Just forget the words and sing along

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Thoughts on What If...?

 Well, Marvel Studios just isn't stopping with cranking out the TV shows this year.  Their fourth series, and their first foray into animation drops this Wednesday, What If...?

What If...? Key Art

The original Marvel comic of What If...? would revisit key events in the Marvel Universe and simply ask, "What if A happened instead of B?"  For example, the one I had when I was a kid that I remember was What If Uncle Ben Had Lived?  In this retelling of the Spider-Man story, it was Aunt May who was killed by that burglar, and having Uncle Ben as Peter Parker's lone parent figure changed things in significant ways.  Uncle Ben found out that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, forced him to confess to J. Jonah Jameson, and Jameson then began blackmailing Spider-Man to do his dirty work.  

So, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe now a thing, why not use a TV series to similarly revisit key moments in the MCU?  And that brings us to What If...?

I was lucky enough to see the first three episodes, and I have some thoughts.

I think you know what Episode I is, and it's been all over the advertising.  Episode I goes back to Captain America: The First Avenger and asks, "What if Agent Carter took the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?"  With a Union Jack emblazoned uniform, Captain Carter takes on the Red Skull and HYDRA.  But, Steve Rogers still gets into the fight, as Howard Stark builds him a World War II-era Iron Man-style armor dubbed the HYRDA Stomper.  It's Captain Carter and the HYDRA Stomper fighting for freedom across the European theatre!

Firstly, as episodes are only a half-hour long, this is a very fast-paced episode, as it feels like Captain America: The First Avenger condensed down to a half-hour.  This is the one that takes the least amount of deviation from its source material, as it does feel a lot like a Coles Notes version of The First Avenger.  But it was a very solid, action-filled outing.

Episode II has also been all over the pre-release hype.  This one swaps out one Marvel hero for another, asking, "What if T'Challa Became Star Lord?"  A frustrated young T'Challa wanders away from the Wakanda capital city one night...the same night that the Ravagers were sent to abduct young Peter Quill.  But, Yondu didn't exactly assign his best and brightest to the task, and they abduct T'Challa instead.  We then flash forward 20 years, and we find that, under T'Challa's mentorship, the Ravagers have become galactic Robin Hoods...robbing from the rich, and giving to the poor.  

This episode is just spectacular.  I know some people complained that Black Panther was a little too stoic, but here, Chadwick Boseman gets to quip with the best of them.  Feels like a real shame that we never got to see him do much comedy.  It takes some hilarious turns, like finding out how T'Challa defeated Thanos.  

I was just roaring with laughter throughout this one, as we learn that, no matter where he ends up, T'Challa is destined to be a king.

Episode III was the one where I went in with no prior knowledge.  I was completely flying blind, and it's an episode that completely blew my mind.  I don't want to say too much, because it's got a real twisty turny plot, and it'd be very easy to drop spoilers.  Set during Phase I, specifically that two-week period that Iron Man 2 and Thor takes place in.  Someone is murdering the candidates for the Avengers Initiative, and Nick Fury is desperate to find out who and why.  The episode evolves into a very solid whodunit.  

The animation is spectacular.  They use that "cel shading" technique to make everything look more like it's hand drawn.  You know, it's the technique that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse turned up to 11.  

The voice cast is amazing, as well.  Whenever possible, they brought back the same actors from the films to reprise their roles.  As already mentioned, it is a treat to hear Chadwick Boseman one last time as T'Challa.  I think this is going down in history as his final role.  I read somewhere that T'Challa variants pop up in a total of four episodes across this first season, so we're going to get to enjoy him a few more times still.  Josh Brolin doing a new twist on Thanos was, like most of the T'Challa episode, somewhat hilarious.  

The only notable absences in the first three episodes were Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.  Didn't catch who filled in for Downey.  Veteran voice actor Josh Keaton does Steve Rogers, and it's a pretty agreeable Chris Evan impression.  Actress/filmmaker Lake Bell takes over the role of Black Widow.  It's not a straight up Scarlett Johansson impression, but she's able to put her own spin on it, which is great.  

And it's all anchored by Jeffrey Wright as the Watcher, who serves as our narrator.  He brings just the right amount of gravitas to the role.  Crank up that subwoofer, because his voice echoes throughout your room.  

What If...? is going to be another winner for Marvel Studios and Disney+, and continue their dominance of the streaming wars.  Definitely worth a watch.  

What If...? premieres on Disney+ on Wednesday, August 11, with new episodes every Wednesday after.  

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