What If? Season 2 Review


What If We Tried Again?

The Watcher: “I don’t do sequels, normally. What’s the point of revisiting the story when there are infinite stories to be told? But then, not every universe is home to a Captain Peggy Carter.”

“What If… Captain Carter Fought The HYDRA Stomper?” (Season 2, Episode 5) 

What If? was the MCU show I most looked forward to. It allowed the writers to play with iconic heroes  unbound by a status quo or continuity. The first season lived up to the hype, aside from pacing issues and a few struggling voice actors.

Can What If? Season 2 improve on its predecessor? Let’s find out.

The Good

What If The Parameters Were Expanded?

The Man in the Iron Mask: [covers his ears to block out the sound of gunshots] Stop it! STOP THAT BATTLE! [bursts out of his cell] HULK. WANT. PEACE!
Soldier:Dear Lord…!
1602 Hulk: [charges a battalion] “Rot under Hulk’s feet! I WILL SMITE YOU!

“What If… The Avengers Assembled In 1602?” (Season 2, Episode 8)

What If?’s first season played it safe with changes to the settings. Most of the episodes took place in earlier movies and stuck to A-list heroes. There is much more experimentation in season two.

Several characters from Phase 3 and 4 take center stage in their episodes. Shang-Chi gets the first nod since its debut when The Mandarin takes in a banished Hela. A new Avengers team created from 80s heroes features Goliath, former Black Panther King T‘Chaka, and Captain Mar-Vell as they were in their heyday, something we had never seen onscreen.

Writers continue to play with different genres. Episodes can feature futuristic film noir while Nebula works as a detective. Others involve Iron Man getting into a deadly race with The Grandmaster and modern heroes transplanted into the year 1602 for an Ivanhoe-like plot.

What If New Heroes Appeared?

Kahhori: “The world is rich. Richer than you could imagine. But it is neither yours nor mine to claim.”

“What If… Kahhori Reshaped The World?” (Season 2, Episode 6)

What If? Season 2 had plenty of options for remixed stories. They gambled by introducing a new character and upgrading a sidekick. That gamble hit the jackpot.

A Christmas episode sees Avengers Tower taken over by long-missing villain Justin Hammer when the heroes are absent. The only one who can fend him off is Happy Hogan, Iron Man’s chief of security doing his best John McClane impression. 

That changes when Happy is exposed to a sample of The Hulk’s blood and slowly mutates into his own Hulk form, The Freak. This character also appears in later episodes and was Jon Favreau’s demand for reprising his role.

Viewers also meet Kahhori, a Mohawk woman who fell into a lake containing the Space Stone’s power. The waters gave her superhuman speed, telekinesis, and the ability to create portals.

Kahhori quickly masters her powers and rallies others with news powers to fend off a fleet of conquistadors. She became a fan-favorite for being a non-stereotypical indigenous superhero who is compassionate, but lethally protective.  Marvel also gets some credit for working with the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation to ensure accuracy. The entire episode is in Kanien’kéha and Spanish aside from narration and one line at the end, though an English dub is also available.

What If Heroines Took The Lead?

The Watcher: The Guardians of the Multiverse. Heroes plucked from across different realities to protect the fate of all of them. But you don’t know her story. From the daughter of a mad Titan to the champion of a multiversal war, Gamora’s path to becoming the hero of her story… began in someone else’s.”

“What If… Iron Man Crashed Into The Grandmaster? (Season 2, Episode 4)

It’s not news to fans that Marvel’s Infinity Saga portrayed women poorly. Of the 23 movies, only Captain Marvel starred a female superhero in the lead. What If? Season 2 tries to rectify that.

Two-thirds of the season’s episodes star a female superhero including detective Nebula investigating a murder, a weakened Hela seeking revenge and redemption, and Kahhori’s origin story. Other episodes gave roles to Darcy, Captain Mar-Vell, and Gamora.

Leading the charge is Captain Carter, the functional main character of What If? She returns for a sequel to the series premiere and is dragged into the Marvel 1602 plot. Captain Carter and Kahhori team-up for the finale to face a threat to the multiverse.

The Bad

What If We Saw How The Story Began?

[The Avengers are fighting The Freak]
The Watcher:Oh, right. You’re probably wondering who this guy is? Perhaps I should start a bit further back. ‘Twas only an hour prior and the tower was not yet on fire…

“What If… Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?” (Season 2, Episode 3)

In media res is a writing technique where the story starts in the middle and flashes back to show the audience how they got there. What If? Season 2 runs with the trope all season.

Many episodes start with elaborate backstories the characters have to explain in clunky exposition. The first episode includes a long flashback so Nebula can explain how Ronan the Accuser murdered Thanos, resulting in her becoming a detective on planet Xandar. A subsequent assault on Xandar forced the government to activate a shield that blocked out the sun, making it a cyberpunk dystopia.  And that’s the short version.

Several other episodes feature similar backfilled exposition so the writers can skip to the action. The downside is that having characters explain things the other person should already know slows the pace. There’s danger here. If the writers don’t show that they care how the plot diverged, then why should the audience?

What If The Watcher Intervened?

1602 Nick Fury:That is she? The one who can save our queen?
1602 Wanda:More. The one who can save our world.
Captain Carter:So much for taking a night off. Watcher! …WATCHER?!

“What If… Captain Carter Fought The HYDRA Stomper?” (Season 2, Episode 5) 

Hosts are common in anthology stories. Many remember Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock guiding them through morality plays or Elvira poking fun at tales of the macabre. Unfortunately, What If? Season 2 fails its host.

The Watcher was aloof in season one, originally appearing as a gargantuan starry silhouette. Over several episodes, he became more visible, closer to human size, and added commentary over the episodes. The finale featured The Watcher breaking his oath of non-interference to save the multiverse.

Season two walks back The Watcher’s character development. He only narrates over the beginning and ending of each episode. Characters sometimes notice him, but he staunchly refuses to interfere.

Reducing The Watcher’s role to a narrator is a shame. Watching him become a surrogate for the audience was a unique take on anthology hosts. Now he’s once again a glorified magic sky voice.

The Verdict

What If? Season 2 has built on its first season. The showrunners are willing to take more risks such as focusing on female heroes, expanding the inciting incidents, and introducing heroes who haven’t been in the movies. The writers need to cut back on starting in media res and give The Watcher more material to work with, but season 2 is still worth your time.

Image: (L-R): Dr. Wendy Lawson/Mar-vell, Bill Foster/Goliath, Black Panther/King T’Chaka, and Hank Pym/Ant-Man in Marvel Studios’ WHAT IF…?, Season 2 exclusively on Disney+. © 2023 MARVEL.

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