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Disney+ Review: What If…? (First Three Episodes)

August 11, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Following the wild successes of Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision on Disney+ earlier this year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now delivering its first official animated series with What If…?, which takes advantage of the medium to offer a series of condensed side adventures that reimagine well known plot points from the MCU.

Narrated by The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), the show is built around the intriguing premise of asking “what if?” questions that explore aspects of the canon from different vantage points. I was able to preview the first three episodes of the nine episode season for review, and while the series so far has a few shortcomings that I’ll get to later on, it still offers a fairly enjoyable glimpse into the Multiverse of possibilities behind the MCU.

The first episode, which is premiering this week, asks “what if” Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) had taken the super soldier serum during World War II instead of Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton). The second episode’s “what if?” scenario imagines T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as Star-Lord when he gets picked up from Earth by Yondu (Michael Rooker) instead of Peter Quill, and the third episode imagines a different origin story for the formation of the Avengers, with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) coming to Earth while the team was forming.

Directed by Bryan Andrews, with A.C. Bradley serving as the head writer, the point of What If…? is to have familiar characters being repositioned in different roles. While the setups for these episodes are intriguing, the stories themselves have a tendency to peter out slightly. At about half-an-hour each, the three episodes I previewed felt rushed in terms of pacing. They tend to race through the plots of the over two hour films, and can feel a bit convoluted with the amount of story they are each trying to pack in. It’s a bit like reading the Cliff’s Notes version of a novel.

The cel-shaded animation also takes some getting used to. The series has a unique digitally-drawn, 2D animation style to it that isn’t quite full and more recalls the look of a comic book or graphic novel, right down to the framing. The designs of the characters are recognizably based on the actors from the films, and several of the original actors have been brought back to reprise their roles, save for a few notable exceptions like Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Evans as Captain America. It’s worth noting that episode two features Boseman’s final role as T’Challa, and serves as a fine tribute to the late actor, with a nice dedication to him.

By its nature, What If…? feels somewhat inconsequential so far, and is more about having some fun playing around in the vast sandbox of the MCU. But, at its best, the show functions as a kinda cool peak into the larger Multiverse, with some enjoyable character moments throughout. The first three episodes don’t quite live up to the full potential of what the show could have been, but it’s still a pretty good series of side adventures that offer a fairly entertaining diversion for Marvel fans.

The first episode of What If…? will be available to stream on Disney+ as of August 11th, and new episodes will be released weekly on Wednesdays.

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