Marvel’s latest endeavour What If…? was an interesting shift in direction, both in the sense of the fact that it’s animated and the fact that it deals with the mostly unexplored (for now) multiverse through the eyes of The Watcher. To be completely honest, I never planned to watch What If…? as I thought it seemed like a bit of a stretch, but overall it ended up being an enjoyable watch.
First, let’s explore how well each episode faired before looking generally at the positives and negatives of the series. The first episode was in my opinion the weakest one as it felt like some of the events seemed like a stretch – like how I was concerned What If…? would be. That being said, it does a good job of setting up the multiverse premise by exploring alternate timelines and events, in this case, if Peggy Carter took the super-soldier serum as opposed to Steve. However, the episode, unfortunately, made Peggy end up feeling quite bland as she doesn’t particularly have much of a challenge once she is Captain Carter. There isn’t particularly a hero’s growth journey as she just automatically excels at everything, although this was to be expected to an extent given her background as an agent, there was literally no struggle from the get-go which was a shame. In spite of this, there was good humour in the episode so it was enough to keep you watching.
The second episode takes us to space to explore the premise of if T’Challa was Star Lord. When initially hearing this was going to be an episode, I honestly thought it seemed a bit random, but once the episode progresses it makes slightly more sense. The episode marks a solid return of Josh Brolin in an alternate take on Thanos and does a great job with humour, particularly when poking holes at Thanos’ plan throughout Infinity War. It also presents a good honour to Chadwick Boseman, who makes his last appearance as T’Challa in the series. However, where the episode falls slightly short is that Thanos is more or less nerfed compared to how he was presented in the MCU. Likewise, it falls into a similar pitfall as the first episode where T’Challa never really faces that big of a challenge in the sense he doesn’t particularly struggle. That being said, it is more forgivable due to T’Challa having been brought up by the raiders. The episode did take you out of the action somewhat with the glimpse of Quill at the end who was not voiced by Chris Pratt, which felt inconsistent.
The third episode is where you see how many different turns the series can take and where the series also begins to pick up more with the question of if The Avengers were wiped out by a ‘serial killer’. It is grittier and darker and takes a more serious direction compared to the previous episodes. However, it culminates in a fun and more light-hearted finale where Loki becomes ruler of Earth.
The fourth episode follows suit by exploring what if Dr Strange lost Christine instead of injuring his hands. It adopts a more serious, dark and grittier turn and deals with subject matters like grief, death and arrogance. It was one of the best episodes by demonstrating emotional depth and leaving a thought-provoking impression. It also shows how powerful and potentially dangerous Dr Strange could be.
After two fairly dark and serious episodes, What If…? goes to the opposite end of the spectrum with the goofy episode based around a zombie apocalypse. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but is also not ridiculously absurd. The sheer outlandishness of the episode made it a joy to watch, but the biggest pitfall was not having Tom Holland voicing Spiderman, especially when so many other characters are voiced by their MCU counterpart.
Episode 6 deals with what if Killmonger rescued Tony Stark from Afghanistan. Much like with episode 2, I thought this seemed a bit random, but if you recall back to Black Panther, Killmonger had actually been in Afghanistan so the subtle connection was appreciated. The episode essentially sees Killmonger work his way up Tony’s list of allies to become close to him before eventually killing him to appease those back in Wakanda. However, as you may expect, Pepper Potts’ suspicions grow over his involvement in Tony’s death. The episode did a great job at reintroducing Killmonger back to the MCU.
The seventh episode was another highlight for being goofy as it features the return of Chris Hemsworth as Thor in an episode that explores what if Odin returned Loki to Laufey so that he and Thor were never brothers. The result? Party Thor. Thor takes to Earth to host a large party but causes mayhem which he must hide from his mother. The episode is humorous and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Episode 8 explores the idea of what would happen if Ultron won in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The episode has an interesting take on Ultron as Marvel provides another case of bringing back a long-gone character. It also mimics the Dr Strange episode with how drastic events could be if they took an alternate course of action. It provides a touching look at Natasha and Clint’s friendship and essentially offers Black Widow’s death in Endgame but in reverse.
Episode 9 is the finale of the season and serves as a great culmination of all of the episodes by merging characters and events from the course of the series to result in an epic final showdown. It was cleverly integrated but does leave you scratching your heads with the Gamora inclusion. This is because there was supposed to be an episode based presumably on if Gamora killed Thanos which has been pushed back to the second season due to it not being completed as a result of COVID-19. Another aspect with Gamora that felt off was that she was voiced by someone who sounded a lot different to Zoe Saldana which felt strange given how they’d made a conscious effort to have voice actors who sounded similar to their MCU counterparts.
Now all of the episodes are rounded up, let’s dive into some general points. Starting with the cons of the series, we’ve touched on some of the inconsistencies with regards to voicing the characters. The main issue was that not all of the MCU actors returned to voice their animated version, which sometimes felt out of place or distracting. Some of the animation was clunky at times with some characters not looking quite right especially when speaking. Elements of the plot in episodes felt rushed or glazed over which made some characters feel too perfect and one dimensional, namely Peggy in the first episode, however, this can be somewhat forgiven given each episode’s 30-minute runtime. The last criticism which is semi-serious was that What If…? season one hates Tony, and I mean hates him. Every episode where Tony had a more centred appearance resulted in him dying or being dead in the zombie episode’s case.
Onto the pros of the series, there was a good mixed bag in terms of tone and the themes the episodes dealt with. As you can probably tell, some of the episodes were goofier and others were quite dark and gritty. Some people didn’t like the animation design too much, but it felt quite comic book-y which was nice given Marvel’s origins, however, some of the animation was lacking. As the series isn’t canon, it never took itself too seriously and messed around with its premise and poked fun at its characters.
On the whole What If…? was an enjoyable watch which delivered on being comical and simultaneously thought-provoking. It featured a great return of characters, mostly solid performances, and intriguing ideas explored throughout with not too long of a runtime so that you could easily fit the episodes into your day.
You can catch up on What If…? on Disney +.