The first season finale of “What If…?” came to Disney+ on Oct. 6, marking the end of Marvel’s first official animated television series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In total, there were nine episodes of “What If…?”, which aired once a week starting Aug. 11. The series focuses on The Watcher, played by Jeffrey Wright, a mysterious, interdimensional being who observes the MCU multiverse. As the series progresses, The Watcher becomes more and more involved in the affairs of each universe, leading to one central conflict that connects several of the individual universes together.
The best part of “What If…?” is easily the animation style, which is stunningly beautiful, even on a small laptop screen. The characters bear a strong resemblance to their live-action counterparts and this brings the audience right into the MCU world. The background locations are also vivid and recognizable, taking viewers from the iconic locations of New York to Wakanda.
One strength of the series is that the episodes tell a new and fresh story that is mostly separate from the previous episodes. With each episode, a new universe is explored where something is slightly different from the main MCU universe that has been explored in the Avengers film franchise.
For instance, the second episode explores an alternate universe where T’Challa, voiced by the late Chadwick Boseman, was picked up as a child by Yondu instead of Peter Quill. This episode is a standout from the whole series because of its authentic and innovative heist plot. It also provides a memorable posthumous performance by the Boseman, whose charisma and grace shines through the screen.
“What If…?” is at its best when it delves into an original story. This is done to perfection in the final two episodes of “What If…?”, which introduce a terrifying villain that initiates the heroes from all the previous episodes to team up.
On the other hand, the weaker episodes of “What If…?” rehash plotlines that have already been explored in the MCU films. One example of this is the first episode, which essentially retells the story of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” but with Peggy Carter in the main role rather than Steve Rogers. This episode, and ones like it, have a stale feel to them because there is a feeling of deja vu to the storyline.
Another positive aspect of the series is that it features several references and callbacks that are sure to bring a smile to any Marvel fan’s face. Each episode has multiple surprise cameos of obscure characters and deep-cut references to specific scenes from the films. While this makes the show exciting for the most hardcore Marvel fans, it also causes the show to be less accessible to people who are not as familiar with the MCU.
A frustrating aspect of “What If…?” is the voice acting, from both the quality of the voice acting to the casting of voice actors. First, many of the actors in “What If…?” do not have a lot of experience in voice acting and it clearly shows. This leads to some characters coming across as wooden and inauthentic because their lines are not properly delivered. In addition, the casting decisions for “What If…?” are odd because some characters are voiced by their respective live-action actors, while others are voiced by a new actor. This leads to strange interactions, such as when Hawkeye has a conversation with Black Widow, voiced by Lake Bell, because Hawkeye sounds exactly the same as his film counterpart while Black Widow has an entirely new voice. For the most part, this is not too distracting, but in particular, Ultron has a significantly different voice than he did in the movies and it pulls the audience out of the show.
“What If…?” also struggles with its identity as a show. While the final two episodes provide a nice conclusion, the middle of the season drags its feet through the mud as there does not seem to be a purpose to the show. Furthermore, the show feels inconsequential as, by the end of the show, nothing has really changed in the MCU. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it means the show is by no means required viewing for future MCU projects.
Overall, “What If…?” is a strong first entry in the MCU animation department. While the show has many strengths, from its stunning visuals to its deep callbacks, there is also a multitude of flaws that bring the series down, such as the inconsistent voice acting and lack of impact on the MCU. In conclusion, “What If…?” is definitely worth a watch for any avid Marvel fan, but can easily be skipped by more casual fans.
Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars