Review by Sean Boelman
After Loki opened up the door to the multiverse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the new half-hour animated series What If? further explores the concept. Consisting of self-contained entries, this entertaining blend of comic books and The Twilight Zone might not be as consequential as the rest of the Disney+ shows, it’s still very satisfying as a fan.
The series explores alternate timelines in the MCU in which a single decision led to a completely different outcome, such as Peggy Carter becoming a super-soldier instead of Steve Rogers or T’Challa becoming Star Lord instead of Peter Quill. And while this anthology series seems designed more to cater to hardcore comic fans, general audiences will still find plenty of action-packed fun here.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the series is how they are able to condense down an entire story into a single thirty-minute episode. The first episode is particularly impressive, as it tells an abridged version of Captain America: The First Avenger, hitting all of the major events in a way that is still coherent and cohesive.
Some of the episodes in the series are destined to work better than others, as is the case with any anthology. Those which stick closer to the main timeline with a few alterations (the Captain Carter episode) are mostly just diverting, whereas the other ones that take crazier paths are much more intriguing.
For the most part, a majority of the live-action cast from the MCU has returned to voice their roles. Of the noticeable omissions (Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Downey Jr.), their replacements aren’t too distracting. But the best part of the series is getting to see actors like the late Chadwick Boseman get a chance to play a different version of their roles.
The animation style of the series is what is likely going to divide fans and general audiences. The motion comic-like approach is fitting given the series’s origins, but the lack of polish is not what audiences are used to seeing from Marvel Studios. Still, it delivers on the action in a way that doesn’t feel cheap.
It will be interesting to see how the series further deepens the mythology of the MCU. Early on, we are introduced to the character of The Watcher as a narrator, but the first three episodes all function as individual units. Perhaps in the remainder of the season, we will see things start to tie together a bit more meaningfully.
What If? is an enjoyable watch that refreshingly tells its stories in a very concise way. It’s unlikely to be as much of a smash hit as the last three series on the streamer, but it will find its fans among the Disney+ subscriber base.
What If? streams on Disney+ beginning August 11 with new episodes airing subsequent Wednesdays. Three out of ten episodes reviewed.