“What If…?” Episode 9 – A Hollow And Hectic Finale

SPOILERS FOR WHAT IF…? AHEAD!

Marvel Studios has churned out three live-action series’ for Disney+ this year, and it didn’t take them long to match or frequently surpass the quality of many of their movies. What If…?, on the other hand, has had scattered moments and two full episodes that I’d rank right up there alongside the best of WandaVision, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, and Loki, but if this series is going to be a multi-season commitment for Marvel’s fledgling animation department (and it’s intended to be), then it’s going to need a little more work.

What If...?
Guardians Of The Multiverse | mcutimes.com

Leaving aside the fact that some episodes could be better described as mashups of two or more Marvel movies than actual “what if…?” scenarios, or the occasionally awkward facial animations and voice acting, What If…?‘s most consistent issue is that almost every episode is trying to squeeze an entire movie’s worth of plot and character development into the span of about twenty-five minutes, a good amount of which is often credits. This problem doesn’t necessarily have to be solved by making every episode forty to fifty minutes long, either. More focused writing would do wonders for What If…?.

For instance, this season finale didn’t need to be almost entirely an action sequence pitting the newly-formed “Guardians of the Multiverse” against Ultron (voiced by Ross Marquand), for several reasons. Firstly and probably most importantly, because it’s largely pointless. The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright)’s plan to defeat Ultron doesn’t actually rely on fighting him for a prolonged period of time, so this sequence feels like a waste of screentime that could have been better spent formulating a more efficient plan; perhaps one that would have given The Watcher something to do in this episode after how active he was last week.

And the longer this pointless sequence drags on, the more it robs Ultron of all the fear and awe he commanded in last week’s episode. Wielding all six Infinity Stones and possessed of reflexes and mental capacities beyond human comprehension, Ultron was capable of devouring entire galaxies last week – the only opponent who should logically stand a chance against him in battle for very long, out of this line-up at least, is Doctor Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch). I love seeing underdog characters use their unique skills to bring down an enemy twice their size, like when Star-Lord (Chadwick Boseman) gracefully snatches an Infinity Stone from Ultron’s collection using his “sticky fingers” technique, but Ultron is already depowered even before that, and it makes the whole battle less interesting.

The stakes are also surprisingly low for a series that’s so far been almost sadistic when it comes to killing off our favorite characters. For a moment, I hoped that Party Thor (Chris Hemsworth) at least would get to go out in a blaze of glory, after having served his only real purpose – unwitting bait for Ultron. But in fact, nobody dies. Technically not even Ultron, although it’s hard to describe what really happens to him: his body, or rather Vision’s body, gets taken over by the mind of Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), and his armor gets transferred to Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to use it to conquer the universe with the Infinity Stones, and both of them get locked up in a pocket dimension for all eternity, fighting over the Stones.

What If...?
Gamora | looper.com

The Killmonger twist is one of many plot beats and character moments in this episode that required more time to develop organically. The entire build-up to Killmonger’s betrayal is one or two shots of him silently staring at an Ultron droid’s helmet. Similarly, Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) sees one photo of Steve Rogers and suddenly wants to leave her timeline to go back and live with him. She ultimately decides against it, which I’m choosing to interpret as a jab at Steve’s out-of-character ending in Avengers: Endgame, but the whole scene feels too rushed to make this conflict or its resolution particularly interesting.

This feeling that we’re racing against the clock is compounded by another problem: none of the Guardians of the Multiverse actually know each other prior to this episode, and we don’t know them all that well – heck, this is our first time even meeting Gamora (voiced by Cynthia McWilliams), Destroyer of Thanos, because for some reason her individual episode got moved to season two – so they’re building relationships entirely from scratch, and without even so much as a common understanding of the universe to unite them.

The episode could have played on the radical differences between them to build bonds or create rifts and divisions, but this is an idea we only see realized through Captain Carter’s relationships with the two Black Widows (both voiced by Lake Bell). In her own timeline, their flirty banter is identical to that of Steve Rogers and Black Widow – which would be a lot more surprising and refreshing if it didn’t feel like What If…?‘s Captain Carter is literally just a reskin of Captain America. When she meets the haggard Black Widow of last week’s episode, she tells her things about herself that this timeline’s Widow wouldn’t have told a soul, proving her trustworthiness and unintentionally revealing that she and Widow are closer than Steve and Widow.

