“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 2 Is The Best Kind Of Marvel Storytelling

SPOILERS FOR WHAT IF…? AHEAD!

Come August 28th, it will have been a year since we mourned the sudden and shocking loss of Chadwick Boseman, the man behind the instantly-iconic character of Black Panther – and for many of us, the pain of that parting still feels raw and vulnerable. Boseman was so much more than an actor in some of our favorite movies: he made the most of every moment he had on this planet to inspire people around the world through his work and especially through Black Panther, and his full impact – particularly on the Black community – can’t be put into words by me.

What If...?
What If…? | sportskeeda.com

But while today’s episode of What If…? obviously can’t fully accomplish that gargantuan task either in just thirty minutes, it does a beautiful job of bringing Boseman’s legacy of kindness to life onscreen, assisted by luscious animation and a brilliant performance from Boseman himself, who recorded all his lines for What If…? before his death. Focusing on the repercussions of a change to the Marvel timeline that turns his T’Challa into the character known as Star-Lord, this episode is just as much a microcosm of Boseman’s own impact on the real world as it is of T’Challa’s impact within the confines of the Marvel Multiverse – a glimpse into those areas where the actor and the character overlapped on some level.

And where the two overlap is where the magic happens, and Boseman slips into the character of T’Challa so effortlessly that it doesn’t matter if he’s wearing the mantle of a Star-Lord rather than the solemn duties of Wakanda’s king: it’s T’Challa, the man underneath all the trappings, that we love. And that’s why this episode is a perfect encapsulation of what can make What If…? so rewarding to fans, because these stand-alone stories are supposed to shine a spotlight on the characters themselves, removed of their iconic gear and cool nicknames, placed in a wholly different scenario, but still themselves at their core; still making the decisions we know that character would make.

That’s exactly what the first episode of What If…? got so terribly wrong, using Peggy Carter to tiredly hit all the same plot beats as Steve Rogers did in The First Avenger. That episode could have been about almost any character in the MCU being injected with the Super-Soldier Serum, and it really wouldn’t have mattered because the writing was entirely plot-driven, leaving no room for the bold character choices we need from a What If…? scenario. It ceased to be a story about how Peggy Carter wears the mantle of Captain Carter and what she brings to the job, and became a recap of Steve Rogers’ movie, starring interchangeable action figures whose individual personalities matter less than a shield.

That’s always been a criticism of MCU movies, and I hated that the studio – which is, in fact, moving away from that mentality overall – gave its own detractors ammunition like that. This episode of What If…?, on the other hand, takes the cornerstones that make up T’Challa’s character – such as his dignity,  generosity, open-mindedness, and his desire to do good even when it requires him to upend the status quo – and uses those as the rock-solid basis for an original story that has similar vibes to Guardians Of The Galaxy, sure, but veers off in a completely different direction.

T’Challa being abducted from earth in place of Peter Quill (voiced by Brian T. Delaney) because the Ravagers were misled by Wakanda’s energy signature, him accidentally becoming the Star-Lord, and having a chance to share his kindness and pure spirit with the rest of the galaxy: that quite literally changes everything in the MCU – like, to the point where he doesn’t even form the Guardians Of The Galaxy in this timeline because he’s already averted most of the tragic events in each member’s backstories.

And the episode takes its time to reveal this, peeling back the layers so precisely that when the episode starts with T’Challa going about the exact same Power Stone heist that Peter Quill pulled off in the first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, you might be wary that it’s a repeat of what happened with episode one. But the catch is that, while Peter Quill kicked off the events of Guardians Of The Galaxy by trying to sell the Power Stone on the black market, T’Challa plans to use it to solve an energy crisis in the Krylorian star-system.

We get to see the impacts of T’Challa’s actions everywhere he goes. For one thing, he and the Ravagers’ captain Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) are actually close – and while their father-son dynamic still comes with conflict, T’Challa’s maturity and wisdom helps him navigate those rough patches, and facilitates an earlier redemption for Yondu. In this timeline, Thanos (Josh Brolin) runs a bar and gardens in his spare time – having been convinced by T’Challa that his plan for randomized genocide on a universal scale as a means of resource reallocation isn’t efficient or ethical (although there’s something eerie to Thanos constantly repeating that his plan would have worked).

As for Thanos’ adopted children, we only meet this timeline’s version of Nebula (Karen Gillan) – who is still mostly humanoid, having never been hardened into a sentient killing machine for her father. Side-note: It’s very weird seeing Nebula with any hair, much less a full head of wavy platinum blonde locks like a 1940’s movie-star. She’s still not on good terms with Thanos, which I appreciate because she has legitimate reasons to be upset with him besides turning her into an android, but she’s also funny, fashionable, and even a bit flirty around T’Challa (whom she calls “Cha-Cha”), and Karen Gillan does a great job selling the whole performance.

