Marvel’s What If…? and the Expansion of the Multiverse

Amanda breaks down the highs, lows, and the future of the multiverse of What If!

What if… Marvel Studios… gave GateCrashers’ resident MCU enthusiast access to an early digital screening of the first three episodes of Marvel’s newest (and highly-anticipated) show?

Yeah—I think it’s pretty wild, too.

As someone who knows the MCU like the back of her hand, I am always excited for new content. Since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with the groundbreaking Iron Man, I’ve been to many opening nights and a fair few early screenings. I even have some Marvel inspired tattoos—that’s how jazzed I am about this franchise that has swept up the world with its world-saving, blockbuster storytelling.

But as someone who doesn’t also make a habit of reading the comic books and only has a surface-level, passable knowledge of the myriad of other universes, story arcs, character swaps, and origins, a show like What If…? is ripe with the potential to both confuse and absolutely, positively enthrall.

The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) via Marvel Studios

In Marvel’s What If…?, one small choice—as posited by Jeffrey Wright’s Watcher—can change the course of an entire future. So begins the premise of this animated anthology series which takes the characters that audiences both old and new alike have come to know so well and turns them on their heads. Viewers get to watch brand-new stories unfold using the framework of some of the most iconic MCU stories, including Captain America: The First Avenger and Guardians of the Galaxy.

What I think most audiences will appreciate is that each episode starts off with a familiar but relevant scene that immediately grounds the viewer in the story. While some viewers may find this tedious, others will definitely appreciate the brief moment of recall and chance to be immediately immersed in each new story. Paired with Jeffrey Wright’s narration as the Watcher, the beginning of each episode quickly lays the groundwork for the story to unfold without sacrificing precious screen time (especially since each episode is an average of half an hour).

From L-R: Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) via Marvel Studios

The animation style is also a ton of fun—I absolutely love the way it emulates classic, traditional comic book art and calls back to Marvel’s roots. The characters are delightfully expressive and the colors are vibrant and eye-catching, even in low-light scenes (finally! I can see an action sequence!). And speaking of action sequences—they’re exceptionally well done. All that’s missing is the quintessential BOOM! POW! BANG!

There are also some really fun scene transitions and layouts, lending to that artful, comic book quality that will make What If…? immediately identifiable among Marvel’s other animated properties. Viewers will also enjoy the easter eggs hidden throughout the episodes and in the backgrounds, including nods to the not-so-easily-missed Grandmaster pleasure ship from Thor: Ragnarok.

From L-R: Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) via Marvel Studios

There are definitely some stylistic choices that I question, like some of the fine details of female characters in particular. The eyelashes for most of the human female characters, for example, often make them look raccoon-like and are hardly uniform from scene-to-scene or episode-to-episode. In a similar fashion, face wrinkles randomly disappear and reappear, colors (while, at times, a savior for dark sequences) are sometimes too oversaturated to the point of being jarring, and some of the animation transitions appear jerky and not as clean as they could be.

Additionally, some of the pacing of the dialogue seems very rushed. Whether that’s from the actors’ execution, the cut of a particular edit, or the writing itself remains to be seen and, again, does not seem consistent from episode-to-episode. I also found myself wishing that more experienced voice actors were hired to star as these iconic characters rather than trying to preserve their original actors. A lot of inflection gets lost when performed by actors not as experienced in voice work and, without the ability to see their faces, predominately screen actor performances can sometimes fall flat when translated into animation, which some of What If…? falls victim to.

From L-R: The Collector (Benicio del Toro), Star Lord/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) via Marvel Studios

Despite this, some longtime MCU fans may still be disappointed to learn that feature film pillars like Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Scarlett Johansson will not be reprising their roles as their iconic characters, but the actors who will be returning is nothing to scoff at. Hayley Atwell as Captain Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa are just a few of the original actors set to appear in this animated romp through the multiverse.

Like I mentioned previously, I had the privilege of catching an early screening of the first three episodes of what President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige has confirmed will be a ten episode season and I’m excited by the variety that viewers will have the opportunity to experience. I can’t wait to see what they do with the rest of the season!

From L-R: Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) via Marvel Studios

Each episode has its own distinct flavor, which is indicative of the new genre exploration that Marvel has been doing not only with their newest Disney+ shows (WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki), but with previous releases like Ant-Man and the Wasp (a total romcom), Spider-Man: Homecoming (a teen, coming-of-age comedy), and Thor: Ragnarok (a movie that many, I’m sure, would classify as a category of its own making).

What If…? releasing on the heels of WandaVision and the season one finale of Loki brings with it a big and brave new world to unravel. With Spider-Man: No Way Home forthcoming in December and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in March 2022, there’s so much speculation for where the stories and characters we know may end up in the canon that getting a taste of their potential futures through these snappy and thoroughly entertaining one-shots is the perfect primer for that new universe to begin.

Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) via Marvel Studios

It’s clear that the MCU is committed to broadening their horizons and allowing their creators more room to play, now that the Infinity Saga has reached its end and Phase Four begins.

Readers of the comics will find a lot to be excited about in this new series, including the opportunity to see some of their favorite arcs brought to life on the big screen, even if only for the space of a single episode. Newer and less-immersed viewers, by comparison, may find it difficult to get into the show initially, especially since each episode is a brand-new story with no overarching connectivity.

Nevertheless, once you get acclimated to the singular nature of each episode, What If…? comes as a balm to those exhausted by having to keep up with the connective tissue stringing each feature film together and is pure fun for the Marvel buff and casual viewer alike.

This show will be an excellent addition to your Wednesday night viewing, easily filling the void the Loki season one finale left behind.

Marvel Studio’s What If…? premieres this Wednesday, August 11, on Disney+.

via Marvel Studios

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