Marvel is already back with fresh content with the upcoming “What If...?” animated series. I recently binged the first three episodes of the show ahead of its release in two weeks. And let me tell you — it’s good.
Marvel’s “What If...?” explores never-been-told, alternate timeline stories with Marvel characters. For example, episodes will focus on Peggy Carter becoming something like Captain America, or the Avengers becoming zombies, as the promotional videos show. “What If...?” is based on a Marvel comic book series of the same title, which explored wild, alternate timeline stories of Marvel characters.
The series comes after the release of “Black Widow” in July and ahead of the “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” release in September. And it follows the end of the “Loki” series, which saw multiple timelines split off the main Sacred Timeline. In a way, you could say this show is telling us what happens in these other timelines.
The show works on many levels. Marvel fans will enjoy it. But “What If...?” — a show that seeks to answer what happens in alternate timelines — raises an even bigger question: So what?
Is Marvel’s ‘What If...?’ good?
“What If...?” does a great job of giving us alternate reality stories while offering nods and winks to the original tales. The first three episodes were really fun. Each had a different genre, too.
It’s cool to see characters we know playing different roles and characters we barely saw get more spotlight here. The funny twists and turns for the MCU characters were really well done.
Marvel struck gold with these episodes, though. They don’t take themselves too seriously. And it totally supports future stories. Each episode ends on something of a cliffhanger. They don’t seem tied together (maybe they are??) but they definitely point to more stories. I personally loved it.
The third episode is the best of the first three. It’s dark, a little scary and pretty deep — but it’s an excellent story that’s worth the time. The second episode is a heartfelt, family story that explores a fascinating timeline. The first episode didn’t really hit right with me, but that’s because I don’t love the MCU movie it’s based on.
Jeffrey Wright is perfect as The Watcher, a cosmic force who watches over all of these ultimate lines. He acts as a good looming presence that tries to connect the episodes. The Watcher definitely fits into the MCU based on where we are after the finale of “Loki.”
I’m glad the show decided to include a number of original MCU actors to do the voice work. It makes it feel so much more authentic and really like it belongs in the MCU catalog.
So, yes, overall, the show works well. But there are still questions — specifically about why this show matters at all.
How does ‘What If...?’ connect to the MCU?
The episodes are not connected to each other (as far as we know at this point). We have The Watcher linking them together through dialogue. But nothing connects the plots together (as far as we know, it’s not leading to an ultimate showdown). So you could have fun skipping around to different episodes. You could binge or watch week to week. It works both ways.
Though that’s fun, it lowers the stakes. The consequences for the characters don’t really matter because it’s not leading to anything. We’re used to Marvel linking its projects together. This is the first time where it doesn’t feel like anything is connecting. So it’s a little odd to experience that, especially with how “Loki” reshaped the game.
This show might be a table setting for the “Doctor Strange” sequel, which is set to explore the multiverse. But it’s unclear how it will play a role. “What If...?” could be showing us everything going on in other timelines so we understand how it all works before timelines start bleeding into each other.
So yeah, I’d like to see more cohesion between the episodes. Or maybe a bigger point about why this matters for the MCU and why we should really consider it. Maybe it doesn’t matter and it’s just for fun. That’s fine, too. But maybe indicating a bigger direction would help keep it from being an “Eh, I’ll watch later” show for most fans. People might not want to jump into the show if it doesn’t matter for the canon of the MCU.
Could there be a second season?
Absolutely. You could have five or more seasons of this show, featuring characters we know and ones who haven’t been featured yet in Marvel. You could bring in new characters and show their stories without having to give them origin films. I’ve already thought about episodes with Red Guardian, Moon Knight, Nova and more heroes from the Marvel comics lore. You could throw any Marvel character — from the MCU to the comic books — in here and it would work because it explores wild realities and each episode is essentially a stand-alone.
Will people watch this?
Marvel fans are highly dedicated. But I really wonder how well this will translate for fans. Will they watch it? Will this be a show to skip? There has been so much MCU content recently that this show could fall victim of the “Marvel fatigue” feeling that can set in.
There’s also a chance people will put it off like some “Star Wars” fans put off “The Clone Wars” television show, which was also animated and didn’t have high stakes. I’m interested to see fan reactions and numbers for the show as they come out.
“What If...?” is a Marvel animated show, but it’s not just for kids, not just for adults. It’s a great blend for MCU fans. The artistry is top notch. It’s like the movies in that it tells a fascinating story MCU fans can geek over. That’s the easiest way to explore it. But though it’s a good show for MCU fans, it’s hard to say it’s a must-watch. Right now, it doesn’t matter.
So “What If...?” — to be successful — needs to answer the real question of “so what...?” to really succeed.