The first animated series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, What If…?, has finished its first season on Disney+. Instead of focusing on the next steps in the MCU’s story like the other Disney+ shows, What If…? is an anthology series that explores how the universe might be different if key moments didn’t unfold the same way as they had in the movies. Some of the episodes centered on the ideas of “What If… T’Challa Became Star-Lord?” and “What If… Thor Were an Only Child?”. Are these ideas intriguing enough to hold the viewers’ attention, or is Marvel better off focusing on their main universe? Let’s watch on to find out.
The most fun aspect of What If…? is that it allows the audience to see characters interact with each other who we haven’t before. T’Challa bonding with Yondu or Peggy Carter and Black Widow being friends provide a lot of exciting fanservice for those who have followed the MCU for over a decade. These interactions lead to great humor, heart, and drama that are absolutely worth experiencing.
It’s also a lot of fun seeing characters explored in different ways and seeing how they would act in situations we wouldn’t otherwise see them in. Seeing how Tony Stark would behave if he never became Iron Man and thus never grew as a character is a genuinely interesting idea. What’s even more entertaining is watching a ragtag group of superheroes battling their way through a zombie apocalypse. What’s especially fun about them fighting zombie hoards is that they’re allowed to get a little more violent than usual. Thanos being reformed into a good guy, but still showing interest in mass genocide is actually an interesting character deep-dive.
The superhero action is incredible in this series. Because the show focuses on events that didn’t happen in the main universe, the fight scenes are played around with in creative ways. Happy Hogan blasting through zombie skulls with Iron Man’s hand laser and Doctor Strange battling against a darker version of himself are incredibly exciting to see. The show allows them to do anything with the action, including killing off characters or using weapons or powers they haven’t before, and anything new to the MCU after over 20 movies is welcome.
The voice acting throughout is also impressive. Many of the original actors return to voice their characters, while newer actors take over the role for existing characters. Even the newcomers act and sound like the characters they are portraying. All the voice actors actually act with their voices and show emotion rather than just reading lines like some celebrities do for animated films.
What If…? is ultimately a fun way to celebrate the MCU and its surprisingly deep history and lore. It’s always exciting to see a celebration of a piece of media that has so many fans.
For most of the episodes, they try to tell a full movie’s plot in just a 20 to 30 minute time frame. It leads to incredibly choppy storytelling in which they jump from scene to scene in a rushed manner. It makes those episodes hard to watch. Episode 1 follows the story of Peggy Carter taking the place of Steve Rogers and taking the serum to become a super soldier instead. The rest of the episode is just the plot of Captain America: the First Avenger told in 20 or so minutes with minor differences here and there. The story becomes a rushed mess that’s haphazardly edited together.
Some of the situations wouldn’t happen and are extremely forced. Peggy Carter becoming a super soldier is an intriguing idea, but that wouldn’t lead to Howard Stark inventing the Iron Man armor decades before Tony would. T’Challa being abducted instead of Peter Quill and becoming Star-Lord is a lot of fun, but how would that turn Thanos into a good guy? Quill never met Thanos until Avengers: Infinity War, and the episode proves that Thanos is obsessed with genocide, so he’d still seek it out. The point of the show is that we can see how things would play out in situations that didn’t occur in the MCU, but many of them totally wouldn’t play out that way.
One of the worst-handled events is when Dr. Christine Palmer’s death is a fixed point in time, but Doctor Strange keeps going back in time to stop it. It’s actually one of the better and most interesting episodes of the season, but the beginning involving a montage of Rachel McAdams dying Looney Tunes style on repeat is filled with unintentional humor. This tragedy shouldn’t be funny, but it’s one of the most hilarious scenes in the MCU. For most of her deaths, she’s shot or killed in a car crash, but there’s one time where this young, healthy woman just dies for no reason while dancing. She just drops dead. It’s super goofy which is clearly not what they were going for.
For the final episodes, the Watcher assembles a team to protect the multiverse against Ultron. However, the chosen individuals are completely arbitrary. He could have chosen an army of infinite Doctor Stranges and Captain Marvels, but decides on Peggy Carter, a Thor obsessed with partying, T’Challa as Star-Lord, and the never-trustworthy Killmonger. The Watcher proves in a previous episode that he’s extremely powerful, but doesn’t fight alongside his team. He already interfered, so now’s not the time to back out. What’s even stranger is that all of the chosen characters have been the focus of a previous episode except for Gamora using Thanos’ blade. Was there an episode that didn’t make it into the season?
The show’s animation is by no means terrible, but it does take some getting used to. It feels like they weren’t sure if they wanted to use 2D or 3D animation, so they went with some strange hybrid.
What If…? is an entertaining-enough series that makes you think “hey, that’s a neat idea” without serving much more of a purpose. It’s without a doubt one of the weakest things put out for the Marvel Cinematic Universe because of it’s sloppy storytelling and its forced plotlines, but enjoyable-enough that it’s worth watching and sticking around for Season 2 if you’re already a fan of the rest of the MCU.
Rating: 6 / 10