What If…? was always a great concept for a comic series and unsurprisingly it makes for a great TV series too, especially given so many Hollywood stars actually returned to voice their MCU roles. Obviously with any anthology series some were better than others but in general I had a fun time watching every week. Let’s take a closer look…
The Watcher observes the countless universes spun-off from the original MCU timeline…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Doctor Strange has a bit of a “whoops” moment.
My favourite episode was “What if… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” which saw the titular Strange (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch himself!) lose the love of his life in the car crash that otherwise damaged his hands. Instead of learning magic to heal his hands and go on to save people he instead learns it so he can find a way to bring her back, travelling all over the place and learning countless spells, eventually including one that allowed him to essentially devour magical creatures and demons into himself to grant him more power. He then encounters a normal version of himself that the Ancient One (yes, also voiced by returning big star Tilda Swinton) created to stop this one, but after a face-off the power-mad one wins and manages to save Christine (Yes, again, voiced by movie actress Rachel McAdams) but at the cost of the whole of his universe crashing around him thanks to her death being the MCU equivalent of a fixed point in time. In the end Strange is locked in a bubble in an entirely dead universe and even talks to The Watcher himself (voiced, by the way, by Jeffrey Wright), having gained enough power to sense him. The Watcher says he can’t interfere and that this lonely hell is his punishment for not listening to anyone… Powerful stuff, and great visually as well.
This leads nicely into the two-part finale, which I really enjoyed. Episode 8 is titled “What If… Ultron Won?” but beyond the titular robot (voiced by Ross Marquand instead of James Spader, but Ross does a damn good impression!) putting himself in the mind-stone powered body that Vision ended up using in the main continuity and wiping our most of Earth he also gets his hands on the other Infinity Stones when Thanos visits, upgrading himself to some sort of Godlike being and eventually wiping out nearly all sentient life in the universe. Much like Doctor Strange before him, this Ultron’s crazy power level is high enough that he senses the Watcher and actually manages to break through the barrier and into the space in between the universes to do battle with the man himself, sending him crashing through multiple realities and sending him running off to the universe that has only Doctor Strange in it from the earlier episode.
The Watcher and Ultron battle it out!
The Watcher ends up recruiting not just him but a whole bunch of multiversal heroes, some from previous episodes, one not (though apparently it was originally going to be an episode…), to fight this ultra Ultron. There is some funny banter, lots of well thought-out fight scenes between Ultron and the “Guardians of the Multiverse” that ends when Killmonger (see below!) tries to steal the Infinity Stones and ends up in a tug-of-war with Ultron (well, sort of Ultron…) and then the two are sealed away by The Watcher and Dr. Strange, the latter of whom decide to watch over the seal as he has “nothing else to do”. It was a fun finale.
Other fun episodes include “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?”, where the Black Panther (still Chadwick Boseman, sadly among his last ever acting credits now…) actually gets abducted as a child instead of Peter Quill but thanks to his instinctive good nature he reforms the Ravagers to be a force for good and even talks Thanos (Josh Brolin!) down from his plans and gets him to join his crusade. It’s a good laugh and ends with a battle between this Star-Lord and the Collector (Yep, Benicio del Toro). I also enjoyed “What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” which is your classic “each hero die one by one” sort of What If? and includes Nick Fury (yes, Samuel L Jackson!) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg!) trying to find the culprit and it being revealed that it was a grieving Hank Pym (Michael Douglas!), whose daughter Hope was killed working for SHIELD in this reality. This is fun because we sort of get an MCU version of the Hank Pym iteration of Yellowjacket from the comics. Fury also recruits Loki (Tom Hiddleston!) who is this reality came to avenge his brother’s death but ends up staying and taking the planet over (as it was now Avengers-less).
It’s funny how she was never called “Captain Britain”. I guess they’re saving that for someone else…
I don’t think any episode was truly bad, but a few were just “okay”. Sadly the very first episode, “What if… Captain Carter were the First Avenger?”, which saw Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell!) get the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) and eventually take down Red Skull (Ross Marquand again! Who knew Aaron from Walking Dead was so good with impressions?). It was… fine, but not dramatically interesting. Steve Rogers ended up using an Iron Man-like suit during it, which was fun as well. Episode 5 “What if… Zombies?!” is sort-of based on the Marvel Zombies comics and sees Hulk (Mark Ruffalo!), T’Challa and Spider-Man (…Hudson Thames.) cross the zombie-ridden landscape and come across Scott Lang (Paul Rudd! … That’s better) as a head in the jar and Vision (Paul Bettany) keeping a zombie Scarlet Witch fed with fresh meat. It was fine and had some good dark humour, but due to the quick length nothing got a chance to settle in.
“What if… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” was fine, it was basically Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan!) activating his plan early and using Tony’s money and influence by saving his life before he became Iron Man (Stark is voiced by Mick Wingert, but I don’t think anyone expected any different…). He achieves all he sets out to do, right up to becoming the new heir to Wakanda, but it’s just… not that interesting. I did pop for Killmonger’s robot design looking all anime-ish, and Stark responding that if it doesn’t work “we’ll have the world’s most expensive Gundam model”. That’s another case of two parts of my entertainment life (and this blog!) colliding on Disney Plus in two weeks. Finally “What if… Thor was an only child?” is one big laugh as Thor (Chris Hemsworth!) takes all his friends to Earth in order to have a big drunken party and puts the planet in danger by doing so. It has some good moments, the Grandmaster appears for a few lines but those few lines are still voiced by Jeff Goldblum (take THAT Downey Jr.!), but by the end it was just… alright. Bit of a laugh before the big two-part finale but nothing memorable.
Thanks for everything, Mr. Boseman!
I really enjoyed What If…? It was a fun half hour every Wednesday and while a little odd the animation style was enjoyable as well, plus having most of the film stars returning gave it extra gravitas. In the grand scheme of the MCU it may not be remembered in a few years (especially if there isn’t a Season 2 like I’ve just assumed…) but I had fun.