Marvel Studios’ What If…? takes what we know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but delivers the animated action with a twist.
The series draws on the Marvel Comics anthology series of the same name. Like the comic series, this is also an anthology series. We revisit key moments of the MCU through the eyes of Marvel newcomer Jeffrey Wright, who voices The Watcher, and see what would happen had characters done A instead of B. What if but Peggy Carter becomes Captain Carter and Steve Rogers never picks up the shield? Or what if Yondu screws up and picks up T’Challa rather than Peter Quill? The two examples here come straight from the trailer. But these are the sort of questions that the Marvel series seeks to explore.
Press were given the opportunity to watch the first three episodes. They all have their individual enjoyment factor and tonally, they can be all over the place. Comedic, tragic, dramatic, what have you. But hey, are the MCU films any different? I should stress that the second episode will be the emotional one for audiences. It’s too early to tell if we’ll see T’challa again during the nine-episode season. But in any event, the second episode could be the final performance we ever see from Chadwick Boseman. This appearance comes nearly a year after the Black Panther star passed away.
One thing I love about the series is how they don’t stray too far away from the set designs from the film. The third episode really shows the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We know that Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk were happening very close in time. But just how close in time? It’s impressive, really. Obviously, it’s showing what would happen if A didn’t take place and B did. Then what? And again, this is before the formation of the Avengers. This particular segment of the multiverse truly offers something to think about. Hardly any clips from this episode are in the trailer so I’m not really getting into the specifics. It is weird to watch Mark Ruffalo playing Bruce Banner/Hulk during this time. I kind of want to see a film that recuts the three films together. What if, right?
What ties this series back to the MCU –for one–is how many people reprise their roles. Where actors do not reprise their role, the studio replaces them with someone who is able to match their voice. A number of Avengers themselves are back but the same cannot be said for others. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, and Elizabeth Olsen are nowhere to be found. It’s merely a coincidence that the series launches so soon after the Loki season one finale. But anyway, this series really begins to explore the multiverse.
Even though this series is animated, it shouldn’t be viewed as just a medium for children. I say this as someone who regrets being late in watching The Clone Wars. The first three episodes are enjoyable–this series is as much for adults as it is for children. Animation just gives filmmakers another playground for storytelling. It also allows them to pay homage to the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the many comic book artists who gave us such a beautiful world of inspiration. You also have the likes of J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell to name a few. Throw in the films and well, the series doesn’t look too cartoony. The style may be the same but the lighting and lens differ across the season.
There are nine half hour episodes in total for the season, We also know that a second season is on the way. No need to leave viewers hanging until the season finale for an announcement. A silver lining of the pandemic is that animators are able to work from home.
What If…? may be animated but at the end of the day, this series is still canon and essential viewing. You never know if or when something seen in the series will be depicted in live-action.
DIRECTOR: Bryan Andrews
HEAD WRITER: AC Bradley
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Brad Winderbaum, Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Bryan Andrews, AC Bradley
CAST: Andy Serkis, Angela Bassett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, Benicio Del Toro, Bradley Whitford, Carrie Coon, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Sullivan, Clancy Brown, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Danai Gurira, David Dastmalchian, Djimon Hounsou, Dominic Cooper, Don Cheadle, Emily VanCamp, Evangeline Lilly, Frank Grillo, Georges St-Pierre, Hayley Atwell, Jaimie Alexander, Jeff Goldblum, Jeffrey Wright, Jeremy Renner, John Kani, Jon Favreau, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Kat Dennings, Kurt Russell, Leslie Bibb, Mark Ruffalo, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Douglas, Michael Rooker, Natalie Portman, Neal McDonough, Ophelia Lovibond, Paul Bettany, Paul Rudd, Rachel House, Rachel McAdams, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Gunn, Sebastian Stan, Seth Green, Stanley Tucci, Taika Waititi, Tilda Swinton, Toby Jones, Tom Hiddleston, and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor