Over the last few months, Disney and Marvel have released three series that all have, in their own way, advanced the MCU’s larger arc and created deep character studies of some of Marvel’s secondary characters in their features. It was a way for Disney to get more eyes on their streaming service and for Marvel to explore characters that their movie never was able to. Various levels of success can be associate with those first three series, but all felt like it was part of the universe that Marvel has spent so long developing.
Their latest series, What If… ? feels different, instead of feeling more like a standalone show than anything else. Being the first animated project in the MCU, What If… ? ponders the question of what would have happened if certain iconic moments of the universe had happened differently. In theory, it’s a concept that opens up so many possibilities, especially with the arrival of the multiverse in the MCU, but the execution of the show makes it that by the end of the first three episodes you can’t help but wonder what this will bring in the grand scheme of things.
The first three episodes are all vastly different but all continue the tone that we have come to know from the MCU. Being the first animated project within the MCU, it is clear that the show can do a lot more than most Marvel projects. Having no limitation in terms of what is possible to do with visual effects, the show can do a lot. The problem is, by redoing stories that we know before, the show can limit itself a lot.
For example, the first episode centers around what if Peggy had become Captain America instead of Steve. Following much of the first Captain America film story, it feels very by the book but also diverges at times to create an interesting concept. This is what this show is best at when it diverges far enough from the original movies and becomes something else. While not perfect, the good intentions are there and when it succeeds at what it is trying to do, What If… ? is pretty brilliant.
The second episode might not be my favourite of the three, but it was clearly the more emotional one. With the late-great Chadwick Boseman reprising his role as T’Challa, in what will be his last performance. The moment T’Challa appeared on screen and Chadwick’s voice pierced through my sound system, it was hard not to get emotional. This is a man that gave one of the best superhero performances in the MCU and the fact that we get to experience it one last time, even if it is only in animated form, made me very emotional.
The third episode is probably the best one of the three. While I personally ended up enjoying the first one more, the story of Nick Fury having to figure out who is taking out prospects for his Avengers Initiative was one that I truly thought could be a film on its own.
And that is the thing with this series, is that every episode could be their own movie, but because they are only half hours episodes, they end up rushing through the story and by the end, it can be unsatisfying. I wanted to explore more, and I know they probably will do in future seasons, but when the credit rolled for each episode, I found myself wishing that more could have been done.
The main problem with this series is that, after three shows that will all be integral to the future of the MCU, this one feels very out of the MCU. We have been accustomed to everything in the MCU being connected and this feels like it is just there to be there. It’s not a bad thing per se, and who knows, by the end, it might end up playing a big part of the multiverse, but right now, it just feels like it is not part of the bigger picture. It’s entertaining sure, but there are moments that it feels like it is not a show that we have to watch in order to keep understanding the MCU, something that Wandavision, The Falcon and Winter Soldier and Loki all had to their advantage,
What If… ? will be the show that you might just watch the episodes you are intrigued by, not a must-watch per se, but a fun time nevertheless. With some episodes being better than others, it is clear that the MCU is using this show to showcase their creative streaks.