But that’s it. Other interactions, which could have been just as emotional if not more so, are ignored completely. Killmonger seeing T’Challa alive after murdering him in episode six should have been a humbling moment for him. Gamora talking about killing her timeline’s Thanos could have caused a clash with T’Challa, who successfully persuaded his timeline’s Thanos to see the error of his ways. And although zombie Wanda Maximoff shows up to fight Ultron and seems briefly confused by something, it would have been nice – and even more heartbreaking – to have explicit confirmation that she recognized her beloved Vision’s face on the android’s body.

Nonetheless, What If…? aims for an unearned heartfelt tone in its final minutes, as the Guardians go their separate ways. Obviously, the two endings that most fans will be talking about for weeks to come are Captain Carter’s and Doctor Strange Supreme’s: in a mid-credits scene, the former discovers the derelict HYDRA Stomper suit from episode one and is informed that someone is inside, setting up a Winter Soldier-type storyline for season two, while the latter is put in charge of protecting the pocket dimension where Zola and Killmonger are being kept, establishing him as The Watcher’s right-hand man and a being of infinitely more power than he could ever have obtained on his own. But neither ending really moved me.

What If...?
Gamora and T’Challa | butwhythopodcast.com

What did tug at my heartstrings was Black Widow being given a second chance by The Watcher, being dropped into the timeline that lost its Black Widow back in episode three, and helping Captain America and Captain Marvel take down Loki (Tom Hiddleston), even though I thought somebody ought to have warned her that Hawkeye, Thor, and Bruce Banner had also died in that timeline. What did break my heart was seeing T’Challa fly off to save the galaxy once again, this time with Peter Quill (voiced by Brian T. Delaney) by his side, and knowing now that Marvel wanted to give the character his own spin-off series.

These characters, even their alternate versions, are what we fall in love with, they’re why we watch, and my only hope for season two of What If…? is that Marvel gives them the space and time to really shine.

Episode Rating: 6.5/10

“What If…?” Episode 8 Fixes The Worst Part Of Age Of Ultron

SPOILERS FOR WHAT IF…? AHEAD!

Marvel’s What If…? has been working overtime to try and rectify the faults of some not-so-great or downright bad MCU films, from Thor to The Incredible Hulk to Ant-Man And The Wasp, and in today’s episode they’re tackling Age Of Ultron. Even when they’ve succeeded at doing so, I can’t say I’ve been strongly tempted to go back and rewatch any of these movies, but I’ve always been especially conflicted about Age Of Ultron because it’s a movie that has no right to be as bad as it was, and yet in hindsight it’s so obvious why it failed.

What If...?
Ultron | cnet.com

On the one hand, there’s a lot to like about it. As the only Avengers movie taking place between the team’s formation and their disintegration, Age Of Ultron gave us some much-needed insight into the Avengers’ family dynamic, and the relationships at play within the group. It introduced us to Wanda Maximoff and Vision, both enduring fan-favorites. It brought us that epic opening action sequence that spun directly out of events on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and which is still the closest the MCU ever came to linking up with Marvel TV.

But…for every great character moment came a cringeworthy interaction between Black Widow and The Hulk, laced with misogyny. Despite introducing us to Wanda, she was burdened with terrible writing and a ridiculously bad Eastern European accent, while her character’s Romani heritage from the comics was erased and has yet to be restored in the MCU. And apart from that one opening action sequence, the battles were largely unmemorable, and the villain Ultron was a comical caricature with no depth or nuance to his motivations.

Unsurprisingly, most of these problems can be traced back to director Joss Whedon. The extent of Whedon’s reprehensible behavior on multiple sets throughout his career is still just being brought to light, thanks to people like Ray Fisher and Charisma Carpenter speaking up about his abuses of power. Whedon’s tyrannical arrogance is how we ended up with a theatrical cut of Justice League so bad that Warner Brothers had to release a better version of the same movie earlier this year, and it’s how we ended up with an Age Of Ultron movie so bad that What If…? had to at least try and fix it.

So of course today’s episode of What If…? is perfectly suited for me, or anybody who’s ever wished that the best elements of Age Of Ultron could be isolated and transplanted into another, better, movie (or in this case, a thirty-minute long animated episode of streaming television), discarding everything that didn’t work…which is most of Whedon’s movie, to be honest. The first and foremost change is that in this new timeline, Ultron (voiced by Ross Marquand) is actually a legitimate threat.

Within the first couple of minutes, we’re treated to an unhappy alternate ending to Age Of Ultron that’s arguably – no, definitely better than the actual third act of that movie. Ultron gets his hands on Vision and downloads his consciousness into the android’s body, before shortcutting his plan to exterminate the human race by simply cracking the world’s nuclear codes and raining fire from the skies. It’s a lot easier and less melodramatic than building giant propeller engines beneath a random Eastern European city, and trying to use said city as a meteor to cause global extinction.

But what do you know, it’s also less effective. Because while almost everyone on earth dies in the nuclear firestorm, two Avengers survive – Natasha Romanoff (voiced by Lake Bell) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Not exactly useless now, are they? How they survived the initial apocalypse is left a mystery, but it’s very clear when we pick up with them again that they’ve been on their own for quite some time, using their wits to scrape by. On their own, neither of them is strong enough to take on Ultron, but Romanoff comes up with a classic Black Widow plan to save the day, which involves breaking into the apocalypse-proof KGB archives in Moscow – and finding the key to resurrecting HYDRA’s own villainous AI, Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).

What If...?
Black Widow | thecinemaholic.com

Even though I’m pretty much indifferent towards MCU Hawkeye, there is something inspiring about watching these two characters in particular as they struggle to overcome an opponent they know is far too strong at this point to be dispatched with an arrow or a kick. Neither of them has a superpower (beyond Hawkeye’s precision), neither has a great weapon (Natasha finds her father’s shield from his days as Red Guardian, but that’s later), and neither should logically have survived a catastrophe of this scale in the first place. But they did, so they’ll be the ones to stop Ultron or they’ll die trying.

And rest assured that both heroes get to prove themselves in battle against Ultron’s hordes of sentry bots. Their fast-paced fight scenes make good use of What If…?‘s sleek animation style and fluid character movements, and Natasha in particular has some very cool moments, while Hawkeye makes the sacrifice play to save his friend (and Zola’s delightfully chatty consciousness in a robot body) in a scene evocative of Natasha’s self-sacrifice in Endgame. But in this universe at least, only another computer program like Zola has a chance of combating Ultron.

That’s something that becomes abundantly clear as Ultron leaves earth and sweeps through the universe, seeking out life in every corner of the cosmos and eradicating it as part of his objective to protect existence from itself. He obliterates Asgard, Xandar, Ego, and The Sovereign, killing the Guardians of the Galaxy in the process. He cuts Thanos in half with his laser-beam like a slice of salami meat, and takes the Infinity Stones from his corpse, adding them to his already impressive arsenal of weaponry. Captain Marvel (voiced by Alexandra Daniels) puts up a good fight, but Ultron kills her too, releasing a shock-wave that annihilates an entire string of nearby planets. He is without equal in the universe.

But the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a Marvel Cinematic Multiverse now, and Ultron becomes aware of that fact when he overhears What If…?‘s narrator, The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright), talking about him from outside the boundary of his own universe. Something similar happened in episode four when Doctor Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch) reached a level of power where he became capable of communicating with The Watcher through the boundary, but the difference – and what ultimately makes Strange Supreme slightly less of a villain than Ultron – is that he didn’t literally break the fourth wall to try and attack The Watcher. Strange Supreme’s greatest flaw was his humanity, but humans are capable of feeling regret and guilt, and even in rare cases of admitting wrongdoing.

