Managing your expectations is the name of the game with What if…?, Marvel’s first true animated MCU venture. It’s an official part of the Phase Four roster, and a second season has already been confirmed. Producers estimate that around 85% of the original live-action cast returned to voice their animated counterparts. And the premise, which explores alternate realities based on slight differences in the events we know, would appear to be directly related to the multiverse that just unleashed in the finale of Loki. The show has all the characteristics of being important, of how the MCU has trained us to wait for Easter Eggs in every shadow and canon connections in every corner. So you will probably be frustrated or relieved to find out that What if…? is a pretty standalone, low-stakes show trifle, a fun diversion and nothing else – which I guess makes it unique in the MCU landscape.
In other words: What if…? does for the MCU exactly what its longtime comic book counterpart has done for Marvel Comics. It’s an escape, an island in the midst of a vast, ever-changing continuity, where wild swings can be swung without consequence. Point of What if…? is it precisely that he does not question. It’s a thought experiment, and you can delve into just the issues (or in this case, the episodes) that interest you, and then skip the rest. As for the Multiverse, it is better to consider What if…? as training wheels to help you get used to the concept of these alternate realities, rather than a catalog of specific worlds or timelines that might be added to the MCU. Even if I wouldn’t want nothing more than a big damn Marvel Zombies movie, damn it.
The exception to this may be the introduction of The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright), the mysterious all-seeing narrator tasked with observing these alternate worlds and then reporting them to us. The character is prominent enough in the comics that I can see him make an appearance in the live-action MCU, but it’s by no means a necessity. Besides, I guess technically it’s possible that any of these alternate worlds could theoretically appear – maybe Doctor Strange will accidentally wander the WWII version where Peggy Carter became a Super Soldier instead of Steve Rogers – but I doubt one little, which is a shame because damn shit, do I want more Captain Carter hitting Nazis in the backpack!
Okay, so: the first episode is titled “What if … Captain Carter Was the First Avenger?” And he follows exactly that premise. Peggy Carter makes a small decision different from what she did in the main MCU – stay in the room where Steve undergoes the Super Soldier rather than watching the experience from the control booth – and, in doing so, a whole another sequence of events takes place. Hydra’s spies attack the experiment, Steve is shot before he can enter the machine, and rather than pass up the opportunity, Peggy takes his place. The military isn’t thrilled with their new beef cake, Lady Soldier, because of misogyny, but Peggy is only natural to be a superhero. Some events are familiar, like Captain Carter saving the squad from Bucky or Peggy and Steve falling in love, while others are a pleasant surprise, like Howard Stark building a proto-Iron Man suit from the Tesseract for skinny Steve in porter or Bucky never becoming the Winter Soldier. Ultimately, Peggy sacrifices herself (and misses her dance date with Steve) to fend off a giant sprawling monster through the portal it came from, and 70 years later, Nick Fury opens the same portal and lays her back. brings back. Similar, but different.
I can’t fault the concept at all, although the execution is a bit dubious at times. It’s great to have Hayley Atwell back doing literally anything as Peggy Carter, that’s obvious – but it’s weird to have someone other that Chris Evans plays Steve. He’s the one big omission from the first episode, which managed to get everyone, including Samuel L. Jackson and Stanley Tucci, to each read their two huge lines of dialogue. Future episodes will likely have a similar mix, where whoever makes a comeback (Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa in next week’s episode, in his final performance!) Apparently, and it looks like heavyweights like Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson are also missing). The animation, outsourced to smaller studios in France and Australia, is a bit webtoony for my taste, although the stellar action sequences redeem it somewhat. Most of the time, you might be wondering what Disney – a studio founded in animation – that kept their internal staff too busy to lend a hand. I couldn’t help but think of the DCs Harley Quinn series, which had an excellent voice cast comprised of actors who notably are not in the live-action side of the DCEU, as well as a wonderfully unique animation style. It is entirely designed and complete in a way that What if…? is not yet, maybe because it is too much indebted to the cinematographic universe from which it came. For a concept that is supposed to be stand-alone, this is definitely not the case.
Even saying that is thinking more about the business than it’s worth, so I’ll just fall back on: What if…? is fun, light and refreshing. You can watch it and, for once, not worry about where this is all going or how it will lead to the next Marvel movie. Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon, and if that cartoon arrive present the Marvel Zombies universe? Well, who am I to complain!
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Source of header image: Marvel Studios/Disney+