[Series Review] Marvel Studios’ WHAT IF…?
Courtesy of Marvel Studios & Disney+
What Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have managed to do is incredible. Decades of famous comic book stories and heroes have all been brought together to inspire and captivate the audience on the big screen and at home. The appeal of Marvel superheroes is the magic of the impossible possible – worlds and battles beyond our imagination, led by characters that ground us. WHAT IF…?  seizes on that spirit of endless possibility and brings viewers one of Marvel’s most innovative and fascinating projects yet.

WHAT IF…? represents the height of ambition as Marvel Studios’ first animated series. The show flips the script on the most famous events and heroes of the MCU, delivering a reimagined universe in which fan favorites are taken to new heights. The series is directed by Bryan Andrews with AC Bradley as chief writer. Stars of the MCU return to lend their voices to these new takes on their beloved characters, bringing a jolt of energy to each and every episode.

When confronted with the show’s basic premise – famous MCU characters being set on different paths, leading to new outcomes – the kneejerk reaction is to question whether WHAT IF…? will be able to successfully separate audiences from their attachment to the MCU. For years, fans have been showing up for the latest installment of the MCU and investing in a single epic. The connection with these stories and characters runs deep. How will this series bring something so new to such a dedicated fanbase?

Captain Carter in WHAT IF…?

The real genius of WHAT IF…? is in how the series manages to throw iconic characters into new, exciting, and totally off-the-wall circumstances and still retain their authenticity. As I mentioned before, fans have had years to get to know the likes of Black Panther, Captain America, and Thor. Devoted Marvel fans know the spirit of these characters, like they are familiar friends. Partial credit goes into the returning stars lending their voices to the project, but overall the series is written with the hearts and souls of these character in mind. We may see a beloved hero in an entirely new situation, but it still feels like them. It feels authentic and like a natural extension of a given character’s journey. WHAT IF…? is not erasing or rejecting the previous stories of the MCU, it’s expanding an infinite horizon. A triumph in television writing.

Each episode of the series explores an alternate universe, where one small change unravels a new thread. Just as the characters and adventures of each episode are daring and new each episode plays with tone and content, making for an unpredictable and super fun viewing experience. WHAT IF…? hits the expected notes of humor and heroism that MCU fans love, but also dares to be dark. Not all new stories have happy endings and the emotional stakes here are just as high as any cinematic MCU entry.

Any fan of comic books knows just how vast a character’s storyline can be. Narratives of long-running characters are subject to constant twists, turns, crossovers, remakes, and reinventions. In this way, WHAT IF…? honestly captures the comic book hero experience better than any other MCU project. This feeling is only bolstered by the beautiful animation, reminiscent of comic book drawings. WHAT IF…? reaches out to every sort of Marvel fan, old and new, comic devotee or MCU mega fan.

Loki in WHAT IF…?

The greatest moments of WHAT IF…? are when the show allows itself to be playful and connect with the fan community. The series cheekily responds to Internet-famous fan commentaries and questions and puts fan-favorite moments at the forefront. In every episode, MCU fans will have cause to glance over and say, “I understood that reference.” (To quote Cap).

WHAT IF…? exemplifies not just what people love most about Marvel, but what people love about heroes. Endlessly imaginative and entertaining, WHAT IF…? stays firm in its roots while allowing its characters and fans to play in realms beyond. There is something for fans of all ages here to enjoy!

The first episode of WHAT IF…? will premiere on Disney+ on Wednesday, August 11, 2021. To learn more about how the team tackled the series, go here!

Caitlin Kennedy
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