Ultron is not human, however, and he has no conscience, which means there’s nothing to prevent him from trying what Strange Supreme would not. What follows is a clash of titans unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU up until this point, and we just saw Captain Marvel go up against Thor last week. The Watcher is a cosmic entity of indescribable power and intellect, and Ultron is a mercilessly destructive computer program clothed in the synthetic flesh of Vision and spangled with Infinity Stones – when they throw punches, they break holes in the very fabric of reality. At one point, Ultron even goes full Galactus and swallows a star-system whole (but since he’s using Vision’s body, and Vision canonically doesn’t have a digestive system, that should have been the end of him).

The Watcher is a surprisingly good fighter, and Jeffrey Wright finally gets something to do in this show (not that the little motivational speeches weren’t cute and all), but even he is no match for Ultron and must ultimately run and hide. It’s only then that The Watcher realizes it’s up to him to stop Ultron, even if it means breaking his ancient oath to never intervene with the natural course of history. The countless tragedies that The Watcher watched and never did anything to avert apparently weren’t enough to make him question his oath, but losing a fight with a computer is the last straw.

To add insult to injury, the only place where The Watcher can hide is in the remains of Doctor Strange Supreme’s former universe. But in a lucky twist of fate, Strange Supreme might just be The Watcher’s best bet at defeating Ultron. We also know of several other characters who will join the unofficial Guardians of the Multiverse team in next week’s episode, including Party Thor (not sure how much help he’s gonna be, but okay), Killmonger, T’Challa as Star-Lord, and Captain Carter, not to mention survivor Black Widow and AI Arnim Zola. That’s a weird line-up of characters right there, the kind that could only come about via the Multiverse, and frankly I can’t wait to see how they interact.

What If...?
Hawkeye vs Ultron | Twitter @blurayangel

I’m also scared, because the stakes are unusually high going into the finale, and we don’t have any assurance that all of these characters will survive the confrontation with Ultron. The Watcher will presumably live to narrate another season of What If…?, and Captain Carter’s apparently headed for the movies, but everybody else is in serious danger. That’s a testament to the fact that What If…? is largely unafraid to kill off beloved heroes, and to the fact that Ultron is more threatening now than he ever was in Age Of Ultron. It’s never too late for redemption in the MCU.

Episode Rating: 8.5/10

“What If…?” Episode 1 Embarks On A Hectic Recap Of Alternate History

SPOILERS FOR WHAT IF…? AHEAD!

My main question coming into What If…?, and the only one this premiere episode actually had to answer, is what the framing device around each episode would be. After all, What If…? isn’t your typical Marvel Disney+ show – and not only because it’s the studio’s first animated series, but because it’s also an anthology of sorts. Each episode is largely self-contained, and each follows a different timeline in the vast Marvel Multiverse, where a single change to the canon we know can create a wholly different world and history.

What If...?
Captain Carter | indiewire.com

My questions were mostly regarding the logistics of this bold creative choice. Would we be plunged straight into the action of a whole new universe each week, much like with WandaVision? Would each episode lead into the next, even if they were self-contained and separate? How prevalent would Jeffrey Wright’s The Watcher actually be as a narrator, and how helpful would he be as a guide to the Multiverse? The answers: no, not really, and…*vague hand gesture*

Don’t get me wrong: The Watcher has an important role, especially for general audiences. Even if you haven’t seen the finale of Loki and don’t actually know what the Multiverse is, The Watcher gives you all the information you need to know upfront – which is to say, very little, yet just enough to get a general understanding of what’s going on. The Watcher bookends the first episode with a little narration at the beginning that very swiftly and deftly picks out the nexus event in this alternate timeline that leads to Peggy Carter (voiced by her original actress, Hayley Atwell) becoming Captain Carter, and then a brief closing monologue about how he never interferes in the timeline.

Sadly, The Watcher doesn’t show up at all between those two points – which makes him a lot less interesting as a character. I get that he can’t, or won’t, interfere with the timelines he watches over even though they’re already in chaos thanks to Loki and Sylvie, but it would have been nice if he at least took a more active role as a narrator, giving us some colorful commentary on the action of each episode. He certainly has strong feelings and opinions on things. I would like to hear more from him.

