In its very first animated series, Marvel Studios brings the Marvel comics anthology What If…? to life on the Disney+ screen. Based on the anthology series that debuted in 1977, What If…? reimagines famous events from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and poses the question, what if key moments within a story had changed, where would our heroes be?
The following review is based on the first three episodes of What If…?.
Directed by Marvel veteran Bryan Andrews, each episode is like a step into the Twilight Zone. Jeffrey Wright voices Uatu aka The Watcher, the narrator of the season. He introduces every episode before the characters take the reins in their own respective half-hour episodes. After three episodes, I can safely say that What If…? has me intrigued to see more.
The standout feature of What If…? is the voice cast of the series, many of the previous MCU cast have returned to reprise their roles, from Dominic Cooper to Jeff Goldblum to Karen Gillan to Taika Waititi, the cast list is absolutely packed. Of course, the most notable name on the list is none other than the late Chadwick Boseman. What If…? was Boseman’s final performance, so his appearance as an alternate universe T’Challa is bittersweet in many ways.
And, as far as concepts go, Boseman’s performance in Episode 2, where we see Yondu and the Ravagers kidnap a young T’Challa instead of Peter Quill, is the strongest of the first three episodes. This features a rakish and suave T’Challa who dons the mantle of Star-Lord. It’s amazing to see the star power emulating off of some of these characters just through the strength of the actor’s voice. Thankfully this is not the only time we see Boseman’s T’Challa in What If…?
However, that does not mean every concept will land. Much like the comic anthology, some concepts will hit harder than others. And despite the clamor and hype for Hayley Atwell‘s return as Peggy Carter, in a version of the story where she takes the Super Soldier serum instead of Steve and becomes Captain Carter, the episode is uneven. It focuses a bit too heavily on Steve and Peggy, rather than just Peggy herself. I’m far more interested in T’Challa as the sly Star-Lord than what has been presented in the pilot.
Concepts aside, the animation of the series is flawless. Obviously with a series like What If…? animation is the best medium for the job. It would be impossible to rebuild the massive sets from the MCU with the way the series leapfrogs around different tales. The illustrative style calls back to classic American illustrators. Andrews describes it as a “heroic, hyper-realized, super-idealized look,” one that is not too overblown or cartoonish.
After the events of Loki, which opened up the MCU to the multiverse, What If…? feels like another fantastic soft introduction for the audience to start grasping the concepts of the multiverse. Audiences will obviously be looking for connections between the animated show and Loki, especially since both deal with the multiverse, but whether it will braid itself into the MCU or simply stand alone as an anthology is hard to tell.
Uatu has a history in the comics of interfering with the subjects that he is watching over, and his eyes are ever present in the series. We spot his omniscient eyes in the horizons and backgrounds, watching over. So, is it possible The Watcher might step in during one of the later episodes? It feels like it’s possible. If not, at least audiences can enjoy revisiting some of their old classic MCU favorites in a new setting, with no strings attached.
What If…? premieres on Disney+ on August 11th and airs on Wednesdays.