At long last, Marvel's What If...? is nearly upon us as Marvel Studios celebrates its first adventure into animation. Written by a room led by AC Bradley and directed by Bryan Andrews, What If...? takes fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a trip across the multiverse as it examines peculiar situations with well-known Marvel characters. As you all have seen in the trailers by now, various MCU mainstays return to voice their animated counterparts from Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter to the late Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, and everyone in between.
In fact, dozens of Marvel Studios' cast are returning to voice their same roles, no matter how small. Toby Jones — who played Arnim Zola in the first two Captain America movies — is in an episode and says five or six words max, and the same goes with Seth Green's Howard the Duck. No matter the size of the role, Marvel Studios managed to get most of the MCU actors back, a major feat in and of itself.
When it comes to the show, it's immediately apparent that the episodes run a bit too long. For this review, Disney granted members of the media access to the first three episodes: one focusing on Captain Carter, another on T'Challa's stint as Star-Lord, and a third featuring Fury as the main character during "Fury's Big Week." Here, Episodes 1 and 3 play like something similar to the MCU tie-in comics printed by Marvel Entertainment. They're both stories we've seen before and the smallest of tweaks to those stories hardly warranted a half-hour run time for each episode.
That said, 30-minutes of non-stop, multiversal Marvel actions allows Bradley and company to inject plenty of surprises within. Though no new characters are introduced, the show does bring in some surprise characters with interesting origin and story changes, yet the show doesn't reinvent the wheel by drastically altering characters. In the first three episodes, the smallest of changes are made to show these stories aren't exact rehashes of the tales that have come before. In fact, the costumes largely remain the same with just color changes here and there. Nothing quite groundbreaking, at least not as of yet.
On that front, it's a dream for longtime MCU fans that need whatever content they can get their hands on. Atwell's stab at Captain Carter certainly warrants the major merchandise push the House of Mouse has given her in the past month, as it's clear from the leap she's this show's main character. Boseman's work among the stars here is splendid and, considering the circumstances, is likely to tear your heart out.
Maybe some over-arching plot is unveiled in Episode 4 on, but if you're looking for something akin to Marvel's first three Disney+ shows, What If...? is not it. So far, it's most certainly an anthology that ends each episode with a cliffhanger, likely setting up new storylines in the show's second season. The show does manage to find more solid ground as it progresses, with Episode 3 containing several jaw-dropping moments. Not only that, What If...? does manage to push boundaries no Marvel shows before have come close to — especially when it comes to killing big-time heroes in the most gruesome of ways.
The sandbox What If...? gets to play in is large and shows intriguing promise. The first three episodes just hardly scratch that surface. We've gotten plenty of trailers that show us the stories to come and they show more initiative than the three episodes Disney sent out for review, episodes most might consider to be too safe. It's a solid start, but this first batch of episodes leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily for us, we know that the craziest stuff — Doctor Strange vs. Doctor Strange, Zombie-Hunter Spider-Man, and others — are on the way, so it's still worth hanging until that comes around.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Marvel's What If...? is set for release on Disney+ beginning August 11th.