And I almost feel as though that kind of commentary would have helped to save this episode from turning into the choppily-edited, massively-abridged, unfocused highlight reel of Captain Carter’s life and career that it very quickly becomes.

You know the little Marvel: Legends recaps that Marvel’s been releasing in front of each of their shows that focus on a returning character’s greatest moments in the MCU? This episode plays like a recap, except that each of the “greatest moments” in this case seems to have been selected not for what they say about Captain Carter as a character, certainly not for what they illuminate about the differences between her and Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton), but for how they reference, parallel, or directly overlap with Steve’s own adventures as Captain America in The First Avenger – thereby robbing Captain Carter of much of her individuality and independence.

In terms of runtime, this episode also feels like a highlight reel at a lean twenty-nine minutes (not including credits) – and rather than work with that time limitation and design this episode with the style and aesthetic of a 1940’s news reel, which would have been really clever and fun, this episode just feels breathless and hectic. Everyone is delivering their dialogue at breakneck speed, sometimes barely even pausing between lines to a point that becomes seriously grating on the ear – again, as though it’s being edited on the assumption that the stuff in between the dialogue isn’t important.

There’s nothing I would call a unique character moment, because there’s barely any space to fit a character moment in here at all – so the episode relies on recycling beats from The First Avenger, but with Steve and Peggy’s roles swapped. Just like in the universe we left behind, they still fall in love, one of them still ends up sacrificing themselves to save the world and returns seventy years later, and they even make the exact same promise to share a dance one day, except that here it just comes out of the blue and feels totally unearned. Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark comes closest to having a character moment, and it’s literally just one line about a weekend with Hedy Lamarr.

So what do we get instead? A lot of plot. In fact, the entire plot of The First Avenger – a two-hour and four-minute long movie – condensed into just less than half an hour. And that’s because this episode basically follows The First Avenger beat-by-beat, without really diving into the unique consequences of Peggy Carter specifically not only becoming the first Super-Soldier, but quite forcefully seizing the serum after an incident in Doctor Erskine (Stanley Tucci)’s laboratory that forces her to take the lead.

What If...?
What If…? | kakuchopurei.com

The nexus event that’s supposed to precipitate everything is Peggy refusing to leave the laboratory floor during the experiment on Rogers. But What If…? recreates the scene with a couple of other noticeable alterations that you’d think might also mess up the timeline, including the addition of John Flynn (Bradley Whitford) – an obscure character from Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter – and the fact that everyone else is on the laboratory floor along with Peggy, which makes this feel like less of an empowering feminist moment and more like a joint decision by all the Strategic Science Reserve top brass. The date of the Red Skull (Ross Marquand)’s raid on T√łnsberg is also pushed back, and somehow despite having the Tesseract in his possession for a far shorter period he’s suddenly able to summon monsters from other dimensions?

But from that point on, the basic structure of the story remains unchanged. A string of awesome action sequences prevent the episode from ever becoming downright boring, but it’s not exactly entertaining either once you realize that Peggy is no longer getting to make her own decisions, she’s just running through a checklist of all the things Steve did that she now has to repeat. Rescuing Bucky and the other guys of the 107th, and forming the Howling Commandos? Check. Losing her best friend during a mission in the Swiss Alps that involves ziplining onto a Nazi bullet train? Check. Storming a HYDRA fortress, and supposedly dying in a heroic self-sacrifice? Also check.

And that really annoys me because there’s so much more this episode could have played with, even in its slim runtime! Peggy is a much more forceful presence than Steve Rogers, both in the main timeline and this one, so it makes sense that she’d get onto the front lines a lot faster than Steve, without going through the awkward middle stage of being sent around the US on a military propaganda tour, but we could have explored more of how Peggy being a woman affects the way she’s expected to behave as Captain Carter, and how she defies the expectations of her in her own way.

