‘What If…?’ Opens New Doors for the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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Published October 11, 2021
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Peggy Carter, voiced by Hayley Atwell, becomes Captain Carter in the first episode. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become a gateway for many fans, introducing a vast universe full of exciting stories and characters through 25 films and several television and streaming series.

The newest of these series and the first animated entry in the franchise, “What If…?” on Disney+, seeks to go even further by establishing a multiverse with alternate timelines based on the notion of what would happen if certain elements in the MCU films were different. The result is ultimately a fun series that takes some unique turns.

The first episode introduces viewers to The Watcher, voiced by Jeffrey Wright. He narrates the show, explaining to the audience how several of the movies would have played out differently. Such scenarios include if Peggy Carter took the super serum to become Captain Carter instead of Steve Rogers becoming Captain America, if Tony Stark was rescued before he had the opportunity to become Iron Man and if Ultron, the antagonist of the second “Avengers” film, succeeded in his evil goals.

Each episode has its clever moments, twisting the movies with elements of fun and, in some cases, horror.

Of the nine episodes, the fourth and fifth are particular highlights. In the former, we see what would have happened if Doctor Stephen Strange didn’t injure his hands, but instead, went off the deep end from losing the love of his life. The latter centers on a zombie apocalypse happening around the same time that the events of “Infinity War” went down.

Another fun episode consists of a variant of the God of Thunder, Thor, not as humbled as his counterpart in the films had become, essentially throwing a huge party on Earth. After multiple heavy storylines, it is nice to see a story that simply proves to be a light breather.

"What If...?" introduces a new superhero team, the Guardians of the Multiverse. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

“What If…?” introduces a new superhero team, the Guardians of the Multiverse.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

While each episode is established as a stand-alone story, they are tied together in an interesting manner in the last two episodes of the season. It is what one might expect, but it still works in crafting a fun finale.

The impressive animation for “What If…?” is headed by Stephen Franck and produced by four studios: Blue Spirit, Squeeze, Flying Bark Productions and Stellar Creative Lab. Done with cel-shaded computer-generated imagery, the show is meant to resemble the illustrations of a comic book. It’s a unique style, and it aids the action sequences in creating excitement and a certain flair.

Most of the cast members from the movies return to voice their characters.

Of the returning actors, the standouts include Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and in one of his final performances, Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa. Cumberbatch, in particular, gives a chilling performance as Doctor Strange in the aforementioned fourth episode. One feels for his loss but also cannot bear to see what he turns into.

Doctor Strange, fueled by grief, tries to rewrite a tragic course of events. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Doctor Strange, fueled by grief, tries to rewrite a tragic course of events.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Quite a few characters are recast, however. One standout in this area is Hudson Thames, who takes over for Tom Holland as Spider-Man in the zombie apocalypse episode. Not only does Thames nail Holland’s American accent, but he also conveys the proper emotion to Peter Parker’s plight. Lake Bell, Josh Keaton and Mick Wingert also do solid voiceover work as Natasha Romanoff, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, respectively.

“What If…?” is an exciting, smart series that goes a long way in adding to the MCU. The franchise has been trying to introduce a multiverse concept, set to come to a head in the upcoming “Doctor Strange” sequel, and this shows how much potential the concept has to tell an exhilarating story.

The show has been confirmed to return for a second season, and there are plenty of new possibilities the team at Marvel Studios could venture into. It all depends on one question: What if…?

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