What If? Season 1 Review

Rating:

What If Someone Reviewed The First Season?

Voice Actors: Jeffery Wright, Chadwick Boseman, Haley Atwell, Ross Marquand
Created By: A.C. Bradley

The Watcher: [opening narration] “Time. Space. Reality. It’s more than a linear path. It’s a prism of endless possibility, where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities, creating alternate worlds from the ones you know. I am The Watcher. I am your guide to these vast new realities. Follow me, and ponder the question… What If?

“What if Captain Carter Was the First Avenger?” (Season 1, Episode 1)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding. Following the events of Loki Season 1, a multiverse has been formed. The smallest changes can radically alter the stories that viewers are familiar with. A newcomer called The Watcher presents these stories in an animated anthology format. Will these new worlds be entertaining or should we never have asked, “What if?” Let’s find out.

The Good

What If Someone Watched The MCU?

The Watcher: He’s on the wrong path. I could warn him. Intervene. But the fate of his world is not worth risking the safety of all others. Besides, I doubt he would listen.
Strange Supreme: [looks up and scans the room] “Hello? Who’s that?

What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” (Season 1, Episode 4)

A host introduces stories in most anthology series. The Twilight Zone had The Narrator (Rod Serling), Tales From The Crypt had The Crypt Keeper (John Kassir), and Hitchcock bid viewers, “Good evening.” What If’s stories are told by an enigmatic figure called The Watcher.

He is a being who lives in the border between universes. He observes what happens in all of them, seeing how they differ from the MCU. He never reveals his presence, but some of the stronger characters can sense they are being watched.

The Watcher’s appearances and mannerisms change as the show progresses. He begins as a starry silhouette looming over the horizon calmly narrating events. His features slowly become apparent as he grows more invested in the stories. The Watcher also comments during his narration. He may snark about a character’s death or encourage a desperate hero. He almost comes across like someone filming a reaction video.

What If? suggests that The Watcher is a powerhouse who could easily defeat any villain the heroes are facing but for an oath of non-interference. He can’t risk damaging the multiverse by using his powers to improve any one of them. As the show continues, a new threat appears. When push comes to shove, will The Watcher keep his oath?

What if The Settings and Characters Changed?

Korath:How exactly did you stop Thanos, the Mad Titan, from decimating half of the universe? [a purple arm claps him on the shoulder] Oh no…
Thanos:I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong. T’Challa here showed me there’s more than one way to reallocate the universe’s resources.
Star-Lord T’Challa:Sometimes the best weapon in your arsenal is just a good argument.”
Thanos:Aye aye, commander. Although, I still assert that my plan was not without its merits.
Kraglin: [ everyone groans] “I’m pretty sure it’s still just genocide, big guy.”
Thanos:I’m pretty sure it was efficient.”

“What if T’Challa Was A Star-Lord?” (Season 1, Episode 2)

A multiverse creates infinite possibilities. The Infinity Saga has shown us 22 movies detailing the plot, but What If? explores other ways the story could have gone.

The most common change is someone gaining a new powerset or interacting with people they usually wouldn’t. The first episode has Agent Carter become the local version of Captain America while Steve Rogers suits up in the Iron Man-esque Hydra Stomper. Other episodes include Spider-Man leading a group of survivors through a zombie apocalypse and Doctor Strange succumbing to dark magic.

This allows writers to experiment with other genres. Nick Fury and Agent Coulson in a whodunit caper? Thor in a teen party Rom-Com contending with intergalactic narc Captain Marvel? Black Panther, Thanos, and The Ravagers pulling a heist? The sky is a guideline, not the limit.

What if Evil Could Win?

The Watcher:I-I have seen everything that has ever happened. Ever will happen. Ever could happen. And yet… What the hell is this?!

“What If Ultron Won?”  (Season 1, Episode 8)

You know how superhero movies end. The hero is almost always triumphant. The villain is slain or sent to jail until the sequel. At worst, there may be a bittersweet ending. But since What If? Is an anthology series, the writers are finally free to break all of their toys.

Many episodes have at least a few major deaths. Iron Man bites it so many times that fans and creators have dubbed him the show’s version of Kenny from South Park. The third episode features a serial killer hunting superheroes before The Avengers are formed.  But they’re just getting started.

Three episodes show a flat-out apocalypse. Viewers might see The Avengers be overrun by zombie hordes only to rise themselves and devour the living. Not devastating enough? How about Ultron combining Vision’s body with the Infinity Stones and going on an omnicidal rampage?

Villains and monsters succeeding all the time would make What If? too bleak to care about, but the show uses a light touch with their wins. Even the darkest stories have at least one ray of hope to show that things could get better for that universe.

The Bad

What If The Pacing Was Better?

[Thor and Jane have abandoned their friends in Vegas]
Howard the Duck:Well, it’s Happy Hour. Want some half-price nachos?
Darcy:OK, fine, duck, but this is not a date.”
Howard:Let’s just see where this evolves.
[one montage later…]
Elvis Impersonator: [officiating] “I now pronounce you Darcy and The Duck, uh-huh!

“What if Thor Was An Only Child?” (Season 1, Episode 7)

A major issue with What If? is that a half-hour of T.V. simply doesn’t have as much room to tell stories as a series of two hour movies.

Many episodes have pacing issues. Some are a little too long and have to compress big scenes or hit you with them rapid-fire to fit everything. Others run short and feel like they’ve been stretched with gags or fights. It isn’t every episode, but it’s noticeable when it happens.

The pacing rarely allows the characters to properly react to what they’ve gone through or demonstrate flaws. It can make them seem invincible and unaffected by any crisis. The insistence in ending every episode with a “to be continued” cliffhanger does not help.

What if Screen Actors Became Voice Actors?

Spider-Man: [filming an instructional guide for the zombie apocalypse] “Step 1: long sleeves.
Happy:Do I really have to be wearing this?
Spider-Man:Hey, Happy, come on, the safety of the world depends on it! And action, zombie!
Kurt: [acting like a zombie] “Here I come, bad zombie, rar!”

What If… Zombies?!” (Season 1, Episode 5)

Several actors reprising roles provide What If? with an absolute smorgasbord of talent. Unfortunately not every good actor is a good voice actor.

Most of the performances range from passable to great, with Chadwick Boseman (in his final Black Panther appearance), Lake Bell (Black Widow), and Jeffery Wright (The Watcher) carrying their episodes. Others seem to struggle with the shift in medium, like Michael Douglas (Ant-Man) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk). You can tell that they are trying, but they can’t quite close the distance.

Not every actor returned to their roles. Mike Wingert does a fair Robert Downey Jr. impression, but simply isn’t RDJ. Ross Marquand barely sounds like James Spader’s Ultron. Tom Holland was legally barred from voicing Spider-Man and Dave Bautista wasn’t even asked to voice Drax. That is not to say their performances are bad, but their absence may confuse viewers.

The Verdict

What If? was an ambitious move for Marvel. It features several stories and universes branching from the MCU with nigh-unlimited storytelling potential. The writers need to pare those stories and some actors should improve their voice acting, but What If? is an entertaining spinoff worthy of your time.

Cull Obsidian and Zombie Iron Man in Marvel Studios’ WHAT IF…? exclusively on Disney+. (c) Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

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