as Captain America and the Winter Soldier, but we get to see Natasha on her own journey to redemption, revealing some things about her past that everyone wanted to know, and I hope that there will be more “interquels” with OG Black Widow in the future.

But non-spoiler: The best thing I can say about this movie is that I got a good sense of closure. If this is the only Black Widow movie we get, I’ll be okay with it. I loved the major characters, especially Red Guardian. He was a total ham and I hope he gets to show off more of what he can do in later materials. Yelena was such a great foil for Natasha and I love that she points out how ridiculous Natasha’s “superhero landing” was, even as she ended up doing it herself! So yeah. Definitely an A-Tier movie that I would probably put up there in the same level as the Ant-Man movies. Solid and enjoyable and definitely worth watching at the movies.

Spoilers from here on out!

Unique to the MCU films, we have an opening sequence with a darker and edgier version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I loved that there was an opening sequence, but I also missed having a creative closing credits.

The Ohio sequence reminded me a lot of Stranger Things in terms of aesthetic. And I’m not gonna lie, hearing “American Pie” was a real dissonance to me cuz I am way too used to Weird Al’s Star Wars parody version. In between the creative opening and the real start of the story, we finally find out what happened in Budapest. Sadly, it was not anything involving a couple of vampires. Instead, Natasha was on a mission with SHIELD, killing General Dreykov, the creator of the Red Room/Black Widow Program, with Dreykov’s daughter apparently dying in the process.

Natasha starts out her new life on the run while Yelena is deprogrammed from the Black Widow’s mind control and sets out to free the rest of the young ladies, sending the deprogramming antidote gas to Natasha. The vials put Natasha on Taskmaster’s radar and I loved the fight they had on the bridge. We can clearly see that Taskmaster imitated some familiar Avenger fighting styles, but I wish the fight choreography was more distinct because I could only recognize Captain America with the obvious shield. None of the Avengers use a sword!

Nitpicking aside, I love when, eventually, Natasha reunites with her sister and (down the line) breaks her foster father Alexei (Red Guardian) out of jail. As I said before, Red Guardian is a total ham. And his delusions about fighting Captain America can make sense from a certain point of view. He may not have fought Steve Rogers, but given that he was this Communist Russian hero, there’s nothing that says that he didn’t encounter Isaiah Bradley during the Korean War. He has such a big ego, he’s hilarious, and while he’s obviously got his ideals in the wrong place, he genuinely loves his wife and daughters.

Melina, Natasha and Yelena’s mother, is a lot more unnerving as the scientist behind the Black Widow brainwashing program. That said, she’s intent on taking Dreykov down. She’s a lot more understated compared to her bombastic, hammy “husband.” So as far as helping our heroes get the job done, I definitely liked her.

Blockbuster Buster pointed out that having a Super Soldier and a mad scientist as parents really explains why Natasha was always so close to Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. (Cue to Steve/Tony fanfics.) The brother/sister relationship she had with Steve can now be seen with the lens of Natasha seeing Steve as a healthier version of Alexei. (Sorry Steve/Nat shippers!) I also liked Yelena’s little bit about Natasha teaching science and having a husband who flips houses. It’s a small nod to both of the men in Natasha’s life (Bruce Banner and Clint Barton).

The second half of the movie focuses on Natasha, Yelena, Melina, and Alexei taking down Dreykov and putting an end to the Red Room/Black Widow Program once and for all. Dreykov is an antagonist that really makes me feel uncomfortable because he exploits young women and tampers with their bodies and minds without their consent. There are some major real world parallels here, but I’ll let y’all connect the dots. (Hashtag Me Too movement.)

What I liked the most about the overall story arc of this movie is Natasha getting closure on the Red Room and killing Dreykov’s daughter. Dreykov was the Big Bad of the movie, with Taskmaster being more of an enforcer, similar to The Winter Soldier.

And yes, I am perfectly okay with Dreykov’s daughter, Antonia, being Taskmaster. Within the narrative, she’s the living embodiment of Natasha’s biggest regret and also represents who Natasha probably could’ve been if she remained within Dreykov and was submitted to that level of mind control. Defeating Dreykov and dismantling the Black Widow program really calls to mind a famous quote from Labyrinth: “You have no power over me.”

The post-credit scene

While I’m still sad about the fact that Natasha is truly dead and gone, it’s nice that her grave has been honored with lots of teddy bears and flowers. I also liked seeing Yelena maintaining the grounds.

I was looking forward to seeing Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and she definitely didn’t disappoint. But I’m also glad that this was actually her second appearance. If this was the first instance that I saw her, she would’ve left a bad first impression. Blowing her nose and saying that she was allergic to the Midwest is very snobby and rude. It fits her character, but it doesn’t match the swagger she had during Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I mean, in the latter, she knew how to make an entrance and introduced herself in a way that got everyone’s attention and established her as someone who had a lot of authority and did not give three straws about what anyone else thought of her.

Also, why the heck would Yelena think that Clint Barton would be behind Natasha’s death? I guess we’ll find out in the Hawkeye series.

Final thoughts

I am very happy that this was the first movie that I saw in theaters after getting vaccinated. It’s a movie that’s worth seeing for that unique cinematic experiences. This movie was a great sendoff to Natasha Romanoff and I look forward to seeing how Yelena will pick up the mantle.