Marvel have really leaned into their Disney+ products, haven’t they? Following on from the fan-embraced success of WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki, the fresh-but-familiar mentality continues with the animated ambition that is What If…?
The notion of a multiverse is something that the MCU have teased and ultimately confirmed throughout their products as of late – the idea was practically its own character in Loki – and What If…? is very much playing with that mentality; this isn’t reality but it’s what could have been.
So says The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright). The first three episodes that were available to review don’t specify just who this character is, though he does have ties to the Fantastic Four comics of the 1960’s, but he serves as a narrator of sorts and a guide as to how these new stories tie together.
In keeping with the Marvel respect, this review will be spoiler-free and light on any specifics as it’s a truly a show that’s best served with fresh eyes and an untainted mind; the photo attached highlights an alternate Captain America, with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) as the super soldier, as opposed to Steve Rogers, but that’s about as much as you’re going to get. It’s one of the many big swings the show takes.
As bold and as exciting as the show is in offering up these alternate timelines – the way Chadwick Boseman‘s T’Challa is featured is quite joyous (and bittersweet) – and the animation, whilst perhaps not as traditional as some may expect, allows for some wonderfully executed action sequences, it doesn’t really serve as a Phase 4 necessity. The repercussions from WandaVision and The Falcon… are still to be fully realised – as are those final seconds of Black Widow – and Loki‘s impact has the potential to uncover seismic possibilities, but What If…? is really just banking on the appeal of how it’s connected to the films gone by; it certainly doesn’t hurt having the likes of Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Rudd, Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, and Natalie Portman, among others, all return to add their vocals for variations of their characters.
Whether or not the multiversal temperament of the show will play into the overall structure of Phase 4 is anyone’s guess, and, apart from a certain mystery suggested in episode 3 that could lead to an overall arc, much of What If…?‘s formation feels purely singular and episodic on their own accord. Super-fans are likely to eat this up, but if What if…? wants to truly make an impact it needs to go beyond the surface appeal of its posing question.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
What If…? will premiere on Disney+ on Wednesday, August 11th, 2021, with each subsequent episode released weekly.