With the next series to premiere in Marvel Studios phase four that has been playing catch up due to the many delays thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic What If takes everything we may know of the greater MCU and inverts it, remixes it and gives the stories we all love a fresh coat of paint with the characters we all love. No singular story or event is off limits in the 4th series put out by Disney and Marvel – leaning more into the multiverse aspect that has been the identity of this post Infinity Saga phase of the continuously expanding MCU.
What started with Avengers: Endgame and continued in Wandavision & Loki continues here. What if, though an anthology series is cannon in the MCU. 9 different scenarios all happen within the realm of the MCU. What if is based on the comic run of the same name which also explores the same wacky possibilities. And like its predecessors, the story comes first. It may not be executed cleanly but what creator A.C. Bradley does is remarkable.
This is the first animated story within the MCU. The animation is gorgeous all-around. It’s animated to look and feel real, certainly looks more realistic than The Bad Batch but the colors are crisp and vivid in the character design that resembles the likeness of their live-action counterparts.
Almost all the actors and actresses that have had roles small or large in the MCU lend their voice talents to What If. Some notable actors that are missing are Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Dace Bautista, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Liv Tyler, Zoe Saldana, Scarlett Johansson, Brie Larson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Leticia Wright. Everyone else easily steps back into their respective roles flawlessly. And for the newcomers who voice some of the more iconic characters in the MCU, they are all brilliant, giving a fresh feel to characters that have been around since the earliest days of phase 1. Leading the way in What If is the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) as a being that absolutely cannot under any circumstance interfere with the lives of each character in an unlimited number of universes.
Out of the many performances in this 9-episode series (same as Wandavision) Wright’s smooth voice carries each story from its infancy to maturity. The character itself is a silent observer, never once breaking his oath, even when tempted because of his belief and trust in humanity. But for the sake of all mankind over an infinite number of universes, the Watcher breaks his oath to stop the overarching villain in the series – Ultron (Ross Marquand). Ross returns to the MCU after flawlessly taking over as the Red Skull for Hugo Weaving in Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame.
The villainous Ultron doesn’t make his (its?) appearance until episode 7 “What If… Thor Were an Only Child” but at the very end as a pre-credit scene. Thor, continued to be played by the charming and muscley ChrisHemsworth. Everything that has come before – Captain Carter (Haley Atwell), Zombies, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becoming Star-Lord, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) losing his heart, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) rescuing Tony Stark (Mick Wingart) are all individual stories – some great, some mediocre. The series kicks off with Captain Carter – a shot for shot remake of Captain America: The First Avenger where Peggy gets the super soldier serum and Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) gets a Mark 1 like Iron Man suit called the “Hydra Stomper”. It’s a fun reimagining of the events but it wasn’t the strongest episode to start the series on.
Like nearly all the entries in the MCU, What If has the signature lighter tone and comedy that go hand in hand with one another. In “Zombies” the comedy is a welcomed distraction from Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) amongst an episode with a lot of grief and death mixed into the main plot. If you’ve seen the episode, this version of Scott Lang belongs in Futurama.
What If signifies the final performances by the late actor Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa. Knowing that this was the last job he did before his sad and tragic death brings out emotion where there want meant to be any. Hearing his voice for 4 episodes will bring a smile and tears to anyone’s face. The man who brought this character to life, made billions feel like they could each be a superhero will never be forgotten, Chadwick Boseman will also hold a special place in the MCU.
For how lighthearted and comedic What If is, the depth of this show goes way beyond what is portrayed in live action. Death has a hand in every single episode. Some characters grief is so overwhelming they can’t move on, have no will to live and keep fighting while some stop at nothing to learn every piece of knowledge to save the ones they love despite the cost of their soul. If losing Tony Stark once was heartbreaking enough, get used to it. No character is safe in What If. Though some are given the spotlight that haven’t gotten it before and deservedly so, creator A.C. Bradley shares the wealth.
When looking at the 4 shows that have released in phase 4, with one more to come this year in Hawkeye, What If is second best to Loki. 9 episodes isn’t enough as there is a tease of a 10th episode of Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams) and Tony. Reasoning of the cut episode can be blamed on the pandemic in which that episode will now be attached to season 2. What If didn’t have everyone talking on a week-to-week basis like Wandavision or Loki but the series is spectacular in its animation, acting and fresh reimagining of a universe that is just getting started in a multiverse with more characters on the way.
I wish Jeffrey Wright would voice every role; I could listen to him talk all day long.
Written By: A. C. Bradley
Directed By: Bryan Andrews
Music By: Laura Karpman
Starring: Jeffrey Wright
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: August 11, 2021
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
My Score: 4 out of 5