For instance, perhaps the SSR and the US military wouldn’t have felt comfortable about flaunting her as they did with Steve – after all, she doesn’t perform her first heroic deed in public in this timeline, so there’s no pressure on them to do so. We could have dived into the covert side of the SSR, with Peggy being used only on secretive stealth-missions while the SSR fast-tracks an effort to find her replacement behind her back. They basically find one in Steve Rogers, ironically. He becomes a kind of proto-Iron Man alongside Captain Carter, donning a flying metal suit called the HYDRA Stomper. But the episode is too busy working in their romance to explore any conflict there.

It would also have been interesting to see how Peggy embodies the marriage of British brawn with American (and technically German) science, and how that affects the political situation in her universe. She might have been hailed as a symbolic representation of the alliance between the US and the UK, and both countries might have fought over her behind the scenes. What If…? certainly emphasizes her Britishness in a way the movies didn’t, with Captain Carter wearing the Union Jack on both her suit and vibranium shield, all while still working for the US. But this odd detail is somehow never mentioned, and What If…? doesn’t so much as toy with the idea of calling her Captain Britain.

And what about the effect it has on her enemies? In The First Avenger, I always got the sense that the Red Skull’s loathing of the US, which even led to him trying to bomb New York, was derived from his intense personal grudge against Steve Rogers. But in What If…?, his grudge is with Peggy Carter – and though the episode barely touches on their dynamic because time restraints, I can’t help but wonder if he’d have launched a full-scale attack on her country of England instead of targeting Steve Rogers’ hometown? I’d have loved to have seen some twist on the Battle of Britain.

Speaking of battles, let’s touch on one of my favorite things about the episode – the action. Animation has always been a great medium for action-heavy stories, because in animation you’re free to play fast and loose with logic and the laws of physics in ways that live-action can’t consistently replicate, even if you are willing to endanger the lives of countless stunt doubles and pay for massive amounts of CGI. Think of how Ahsoka Tano moves in The Clone Wars and in Star Wars: Rebels, with the kind of fluidity and flexibility that make her fight scenes mesmerizing to watch – that’s how Captain Carter moves in What If…?. She flies, she twirls, she high-kicks Nazis, we love to see it.

But that’s what makes it so disappointing that we don’t get to see more of her as a character – or even just anything that feels like a direct consequence of Peggy Carter, specifically, becoming a Super-Soldier. The very structure of What If…? would seem to allow for more character-driven storytelling, even necessitate it. Characters making decisions they’re not supposed to is how we end up with alternate timelines in the MCU. But Peggy is stuck doing everything Steve did, the only real twist being that she looks a hell of a lot cooler (wearing flawless victory curls in the heat of battle is a whole mood), and fights better too. Oh yeah, and the Red Skull gets crushed to death by a cosmic Cthulhu that I’m stubbornly choosing to believe is Hive from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but that really doesn’t have anything to do with Peggy.

What If...?
Captain Carter | cbr.com

Yet that, I’m afraid, is how many of the episodes of What If…? that simply revolve around one character taking up another’s mantle will ultimately play out – as if the plot beats are more important than the characters and their individual actions, as if it doesn’t really matter who’s the first Avenger because they’re still going to have to do all the same things as Steve Rogers and end up in the same place eventually. I hope that once we get into episodes with more unique concepts, we’ll see more character-driven storytelling and perhaps have a chance to slow down a bit and actually explore all these new corners of the Multiverse that we just kind of rushed through in this premiere.

Episode Review: 6.5/10

“What If…?” 2nd Trailer Review!

In a franchise that has historically been very strict about what is and what is not canon (nobody knows that better than Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans), the medium of animation provides Marvel an incredible opportunity to expand upon the potential of Loki‘s Multiverse shenanigans and explore alternate universes branching off from the so-called Sacred Timeline – in an anthology series named What If…? that will remain (at least as far as we know) entirely separate from the live-action MCU. But although you might think that would narrow its appeal with hardcore fans who tend to get obsessive over the canon debate too, the broad variety of stories being explored in What If…? will likely make this a must-see event.

