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Photo: Disney+

Television

‘What If…?’ season 1 first impressions

Marvel’s latest Disney+ series poses the question, “What if?”

What If…? is the newest Marvel related show on Disney+ this year and hopefully for the streamer, its next hit. Following in the footsteps of WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki, this series looks to be a different offering than its predecessors.

First, it is animated. Second, like the anthology comic that shares the same name, What If…? ponders the titular question and explores how things could have been different if a single change occurred. However, this version draws upon the ever-expanding MCU. Though the movies, television programs, and short films may not be as extensive as the comics, this Disney+ original still has plenty of sources to serve as inspiration.

Visually, the series is stunning. The cel-shaded style gives it both a cinematic feel and comic aesthetic. There is also a consistent haze and glare evoking a fantasy and dream-like appearance to play with the alternate reality theme. The animation is clean and smooth which you really notice during the entertaining action sequences. The likeness of the characters to their big screen counterparts may not be an identical representation, but they are close enough and when complemented with the voices, don’t seem to miss anything or come off awkward.

Speaking about the talent, What If…? recruits the majority of the on-screen actors to voice their characters. They bring familiarity despite the different narratives and lend some credence and credibility to the shows standing in the MCU. The one constant throughout is the presence of Jeffrey Wright’s The Watcher who serves as the narrator for each tale. Wright brings a gravitas and presence to the character and is perfectly suited for the role.

The different narratives definitely put a unique spin on these recognizable tales. The first three episodes, which included the much talked about Captain Carter as well as T’Challa Star-Lord, were available to screen. The plots have varying degrees of success depending on the direction they go. The stories are better when the change is introduced and they’re allowed to run with it in unexpected directions. Others, that rehash the films but with role reversals aren’t, as compelling.

what if 1.1
Photo: Disney+

The creative team develop interesting scenarios. We visit all corners of the MCU and during different time periods. Each episode has its own genre such as a big heist or murder mystery thriller. Some of the episodes also have a little edge. There’s a darkness to them in a cautionary tale sort of way, even when there is a happy ending. With all these various options, you really feel there are endless possibilities.

What’s almost as fun is to see the different takes on the characters. Sometimes they’re something completely different while other times they retain their essence but because of the universe’s particular alteration, they’re not quite as we remember them.  In addition, it’s surprising seeing the different team-ups and groupings at times and witnessing their dynamics. It’s amusing revisiting older, lesser-known, and deceased characters from the universe too.

One aspect of the early episodes of What If…? that may be frustrating is seeing how it ties into the big picture of the MCU. During the press tour leading to the premiere, head writer AC Bradley specifically mentioned how everything in the series is canon, especially after the season finale of Loki led to the creation of the multiverse.

Yet, these episodes never really indicate anything of that sort. They all seem self-contained and the show works well as a standalone. Some might even prefer it this way. If you’re saying it’s a part of the MCU, you might want to start building up how it fits into the overall tapestry. There are still two thirds of the season that is unknown so there’s time to accomplish this.

So far, there are some enjoyable twists that lead to intriguing situations. The diversity of the initial episodes along with how they flip the script only helps generate the interest to see what other tricks What If…? has up their sleeve.

The series premiere of What If…? is Wednesday, August 11, on Disney+.

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