Phase Four of the MCU expands this June with the upcoming Loki and explores the newly introduced concept of “Time Variants” in depth. First introduced in Avengers: Endgame, Time Variants are versions of characters created when a time-traveler alters the natural time-stream for that perspective alternate reality. For example, when the Avengers traveled back to 2012 and accidentally interrupted the course of events so that Loki could escape with the Tesseract it completely altered that universes’ timeline. It allowed a Loki, who should have followed a similar character arc to the one we saw throughout Thor to Infinity War, to survive and have an existence that’s paradoxical in nature.
Time Variants are observed and handled by the authority of the TVA: Time Variance Authority, an organization that exists out of time/space and observes the overall multiverse. Their core goal is to protect the natural flow of time within these multiple universes. So, 2012 that was altered by The Avengers had numerous changes such as HYDRA believing that Captain America was aware of their decades-long infiltration, Steve knowing Bucky was alive before meeting the Winter Soldier, and of course, Loki escaping with the Tesseract.
It’s easy to assume that the concept of Time Variants is just a way for Marvel Studios to use characters that have been killed. But the very existence of this idea isn’t to diminish the character journeys or deaths of these beloved characters, if anything it expands upon them. So, how will the introduction of time variants shake up the MCU?
Ah yes! Loki, the trickster himself has faked his death yet again! Except, that’s not really the case. Okay, yes, as an audience we are going into the new Loki show to see Tom Hiddleston reprise his fantastic portrayal of the untrustworthy Asgardian Prince. But actually, this version of Loki is the perfect character to explore the concept of the newly defined rules/parameters of the MCU’s multiverse. He’s also very much *not* the Loki who was choked to death by Thanos in Infinity War. This is a younger, less reformed Loki who just got his butt handed to him by the Avengers in 2012. This is a version of the character who does not know that in the prime MCU universe, his beloved mother has been killed, his father has died, his sister (who he didn’t even know existed) and Asgard are all but destroyed, and that he himself was responsible for helping save as many people as he could.
For a show that delves into timelines and the minutiae of these changes, there’s no way we won’t be getting a deeper look into the psyche of Loki in a way which the films couldn’t have achieved on their own and that’s good! Rather than shrugging off the journey of our Loki, instead, the show could allow this alternate version of the character to assess those deeds for himself and make a decision about who he wants to be. 2012 Loki, while a villain, was still a lost soul struggling to come to grips with his identity — a son of Jotunheim, brought up in the house of Odin and raised as their own. Like we see in Thor: The Dark World and Ragnarok, at his very core Loki is very much Asgardian and no matter how hard he runs from that, it’ll always be a part of him.
Loki, like WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier, can provide both Loki and audiences a deeper appreciation of this character. Not just through the lens of the core Loki we follow through the show or the one we grew to love from 2011-2018, but also with the possibility of seeing other versions of the character. The show *is* dealing with alternate realities, and we’ve seen many incarnations of Loki in the comics including Lady Loki, Kid Loki, and Old-Man Loki. Perhaps these variants will also make an appearance in the show and explore what it means to be Loki through their own unique perspectives? No doubt, all causing mischief though.
Much like Loki, audiences gasped when Gamora was killed by her evil adopted father Thanos in Infinity War so that he could obtain the Soul Stone. After a long redemption arc in which she found a family with her fellow Guardians and saved the galaxy a few times, Gamora became a hero in her own right. So, when Endgame introduced a time-variant of Gamora from 2014 from around the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy, it opened a very interesting question — what does this character look like without her family unit?
We know from Guardians that Gamora was already on a better path, certainly at least on one opposite to her father, but what does Gamora look like without the influence of the Guardians? We have to remember that the Guardians helped provide Gamora with a family unit that was forcefully taken from her when Thanos killed her biological family. The love and support from Peter & Co. was definitely a contributing factor to where we last saw her, content and comfortable for the first time.
So, what will the Gamora Variant get up to? We don’t see her at Tony’s funeral, and it definitely appears that Peter is searching for her. It makes sense though, why would Gamora automatically trust strangers just because another version of her knew them. It’s going to make a fascinating conflict for the next Guardians film when the characters we know and love have to learn/process that information. Especially when it comes to Peter Quill, frankly the woman he loved has passed and he shouldn’t impose those feelings onto Variant Gamora but it’s going to be difficult for him to navigate that emotional struggle.
Luckily for Gamora, she has a starting point in terms of being able to patch up her relationship with Nebula thanks to our version of her sister having already been through that healing process. So, Gamora might be in a completely different space when we see her — having spent the last few years traveling the Galaxy on her own, perhaps avoiding the TVA?
Variant Gamora gives James Gunn and Marvel Studios the perfect opportunity to once again visit the character and analyze what made her who she is and how she’ll be in a galaxy where the threat from her father no longer lingers. Maybe we’ll see her choose to join the team and honor this other Gamora’s legacy, instead of straight-up replacing the hole that the character we loved left.
The concept of Time Variants allows for Marvel Studios to reanalyze these characters that we’ve known and loved for years in a unique fashion, while also shaking up the status quo that audiences have become so attached to. Whether that’s through Loki, and his mischievous antics or with Gamora’s mysterious disappearance in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3.
Rather than being a straightforward and easy excuse to just bring characters back, Marvel Studios is pushing down on the fact of the importance of these characters’ deaths. When you go into Loki or Guardians 3, these are not the same characters that we last saw — and that’s the key difference. All the character development, laughs, and tears are different and that makes for some fascinating storytelling. Not to mention the fact that it also helps expand the universe by venturing into the concept of the multiverse and consequences of our heroes’ actions — sure, we have a version of Loki back but that brings consequences, one that could threaten the fabric of reality.
And we get to view this dilemma through our favorite characters’ eyes, which will most certainly be the case with the third Guardians movie, where Peter and the team share our fondness/experience for the original Gamora and have to deal with the changes that are presented with this variant.
Overall, Time Variants can be considered an easy fix to these character deaths — but they actually provide a much more interesting exploration into what makes these characters who they are and challenges the audiences’ previous history with the characters. They also get to continue Avengers: Endgame‘s exploration into the multiverse, allowing the ending of the Infinity Saga not just to be an ending, but a wellspring of fascinating potential and possibility.