Later it’s revealed that Drax (voiced by Fred Tatasciore, due to some kind of “miscommunication” behind the scenes) never experienced the crushing loss of his wife and daughter – which would have sent him down the dark path to vengeance – in this timeline. In a bizarre twist of fate, he’s now working at Thanos’ bar. Even Korath (Djimon Hounsou), a minor villain in Guardians Of The Galaxy, ends up joining the Ravagers team and abandoning the Kree zealot Ronan. And while some of these changes might seem over-the-top divorced from context, Boseman’s charisma makes it believable.

What If...?
T’Challa as Star-Lord | themarysue.com

Now…that’s not to say everything in the universe is magically fixed by T’Challa’s presence. Thanos retires from his life of evil, but the power vacuum he leaves behind is quickly filled by another tyrant – Benicio Del Toro’s Collector. This twist makes a lot of sense, and retroactively helps to elevate this bizarre character as a legitimate threat, something he never got to be in the movies before getting killed off. In What If…?, with the help of the Black Order, the Collector has already done pretty well for himself – nabbing a whole bunch of new trinkets to add to his collection, including Mjolnir, Captain America’s shield, and – most horrifyingly, to me – Hela’s telekinetic helmet.

Along with the fancy weaponry comes an element of action that was completely missing from the character’s previous appearances, and perhaps feels a bit jarring here because of that. He’s still drowning under several pounds of snazzy bling when we meet him, but he quickly sheds his outer layers to reveal an impressive six-pack, and show off some martial arts moves. Del Toro seems to be having a great time voicing the character and doing weird stuff with his line-readings, which totally works for the Collector.

Oh, and can we just talk about Carina (Ophelia Lovibond) for a moment? One thing I love about the Multiverse is that even the most obscure characters can return and get payback for how the films did them dirty. And Carina, the Collector’s abused servant, has deserved a second chance ever since James Gunn used her to demonstrate the destructive abilities of the Power Stone in Guardians Of The Galaxy by having her get blown to smithereens. Just as Gunn has gotten better at writing women, so too has the MCU slowly improved.

In What If…?, Carina finally gets revenge on the Collector for all the evil things he did to her, smirking as she slips on the bracelet that allows her to control his minions and turn them against him. I love how there’s no attempt to moralize about her actions, and we don’t even get to see what happens – we just hear the Collector squealing the word “Karma!” before he’s buried under the weight of his own monstrous creations. It’s so dark, it’s so powerful, and I don’t think enough people are as obsessed with this scene as I am.

Contrast that scene with Peter Quill’s non-reaction to Carina’s death in Guardians Of The Galaxy, however, and you’ll notice that this whole episode is pretty damning for Quill – whose time as Star-Lord has resulted in a lot less peace and harmony, and a lot more apocalyptic catastrophe. His swagger, braggadocio, and self-absorbed attitude have always teetered between endearing and irritating (no thanks to Chris Pratt being the absolute worst), and his casual sexism in the Guardians franchise was never cute. It’s a real shame, because we absolutely deserve the messy, dramatic, canonically bisexual disaster that is Marvel Comics Quill, and we’re probably never gonna get it from Pratt.

And that’s why I’m so intrigued by the new version of Quill we met today in What If…?, who never got off-world – and is not voiced by Chris Pratt – but instead ended up working at a Dairy Queen in Missouri while T’Challa took his place among the stars. The episode concludes with Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell) donning human form and reuniting with Peter, juxtaposed with scenes of T’Challa returning to Wakanda and introducing his biological family to his found family from outer space. I really hope we reconnect with Quill and Ego at some point, because that’s too big a cliffhanger to leave like that.

Across the board, this is a massive improvement on the premiere episode. The writing is more sophisticated, the action is even cleaner, the voice-acting is stellar, and even Jeffrey Wright’s The Watcher – while still a background character – gets to engage with the material a bit more, just as I’d hoped he would. Most importantly, What If…? knows, or at least I hope it knows, that at its core it has to be character-driven to work…at the very least in episodes where the central conceit is a role-swap.

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

And that’s especially important with regards to characters like T’Challa, who mean so much to people because of the qualities that make them different from a lot of other superheroes, that can’t be treated as interchangeable or secondary to the plot. Hopefully, What If…? continues to keep that in mind going forward.

Rating: 10/10

“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