The MCU makes its largest leap into the Multiverse in What If…?, an anthology series of animated shorts that take moments, stories and characters from the films we know and flips them on their head. What If… T’Challa Became Star Lord and What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark are just some of the wild adventures this series takes you on over its 9-episode run.
The entire concept of a What If…? animated series really is quite genius on a surface level. You can tell absolutely any story you want over a single 30 minute episode, changing the events of the MCU’s past and have no conflicting impact on the continuity thanks to the presence of the Multiverse. You also don’t need to splurge on locking down actors for extensive shoots – they can more or less just read their lines and leave. That being said, what sounds unfathomably awesome in concept can sometimes turn out to be just pretty decent overall. In the case of What If…?, most of the episodes, especially the first 7, are mainly just neat ideas without much substance. For that reason, this series feels like just a bit of fun, more than it is exciting or groundbreaking. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some exciting moments in here, but it’s the lack of stakes that takes any of the potential thrill and heart out of the individual episodes.
I made a reference to this in my review of Star Wars: Visions, but one thing that becomes frustratingly clear quite early on in What If…? is that most of these episodes don’t have a clear-cut beginning, middle and ending structure. Sure, they tell some sort of story within them, but the vast majority end just when things start getting exciting. I get that they had a vision from the beginning with what they wanted this series to become, but as a viewer not knowing their overall plan, it just became frustrating to sit through an average episode and have it end when it’s getting good. Look, save for perhaps the first episode, I wouldn’t say any of the episodes are bad – it’s just that they’re cool concepts that are neat to see and then you just move on.
Where the series really does pick up in quality and excitement (and honestly saved this thing from being a misfire) is in the final two episodes. These two episodes alone eclipse the quality of what came before, delivering stories on the scale of what you’d expect when you hear the concept behind What If…?. I can’t say much about these episodes without getting into heavy spoilers, but everything from the execution to the narrative and overall concept make the journey to get there well worth it. It’s these final episodes that give the season’s score a bit of a boost.
I do want to touch on the voice performances without going into every individual one, because there’s a lot. The great thing about the series is that Marvel were able to get around 90% of the original voice actors to reprise their roles, with all of the big guns showing up (aside from Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, for obvious reasons). The voice cast that they got to return for this series are all great, and just having them in here really helps to bridge the gap back to the live action MCU entries. The likes of Jeremy Renner, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chadwick Boseman are all great as they’ve ever been, but credit should not be taken away from those breathing new life into . They may not be the original voices, but the impressions of Iron Man (Mick Wingert), Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) and Black Widow (Lake Bell) especially are quite convincing.
Newcomer Jeffrey Wright, who provides the voice of our trusty narrator, The Watcher, makes a statement here for why he should play a much larger role in the MCU going forward. Someone of his acting calibre, with a voice so powerful, would be awesome to see in other Marvel films or TV shows, especially if we get to see him in live action.
In the end, What If…? is a neat, fun, slightly disappointing and overall enjoyable ride through a number of hypothetical MCU scenarios that sound much better on paper. Some episodes feel too close to what we’ve already seen, while the lack of consequences in this anthology/Multiverse model strip away the heart and tension. The presence of those negatives has me torn because, on the other hand, there’s actually some very exciting stuff hiding within this series – it just takes a while to get to. All that being said, Marvel has now opened the floodgates for more Multiverse stories like these to be told, and perhaps there’s even more interesting game-changing journeys waiting around the corner.