Review: Marvel’s ‘What If?’ brings wonderful mix of freshness, nostalgia

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

After introducing the multiverse to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Loki,” Marvel Studios’ new animated show “What If?” dives head first into many alternate realities and explores what would happen if major events in the MCU occurred differently. Marvel Studios’ first foray into animation, “What If?” expertly combines nostalgia with a comic book feel that is often missing from the MCU to deliver a fresh experience sure to entertain hardcore and casual Marvel fans alike.

Inspired by the comic book series of the same name, “What If?” examines pivotal moments in the MCU and explores alternate universes in which events occurred differently. Each episode is standalone except for the finale, which draws characters from each episode of the season.

Viewers are guided through the different realities by The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), a member of an interdimensional alien race who observes the various stories that play out across the multiverse. Some of these stories include a universe where Peggy Carter received the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers, one where Killmonger prevented Tony Stark from getting captured in the first “Iron Man” and one where most of our favorite heroes have been decimated by a zombie plague.

As with many anthology series, some episodes of “What If?” are stronger than others. Some episodes, like the “Captain Carter” episode, aren’t even that different from the MCU films they are based on. Others, like the “Frat Boy Thor” episode, while funny, don’t really offer much to the series other than humor. However, most of the series is really strong, with episodes like “Infinity Ultron” and “Zombies” delivering humor and great action, and takes cues from some great comic arcs. The series isn’t afraid to explore some more out-there concepts, and takes many risks the mainline MCU films just wouldn’t.

The voice acting is another mixed bag. Many MCU actors return to voice their characters. While some do a great job, others are not so skilled at transferring their acting skills to voice acting and most are just okay. Sebastian Stan as Bucky is one that is particularly wooden, while Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Hemsworth are both great at reprising their roles in animation. I found the characters not voiced by their MCU actors were actually the best performances on the show as many of them do a great impression of the actors they’ve taken over for and are great at bringing life and a new angle to the roles.

The animation in “What If?” is superb. The show is animated in a cell-shaded style and is full of vibrant colors and smooth movements. All of the characters are full of emotion, and the use of animation allows the series to present itself with a much more authentic comic book feel.

The series is also just plain fun. It feels very casual compared to a lot of other MCU properties. It is filled with humor, and with the episodes taking place in universes separate from the main MCU timeline, nothing ever feels too serious and it allows the writers to really run wild with the stories, as they don’t have to return to the status quo at the end to set up a sequel.

While I love Marvel, one of my biggest complaints is that the MCU just doesn’t take risks. I am a huge fan of comic books, and I love a lot of the weirder and more silly arcs that would never make it into a feature film. This is what makes “What If?” so great; the show isn’t afraid to take risks and expertly capitalizes on viewers’ nostalgia for MCU films like “Iron Man,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Doctor Strange,” while also giving the MCU a much needed breath of fresh air.

All episodes of “What If?” are currently streaming on Disney+. If you have a subscription, I highly recommend giving “What If?” a go.