What If...?
What If…? | etonline.com

The format of the series is simple yet unique. One episode for each Marvel movie released thus far, but putting a twist on the version of events we know from our canon, and following the consequences of that twist down a winding rabbit-hole of endless possibilities. Until today, the marketing for What If…? had largely focused on just two or three storylines: one in which Peggy Carter took the Super-Soldier Serum during World War II instead of Steve Rogers and became Captain Carter (not Captain Britain, although the Union Jack is emblazoned on her vibranium shield); one in which a young Prince T’Challa was abducted from Earth by aliens and became a Ravager in place of Peter Quill; and one in which Bucky Barnes fights a zombie version of Captain America, in what I think might be the series’ Captain America: Civil War episode.

Everything beyond that had been just quick glimpses and unconfirmed rumors until today’s new trailer, which starts out in the back of an armored vehicle moving through the Middle East – yep, the same one where Tony Stark was ambushed in the opening of Iron Man and nearly got blown to bits by one of his own Stark Industries missiles, commencing his journey to becoming Iron Man. But this time around, something unexpected happens. Killmonger – as in Black Panther‘s Killmonger – leaps in to save Tony Stark’s life, effortlessly lifting the missile and tossing it into the sky. And from there, the trailer only gets weirder.

We see an armored Natasha Romanoff zipping through the battle-damaged streets of a city on her motorcycle, having been the only member of the Avengers to survive Ultron’s extinction-level apocalypse in Age Of Ultron. Pepper Potts, wielding some kind of high-tech gun, fights alongside Shuri and the Dora Milaje. Loki invades Earth, not with hordes of Chitauri aliens, but with Asgardian troops; while a tattooed frat boy Variant of Thor parties it up on the planet’s surface. Okoye hurls a spear at a levitating Wanda Maximoff. T’Challa and Yondu fight a muscular, cybernetically-enhanced Variant of The Collector from Guardians Of The Galaxy. Doctor Strange duels Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One. Howard the Duck is just…there, for whatever reason.

What If...?
Captain Carter | buzzfeed.com

Before Loki, I was intrigued but bewildered by the concept of What If…?, but now we know so much more about the mechanics of the Multiverse in the MCU that we can kind of get a sense of what’s going on, and perhaps even why. These are all timelines that branched but never got pruned, Nexus Events allowed to spiral further and further out of control, leading to chaotic crossovers with other alternate timelines, and what Miss Minutes described as “multiversal war”. We can see some of that going on in this trailer: Variants like Captain Carter and T’Challa as Star Lord won’t be confined to single episodes, but will also join forces across time and space – leading to a clever recreation of the iconic Avengers group shot in the first Avengers movie that also includes frat boy Thor, a Gamora Variant who’s dressed in golden armor like her adoptive father Thanos and is even wielding the Mad Titan’s sword, and a character who is possibly Killmonger, wearing the Black Panther suit.

Of course, if the Time Variance Authority isn’t around to prune these timelines and prevent a Multiverse, it raises the question of why. My guess is that at the end of Loki, the God of Mischief’s efforts to burn the TVA to the ground are successful, finally freeing the universe from authoritarian control and allowing time to do whatever the hell it wants. Whether the characters in What If…? will discover that and try to hop over into the MCU’s reality remains to be seen, but that could precipitate the Multiverse Of Madness which we know Doctor Strange will be dealing in with his hotly-anticipated sequel.

The only person who seems to have any answers is an ethereal cosmic being known as Uatu the Watcher, who will narrate the series and preside over events, hopefully cluing in audiences as to what’s really going on. Will he always remain on the sidelines, watching but never interfering with time? Will he be mentioned in the MCU at any point? Where does he even come from? As Darcy would say, “don’t know, don’t know, and…don’t know.”

What If...?
T’Challa and Yondu | nerdist.com

What I do know is that the animation on this series looks brilliant: crisp, clean, and richly detailed, allowing for the kind of spectacle sometimes unattainable in live-action except through extensive use of CGI. With the exception of Robert Downey Jr., the voice-acting is provided by the same actors who originated these roles in live-action, including Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, in what will be his final posthumous performance. And my expectations for the next wave of Marvel Disney+ shows are at an all-time high after the resounding success of Loki. I was always excited for What If…? because I’m a big fan of animation, but I’m sold on the concepts at play here too after this amazing trailer.

Trailer Rating: 8.9/10