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Updated: October 13, 2021 @ 7:15 pm
Deputy Layout Editor F21
Marvel Studios’ latest Disney+ series “What If…?” explores the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in a fun and exciting way, breathing new life into stories and characters we already know and love.
The animated series has a total of nine episodes, with each new episode telling a new tale in a different part of Marvel’s multiverse. Limitless possibilities allowed head writer A.C. Bradley to have fun with existing characters, sometimes strengthening the ones that were weaker in previous MCU films.
The series also introduces one of the most powerful figures in Marvel comics, Uatu — more commonly known as the Watcher, voiced by Jeffrey Wright.
At the start of every episode, the Watcher introduces the audience to the idea of the multiverse and his role as the recorder of history. The Watcher’s sole purpose is to watch the events of each reality unfold and has vowed to never interfere. He also acts as the show’s narrator, guiding the audience through the alternate realities from the one that’s played out over the span of Marvel’s 25 movies.
Some episodes are a hit-or-miss, but the strong ones carry the load, making the series worthwhile for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series starts off on a bland note with “What if… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?”, focusing on Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) taking the super-soldier serum —instead of Steve Rogers— to become Captain Britain.
The narrative of the first episode is far too similar to that of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” becoming redundant and tough to get through.
The fourth episode, “What if… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?,” is easily one of the best-told stories in all of the MCU, even though the episode is only around 30 minutes long.
It’s a tragic story about Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) losing his love interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) in the car crash that originally placed him on the path of becoming the Sorcerer Supreme.
While his heroic arc mostly plays out the same as it does in “Doctor Strange,” it’s the loss of Palmer that drives him to commit acts he otherwise would not.
The episode ends up being a moving story about grief and how far a person is willing to go in an attempt to reverse the irreversible, mirroring the themes explored in the other Disney+ Marvel series, “WandaVision.”
This is easily the best episode of the series, with the most surprising conclusion that leaves the audience wanting more of that story.
For the most part, the episodes are standalone stories that are parallel with each other — the one recurring character being The Watcher. Without spoiling anything, the culmination of the first season finds a way to thread every story into one cohesive narrative that has serious implications on the MCU as a whole.
What’s really amazing about this series is that most of the actors who play these characters in the movies reprise their roles through voice acting, adding a level of legitimacy. However, there are some characters who are not voiced by their original actors, sometimes being more obvious than other times.
Ross Marquand’s vocal performance for Ultron in “What If… Ultron Won” feels like it’s trying too hard to mimic James Spader’s iconic voice in “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
Marquand is not a bad voice actor; he managed to seamlessly bring back the iconic Red Skull in “Avengers: Endgame,” who was originally voiced by Hugo Weaving in the first Captain America film, but his performance as Ultron is distractingly off.
On the flipside, Black Widow’s (Lake Bell) voice sounds amazingly similar, while also distinctly different, to that of Scarlett Johansson. It becomes clear that it isn’t Johansson, but the essence of the character is kept in a way that really works due to Bell’s talent as a voice actor.
Actors who voiced their own characters included Chris Hemsworth, who continues to have a lot of fun with the more comedic side of Thor, and Benedict Cumberbatch, whose gravitas carries the Doctor Strange storyline and gives him so much emotional depth. The late Chadwick Boseman also returned as King T’Challa.
Boseman’s performance, given his untimely death, is a great treat for fans of his work in the MCU. This version of T’Challa, seen in “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord,” is a more comedic version of the character we know from the films.
Boseman has fun with the performance, delivering comedic lines while also nailing the more dramatic moments that his character is known for.
Other standout episodes in this first season include “What If… Thor Were an Only Child,” “What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath” and the previously mentioned “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord.”
Some episodes are better than others, but you won’t want to miss the ones listed above. Most of the episodes can be enjoyed out of order until the last two, which should be viewed in order after watching the rest.
The season finale, and the overall landscape of the MCU, teases the possibility of not only continuing these stories in future seasons but also crossing these characters over with their live-action counterparts.
Marvel’s “What If…?” is now streaming on Disney+.
Deputy Layout Editor F21
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