Review: ‘Marvel’s What If…?’ explores what might have been in the MCU, and it’s great

Here’s a true story for you. When I was young, I collected comics. Not that uncommon, to be sure, especially among kids in the late 80s and early 90s who had heard stories about the adults who paid off their homes by hanging on to comics and baseball cards and other collectables. So I didn’t just collect comics; I collected comics.

I loved many characters and series, but the one I enjoyed most –the one that I was buying when no one else I know was– was a series by Marvel called “What if…?”, in which a toga-clad all-seeing cosmic being related stories of the Marvel universe I knew and loved but with a single change. Imagine the butterfly effect at work: a butterfly flaps its wings in China, you get rain in Stanley Park; Peggy Carter doesn’t go up to the observation room as Steve Rogers is headed toward the experiment that would make him Captain America, and instead, we end up with Captain Carter. I loved it. I still do. And now they’ve made an animated series out of it.

The series is exactly the premise I outlined above but set around the characters we’ve come to know and love from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Each episode, about a half-hour long each, tells a complete story, and the first three are great, great, and pretty good!

First is the story I outlined above, as well. Peggy Carter stays by Steve’s side, and the result is that she ends up the super-soldier instead of him. The second outlines what might have happened if Yondu has picked up T’Challa instead of Peter Quill, and the third is centred around the week in which Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor all take place, but someone or something is killing them off before they can be recruited and become The Avengers we know and love.

Of these three episodes, the third is the weakest –the payoff isn’t really set up to well– but none of them is bad, and all of them feature voice performances by the actors you already know as the characters. The voice performances are a little hit or miss, in some cases because the actor isn’t that great at voice acting, and in others, it’s not the actor you were expecting, but the ones that work really work. I, personally, wasn’t quite prepared to hear Chadwick Boseman again in the T’Challa centred episode –his loss is one that I think most of us really felt– but his performance is good, and there’s a lovely dedication to him.

As the super-soldier Captain Carter, Hayley Atwell also reminds us that we need more Agent Carter content in our lives. Jeffery Wright, who plays Uatu the Watcher, the aforementioned toga-clad all-seeing being, has the perfect voice for a character like this. Honestly, I hope we get to see him play the character in person one day.

At one point during the marketing campaign, I became worried that this series wouldn’t be a true anthology, that there would be some through-line of Doctor Strange or another character visiting these alternate worlds. While I’m excited at the possibilities each episode creates, an anthology is exactly what I want from this series, and I am glad that’s what they have given us.

All in all, What If…? promises to be something unique and special among the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises. My main actual complaint about the series is that at a half-hour each, the stories don’t feel as fleshed out as they could. However, as each episode is only really meant to be a glimpse into other possibilities, I’ll just have to enjoy what we got.

Other Thoughts:

  • The animation is quite pretty. I did the cell shaded style.
  • I’ll be curous to see which character whose actor did not return sticks out the most to different people.
  • I’ve said this before but I would like to see more weird Asgardian tech, please. Flying space canoes with machine guns and the like.
  • The trailer had clips from an episode with Killmonger and Iron Man, and a Marvel Zombies story. I can’t wait for those two.

Marvel’s What If…? premieres on Disney+ tomorrow, August 11th, with new episodes following weekly. The first season will feature nine episodes.


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