“What If…?” Review: A refreshing change

After 13 years of established canon, What If…? gives viewers a glimpse into the richness of the Marvel Multiverse

With box offices in a chokehold worldwide, and 24 films under their belt by the time What If…? debuted, a healthy amount of scepticism was levied towards Marvel Studios at the announcement of their Disney+ series. For the most part, their choices for TV series have been stories which would have been done a disservice by being presented in any other format.

WandaVision in particular was a story that could not have been told in a different way and would have been a vastly different – and heavily inferior – product were it to have been a film. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, on the other hand, ultimately did not use its format to full effect, failing to create a series that was satisfying in and of itself and instead relying upon the MCU at large to fuel its own appeal. Loki perhaps couldn’t have been told in a different way, but only because its plot was so inconsequential that it likely would have been a waste of a box office. Its finale, however, does have important ramifications for the future of the MCU.

What If…? certainly benefits from episodic storytelling. Reinventing the characters that audiences have come to know for more than a decade, Jeffrey Wright voices the Watcher, a seemingly omniscient being through whose eyes we explore the array of multiverses created in the Loki season one finale that answer the hypothetical of the effects of significant moments of the MCU occurring differently. For example, what if Peggy had received the super-soldier serum to become Captain Carter? What if T’Challa and not Peter Quill had been abducted from Earth? What if Doctor Strange, instead of losing his dexterity in the car accident, instead lost the love of his life Christine?

Most of the episodes serve as a self-contained narrative, until the finale episode unites characters from across the multiverse. This certainly makes it easier to digest episodes, without audiences required to remember great swathes of prior backstory. With a completely new universe, even new fans are able to appreciate the story whilst also satisfying die-hard fans with an abundance of subtle – or not so subtle – easter eggs.

What If…? is also set apart from the rest visually. With distinct cel-shaded animation, it truly looks like the comics sprung to life. The novelty of seeing known characters like Peggy Carter and Thor stepping into new roles is also deliciously entertaining. Having a conception of a character so fixed within an audience’s minds, it presents a terrific opportunity to play and have some fun with these ideas. There truly is no limit to what the multiverse can offer to the MCU’s storytelling.

By the end of the series, it is clear that every step along the way was meticulously planned to factor into the MCU at large, with it becoming apparent that the show is not merely some frivolous thought exercise as a means to pass away the time, but rather something of dire consequence for the future of Marvel’s storytelling. With Spider-Man: No Way Home featuring the multiverse heavily within its story as the calamitous big bad and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness set to continue that narrative thread, many fans will appreciate spotting the nods to What If…?’s storytelling.

The future of What If…? is limitless and its ambition cannot be contained. The use of animation makes for some of the most engaging and creative fight sequences within the MCU, unfettered as director Bryan Andrews is by the burden of real-world logistics. The true appeal of What If…? is from its sheer novelty in taking our familiar characters and placing them in bizarre, novel situations which, fortunately enough, bear little consequence to the future. They can simply be digested one at a time and then put to one side. The finale’s choice to unite some of these core characters together also lends the show more emotional depth than a typical anthology series and will hopefully allow future seasons a clearer narrative drive whilst not sacrificing the tremendous diversity of storytelling opportunities that the Marvel Multiverse can afford.

What If…?‘s first season is streaming now on Disney+. A second season has been commissioned.

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