WHAT IF...? Review; "An Instant Animated Classic...Marvel Has Delivered A Mind-Bending MCU Masterpiece"

The first episode of What If...? arrives on Disney+ tomorrow, but we've seen the first three episodes, and you can trust us when we say this animated series will shatter expectations. Read on for details.

What If...? is the latest Marvel Studios series to arrive on Disney+, and as ambitious as shows like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki may have been, even they might pale in comparison to what plays out in these first three episodes. Like WandaVision’s superhero spin on sitcoms, an animated series exploring alternate realities is certainly unlike anything you've seen from the MCU before, but it’s a risk that pays off thanks to director Bryan Andrews and Head Writer AC Bradley. Taking inspiration from the wacky comic book one-shots the show is named after, Marvel Studios manages to take that concept and improve on it in a way that ensures you won't soon forget these "Variants." As a result, once you experience these new worlds, you'll never look at the MCU the same way again. 

After thirteen years of epic action on the big screen, it was imperative that the animation style of this series deliver similarly impressive visuals. Well, we’re happy to report that What If...? does maintain the sort of quality visuals we’re used to seeing in theaters; whether it’s Captain Carter battling HYDRA during World War II or Star-Lord blasting through outer space alongside some very unexpected allies, everything here feels like it could fit into the movies these stories take inspiration from. The overall quality is a big step ahead of the long-running DC Animated Universe, for example, and with backgrounds every bit as vibrant and interesting as the characters who take centre stage, this never feels like the MCU on a budget. Throw in a stellar score, epic action, and a phenomenal voice cast, and What If...? will blow you away. 

Honestly, the only time the series stumbles in these first three instalments is with the odd voice performance. Some MCU veterans do a better job than others of stepping into the recording booth to reprise their respective roles (Sebastian Stan might need a little time to warm up as Bucky), but for the most part, it’s hard to fault just how many big-name actors Marvel Studios has managed to enlist. Unfortunately, that makes it all the more jarring when we hear an actor who didn’t play their character in the MCU. Josh Keaton’s performance in the premiere as Steve Rogers is actually pretty great, but he’s not Chris Evans, and never really sounds like him. For some, that won’t matter, this can take you out of the moment, especially when Steve is surrounded by everyone from Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter to Neal McDonough's Dum Dum Dugan! On the plus side, there are some you won’t be able to even tell aren’t the real deal, with Mick Wingert making for a convincing Tony Stark and Lake Bell a Black Widow easily on par with Scarlett Johansson's. It's also no exaggeration to say that Marvel Studios couldn't have found a better actor to bring The Watcher to life than Jeffrey Wright. 

However, there’s one performance we have to highlight and that is the late Chadwick Boseman. In the second episode (which also happens to be the best of the three), we catch up with a version of T’Challa who was abducted by the Ravagers as a child and has since become Star-Lord. However, he’s a very different Star-Lord to Peter Quill, and the results are both fascinating and endlessly entertaining. Boseman was clearly having an absolute blast playing this version of the hero, and his performance is nothing short of perfect. Boseman takes us along for this ride in a way that will remind you just what a special talent he was, and with at least a few more appearances in the series planned, we can’t wait to hear more from him in what will sadly be his final performances as this character. Rest in Power, King. 

The premiere, meanwhile, introduces us to Captain Carter, and shows just how much potential What If...? has moving forward. In just shy of thirty minutes, we fell in love with this version of Peggy, and Marvel Studios has managed to find heaps of clever ways to twist key events in the MCU’s history so that they feel fresh and not just a retread of what we've seen before with a different character wearing someone else's costume. The third chapter - a star-studded, twisted take on Nick Fury's "Big Week" - stretches the premise a little thin, but with a compelling murder mystery at its core, we're sure you'll have fun with it. While it's tragic that we'll never see Boseman's Star-Lord in live-action, the fact we're already anxious to see Captain Carter make that leap could be a strong indication that What If...? is going to serve as a launching platform for even bigger stories. Time will tell on that front, but it's hard to imagine some of these characters being confined to animation forever. 

The crucial thing about this series was that it find a way to get us invested in what may, or may not, be standalone stories that aren't necessarily setting up the next big event movie. Based on the trailers, there are plans for at least some of these characters to meet, but the third chapter, for example, feels entirely like its own thing. Somehow, in roughly less than a quarter of an average Marvel Studios movie's runtime, the series delivers stories that are captivating and every bit as ambitious as any MCU movie, proving this shared world just works no matter the format. For animation fans, there are some terrific visual cues (such as the way The Watcher is incorporated into the background of scenes), and everything you love about the MCU is on full display. What If...? takes everything you thought you knew about the MCU and turns it on its head to deliver a weekly dose of Multiversal madness that will leave your jaw on the floor. Not convinced? Well, trust us when we say that when you discover who has joined the Ravagers in T'Challa's new reality, you'll have a hard time picking it back up again. 

An instant animated classic, What If...? delivers world after world of endless possibilities you need to explore, and if what we see from these first three chapters is any indication, Marvel Studios has delivered a mind-bending MCU masterpiece.


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