Over its ten-plus years gracing the big screen, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded the comic book adaptation in ways some never thought were possible. After the conclusion of the Infinity Saga, Disney and Marvel Studios continue to be ambitious with their blockbuster filmmaking.
Late last year, Marvel Studios opened up its sprawling, interconnected universe to television with WandaVision. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki followed, and all provided a new dimension to what is possible with the comic book genre in the television format.
Marvel Studios is now going one step further by bringing animation to the mix with What If…? Both Marvel and DC have a storied history with animation pre-MCU. Comic book purists may go as far enough to say that shows and films like Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Justice League, and X-Men have given us the best depictions of the beloved characters to date.
What If…? enters a competitive space of comic book animation, especially with Invincible recently changing the game on Amazon Prime Video. What If…? is unlike any comic book animated show that has come before, which is why it mostly delivers.
What sets What If…? apart from past superhero animation is its premise, telling alternate stories of the most recognizable in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—inspired by the comic books that debuted in the ’70s. The premiere episode focuses on Peggy Carter, who takes the Super Soldier Serum instead of Steve Rogers. This is the episode that felt the most organic and one we could easily see continue in live-action.
Not only does Agent Carter get her time to shine with the shield, but Steve Rogers also still displays his Captain America qualities in a different light that makes for a fun twist. While many actors return to voice their respective MCU characters, Chris Evans did not, but the new voice actor steps in and does an excellent job in the role, bringing out the character’s valor. In fact, Marvel’s strong character work is more evident in the animated series by showcasing how well the people behind the scenes know them, even when portraying them in a different light.
The second episode of What If…? sees Chadwick Boseman delivering his voice talents as T’Challa, who takes on the role of Star-Lord. When this story was first revealed, it was the premise I was the most unsure about because of how far-fetched it all sounded. Nonetheless, it’s all explained in the episode, and there are also some amusing surprises in this one that longtime MCU fans will enjoy.
The third and final What If…? episode shown to critics was in the vein of an Agatha Christie mystery, with someone out to get members of the Avengers initiative before the Battle of New York. This episode was a thriller all the way through with Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury as the main character of the tale.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed a lot and takes more and more chances to add variety with comic book characters in both film and television. What If…? certainty continues that notion by giving us three distinct stories exploring different genres but still has plenty of that MCU fun sprinkled throughout, and you can tell, the creators had just as much fun crafting it.
As Marvel Studios’ first animated project, we also have to talk about the animation, which took some getting used to. The animation feels like a mix between 3-D and traditional 2-D animation. There are some moments where the animation looks stunning and other times where it falls flat. Compared to other animated shows and films, it doesn’t feel as strong visually, but it stands outs.
The series as a whole so far feels like a fun project and nothing more than that. Still, the creators of What If…? have said that the series is just as part of the MCU as what’s come before, so it will be fascinating to see if any of these ideas will find their way into live-action given what’s on the horizon.
Each What If…? story is also narrated by Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher. Wright gives the new stories gravitas and makes the multiverse concept easily digestible for any fan jumping into the series.
Something else that stood out in the first three episodes was the score. Like most long-standing franchises, the MCU has developed its fair share of recognizable themes that aren’t always recycled, but composer Laura Karpman brings them to the forefront in a very effective manner in each episode while also creating new ones for the twists we encounter.
Overall Thoughts: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has no shortage of fun in its films and shows, but What If…? takes things to another level. It’s no secret Marvel Studios is trying to find new ways of turning the comic book genre on its head, which is primarily done by exploring untapped genres in the space. What If…? is another example of this, but this time there’s truly nothing like it. Avengers: Endgame and Loki felt like the precursors to the idea that anything can happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s explored to its fullest in What If…? With the mix of the three stories we got so far, it will be stimulating to see how far Marvel twists the universe and our heroes as we know them, and hopefully, it’s not just a self-referential ploy.
Overall Rating: 7/10
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