What If...? Review: Marvel Show Is Fun for MCU Superfans - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

What If...? Review: Marvel Show Is Fun for MCU Superfans

Wow, Disney+ went a whole four weeks without a new Marvel show! It's actually a longer gap than we've gotten in the past (this spring we only got a two-week breather between WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier). But while it perhaps could have waited a little longer, Marvel's What If? has been much anticipated since its announcement in 2019, because it promised something unique to the MCU: totally fresh but familiar spins on the beloved franchise.

The animated series, which premieres Wednesday, August 11, lives up to that promise so far. Every episode of What If? begins with some opening narration from Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher — who exactly that is, the show does not specifiy in the first three episodes. But the character, who originated in the Fantastic Four comics in 1963, serves to unite these stories and explain how they represent not what did happen in "reality," but what could have been.

(For those not savvy in the ways of comic books, perhaps the idea of alternate realities needs extra explanation... Wait, hold the fuck on, It's a Wonderful Life popularized the idea decades ago — no one should need the concept explained to them.)

If you want details on what "alternate universe MCU stories" mean plot-wise, there's plenty of coverage you can check out, but this review is as spoiler-free as possible because at least 75 percent of the fun comes out of learning what's different about these brave new worlds, and also how they might end up being similar. Quite honestly, I'd suggest skipping through the show's opening credits while watching for the first time, because as beautifully animated as they happen to be, they do reveal the bulk of the casting, which might be enough to spoil the fun.

Of course, just by looking at the photos connected with this article, you can get some sense of the biggest choices, like Episode 1 essentially serving as a Captain America: The First Avenger remake with super-soldier Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in the lead. It's just one of the show's big high-concept swings: Core to the three episodes provided to press is the notion that the divergence points of all these alternate realities are created by human choice — a person presented with two options, and picking the alternate one. That they do this without knowing just how seismic a change they're making speaks to that inevitable truth of being human: consequences are sometimes quite hard to see in the moment.

RELATED: ‘What If…?’ Director and Head Writer Reveal What It Will Take to Get a Marvel/Star Wars Crossover Episode

The most depressing aspect of What If...? is that at least one of these episodes is intriguing enough to make you yearn for a full feature covering the story being told, despite knowing the odds are very low. But as compensation, there's the fact that whether it be due to creator A.C. Bradley's creative choices or just something about the specific tone being aimed for here, there's a lot more comedy than you might expect, some of it coming from characters who have never been traditionally seen as jokesters. Even in the thick of a murder mystery, there's one joke about a character's password that is funny out of context, but in context might just be a hair too much for the weight of the story being told.

The animation, as produced by the studios Squeeze, Flying Bark Productions, and Blue Spirit, sometimes lacks depth, and on a creative level it'd be exciting to see more chances taken with a variety of styles, adapted to fit the nature of the stories being told. But the action sequences are beautifully executed, with an extra bit of comic book flare to heighten the reality of the show, enhancing the whole aesthetic (which includes the occasional shot of The Watcher just hanging out in the sky, you-know-what-ing the events below).

One dilemma What If? highlights is the fact that so far, Phase 4 of the MCU feels like it's spinning its wheels a bit. In 2021, we've so far seen four new original series and a film, but WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier were both extremely tangled up in the repercussions of Avengers: Endgame, Black Widow was an Infinity War prequel, and while Loki's impact on future storylines may end up being truly seismic, for right now it still feels like the franchise has yet to really step out of from the shadow of Phase 3's massive success, instead continuing to retread old ground. That's of course the very definition of What If?'s appeal, while not contributing to any sense of building momentum.

Of course, 2021 still has a lot more MCU content waiting in the wings, so that may be a very short-lived complaint. And this show is seriously an MCU superfan's dream at times, though once you get past the initial discovery of each short's "What if...", it's sometimes hard to stay invested. Fortunately, Episode 2 invokes the ever-popular heist format for its core storyline, while there's an intriguing mystery at the core of Episode 3 to generate interest. And there's an even bigger mystery in store: given the growing influence of the Multiverse in Phase 4, What If...? might play more significantly than we know into the franchise's future.

For right now, though, its appeal lies largely in its connection to what came before. Perhaps the show's strongest quality is just how many MCU all-stars return in their signature roles; even some truly minor supporting actors. Even if some of the actors aren't as good at communicating the essence of their characters with just the power of their voices (sorry, Jeremy Renner, but it didn't sound like your heart was in it), the show is definitely enhanced by their presence. Though to be clear, those stepping in to fill iconic roles do a solid job, with Lake Bell in particular standing out as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow.

And then there's Wright, whose steady dulcet tones are pitch-perfect here. Though what's most striking about his opening narration as The Watcher is the tinge of wistfulness he brings to those closing words: "What if...?" It's at times a bit out of kilter tonally, given the dark potential of this show (one episode in particular pushes well past what would be allowed in any "canon" MCU adventure). But perhaps what The Watcher yearns for is not one of these alternate worlds in particular, but the wealth of possibilities they represent. Because really, every great piece of fiction ever — including the MCU — boils down to those two words, and how the human imagination decides to continue the sentence.

Marvel's What If... premieres August 11 on Disney+. New episodes launch weekly on Wednesdays.

KEEP READING: Here Are All the Marvel Actors Doing Voices in ‘What If…?’



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