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Review: Marvel Studios’ “What If…?” Is a Smart Refreshing Twist on the MCU Stories We Know and Love

“There was an idea called What If…? The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable stories, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to fight the battles we never could”. See what I did there?

Marvel Studios first animated series, What If…? Debuts on Disney+ this Wednesday, based on the premise of the comic series of the same name, the show takes a look at some well known MCU stories and asks the question: What If…? still confused? Don’t worry, you won’t be for long, as episode 1 twists the narrative of one of Marvel’s most beloved characters, showing what could have happened, or rather what DID happen, somewhere in an alternate universe.

To give you a good idea of what’s happening in What If…? We need to go back to the season finale of Loki. When Sylvie killed the One Who Remains, his control over the sacred timeline was released, leaving it free to branch into infinite alternate realities, each different from the one we know. That’s the basis of What If…? with each episode following an alternate reality where the events of the MCU played out differently.

 

 

Because of what happened in Loki, the events of What If…? Are canon to the MCU. They will, however, likely have no impact on the MCU’s overarching storyline due to them happening in alternate realities of the multiverse. With the final episode pushed into series two due to the ongoing pandemic, series one will feature nine episodes, we were able to stream the first three, so this review is based on those episodes.

Each episode comes in at around 30 minutes and has a stand-alone storyline, allowing What If…? to deliver a concise narrative without focusing on world-building. It’s an easy watch and feels like a relief to see an MCU show that isn’t trying to connect to the broader universe. You’ll need very little prior knowledge going into the show, making it an excellent addition for less hardcore fans. However, with tons of Marvel details and the surprise return of favourite characters, MCU nuts will still have plenty to get excited about.

The best way I can describe the show is that it’s like a comic brought to life; the style feels pulpy and comic-like. With rich, vibrant colours and defined outlines, the animation is at its best during the action sequences, of which there are plenty. Impact lines and motion swirls add to the comic book atmosphere similarly to Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse; it holds your attention and makes you feel you’re at the centre of the story, just like reading a book.

Each episode is bookended by Jeffrey Wright’s Uatu / The Watcher, a mysterious alien who can view every reality in the multiverse. The story is introduced as we know it until one pivotal moment sets things on a completely different path.

A minor criticism would be that the voice work is pretty inconsistent. Some of the characters are voiced by new talent, with most MCU actors returning to voice their animated counterparts. Some are better than others, showing that voice work is a separate skill from live-action acting. Chadwick Boseman stands out, returning to voice T’Challa for his final MCU appearance following his tragic death last year. Not only is it fantastic to hear him on screen, but he shines as an animated version of the character,  featuring in episode 2, which asks the question: What if T’Challa was picked up by Yondu and the Ravagers, instead of Peter Quill. The episode brings back a host of familiar Guardians’ characters for an action-packed mission across the galaxy, which was probably my favourite of the first three episodes.

Episode 1 shows a reality in which Peggy Carter takes the Super-Soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. The story features a more detailed character arc for Peggy, a new version of Steve, and plenty of issues from Hydra. It is a visually thrilling episode, that feature lots of action and starts off the series in style.

Episode 3 tells the story of ‘Fury’s big week’ from a new perspective. Brilliant Performances from Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L Jackson as the respective characters Loki and Nick Fury will be sure to make this episode a firm fan favourite.

As an anthology series with the potential for multiple seasons, the format works incredibly well. It serves to provide fans with a bit of light relief from some of the more intense stories told week to week in Marvel’s other Disney+ shows. Every level of MCU fan will enjoy these weekly condensed stories as Marvel sends its familiar characters on brand new adventures. 8/10 stars

Matt Jones

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