One question changes everything.
What If...? is a 2021 animated superhero series created by A.C. Bradley. It is currently streaming on Disney+. The show ran for nine episodes until October 6, 2021. The series stars Jeffrey Wright and Benedict Cumberbatch. It shares continuity with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, displaying different situations inside of the MCU. It acts as a sequel to Loki. In series, it will be followed by Eternals. Chronologically, it will be followed by Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
"One life, one choice, one moment can destroy an entire universe." -Uatu the Watcher
After Sylvie kills He Who Remains in Loki, the multiverse is created. The Watcher, a cosmic being of infinite power, guides you through the endless multiverse, showing you different scenarios where there is a major change in the sacred timeline. All the while, the Watcher does not realize that there is a growing danger in the multiverse.
Animation Style / The Watcher / Fun Concept / Action / Writing and What If...? Scenarios / Episode Endings / Tragic Nature / Voice Acting / Inconsistency / Finale and Bad Payoff / Playing It Safe Overall
When I first saw the trailer for What If...?, I did not like the animation style. It looked too much like this weird, paper animation that I was not a fan of. However, as soon as I watched the first episode, I fell in love with the animation. It's very unique, feeling almost realistic while being clearly animated. The movements that the characters make are very much movements that real people make. It's an interesting choice for the show, and I liked it a lot.
The way that the Watcher is used in the show is fantastic. He starts as an almost invisible presence in the first episode, then continues to take more of a form throughout the show. As situations get more dire, the Watcher transforms from an astral projection, to a shadow, to a fully formed figure. They also build up his power, showing that he refuses to intervene in the most dangerous of situations. He can save Strange Supreme's universe, but doesn't, because his power is too much for the multiverse. That makes it so that when Ultron comes in and attacks the Watcher, you feel the danger rising. It's a great way to use tension and release.
The concept of What If...? is just, in general, a fun idea for a TV show. The MCU is the biggest franchise of all time, and so they can really do anything they want at this point. It's a cool way to explore the multiverse, and I think that they did a solid job with most of the episodes. Animation was a smart way to do it, because animated characters and visuals are not as limited as live-action.
Speaking of less limits because of animation, the action in What If...? is breathtaking. Since it's animated, the action is crisp and fast. This legitimately has some of the best action in the MCU. I liked the hand-to-hand combat much more than the fantastical fights, but all of them were cool. I think the standout action is in the zombies episode. God, it was so good.
The writers of this show did a great job, too. They created mostly interesting What If...? scenarios and executed the little details inside of them well. How did the characters of the MCU turn into zombies? Janet van Dyne was in the Quantum Realm for thirty years and extracted a virus from there. What happened to Peter Quill when T'Challa became Star-Lord? Ego came for him. It's the clever things like that that make this show unique and cool.
Every episode also ends with this huge cliffhanger/twist ending. All of them were pretty cool. I'm going to do a ranking on the What If...? twist endings because I enjoyed so many of them. They grab things that happen in the movies and bring them back into the What If...? episode, putting a smile on your face and usually end the episode on a high note.
I also loved that What If...? was not afraid to go in a very dark and different direction. Most of the episodes end in tragedy. The characters all have tragic journeys. The Doctor Strange episode was one of the darkest animated stories ever. What If...? did take some very big risks, and I appreciated that. They weren't afraid to kill of major characters. Iron Man dies a total of three times throughout the show. They utilized the ability to manipulate tone very well, and I really, really liked that.
One of the big complaints about What If...? is the inconsistent voice acting. And it can be very, very distracting at times. Instead of focusing on the stories, there are times where you are stuck figuring out whether it is the live-action actor or some no name that's just voicing the character in the show. There are also times where you clearly have a big name actor like Hayley Atwell sharing the screen with a replacement actor for Steve and the chemistry just isn't there. I don't really know why they cast any of the main Marvel cast. I think it would've been less distracting if everyone besides the Watcher had been a no name.
Another huge problem with What If...? is the inconsistency throughout the episodes. This was always expected, because each story is different and each episode tries to take the scenario in a different direction. Week to week, the episodes were sometimes good and sometimes bad. That makes for an uneven viewing experience. It starts off with a mediocre episode. Then it gets better. Then we have a bad episode. Then we have two of the best episodes. Then we have two of the worst episodes. Then we have another great episode. Then we have an underwhelming finale. It just makes for a frustrating watch, because you compare the episodes to each other, even though they aren't one continuous story.
And, as I said before, I was not a big fan of the finale of What If...?. The novelty of all of our What If...? storylines coming to a head is cool, but the episode is rushed, overstuffed, and ends on a disappointing note. The Watcher recruits all of the characters from previous episodes, which was definitely fun, but they are just used for a long, fantastical fight against Ultron. The action in this episode is bland. It feels almost like the finale of WandaVision. The episode is called What If...The Watcher Broke His Oath? but that scenario doesn't really do anything. Yeah, we get the big fight for the multiverse. But in the end, the Guardians of the Multiverse win and everything is back to normal. There are no implications of the Watcher being revealed to a bunch of different people. I thought there would be something that would affect the main MCU timeline. But I guess not.
I think that What If...? played it pretty safe overall. Yes, there were risks taken. Phase Four is still in its first year, but so far, we've gotten WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and What If...?. Only one of those films really focuses on a new character. What If...? goes backwards. It takes moments from past movies and changes them. Phase Four needs to start moving forward. We need new characters and we need to start seeing what's going to happen in the next few years of the MCU. Yes, the multiverse as a whole is one big risk. I thought WandaVision and Loki were very good risks that paid off. No Way Home and Multiverse of Madness will be crazy. But we need more movies and shows like Shang-Chi and Eternals. And I know we are getting that, but Phase Four is starting off by relying on our old characters and old storylines. It's time to get some new stuff in here.
Final Thoughts and Score
What If...? was a fun and interesting show with a great concept that was willing to take risks, but in the end, it didn't really contribute to the MCU as a whole and concluded with a disappointing, predictable finale. However, this is still a good show that is worth watching.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 9+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 8/10
Created by A.C. Bradley
Rated TV-14 for superhero violence and action, scary themes and images, thematic elements
Episode runtime: 30 minutes
Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher
Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange
Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Star Lord
Ross Marquand as Infinity Ultron
Hayley Atwell as Captain Carter
Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger
Lake Bell as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
Chris Hemsworth as Thor Odinson
Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Tom Hiddleston as Loki Laufeyson
Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk