Believe it or believe it not, the stuff that gets written here does have the semblance of a plan about it. Despite being spread half way around the world and separated by several time zones we do take the opportunity to chat whenever we can. And we do manage to talk about things other than differences in spellings and asking “what time is it with you?”
One of the things that we talked about was what would be replacing Thanos as the binding element of the latter phases of the MCU. We thought that there had to be something or someone who was going to provide a theme which would subtly link all the films and TV shows together through phases four, five, and six before, presumably, leading to another box office record breaking two episode film finale.
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What If… Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?
There’ll probably be a more detailed look at this in the near future but I just wanted to get it on record that we think that the linking theme will be the multiverse itself. As I said, we’ll go into it in more detail before too long. Having said that the What If…? series is, unashamedly, a multiverse adventure but there is a lot more multiversing going on in the main phases.
Another thing that stands out is that What If…? is the first MCU animated series. Perhaps I may be allowed to pick at this particular nit and say that it is a cartoon series. I’m saying this because, thanks to modern CGI most films are animated to a greater or lesser extent. What If…? has the look of a traditional pen and ink animation.
What If… T’Challa Became A Star-Lord?
It’s probably not a warehouse full of people sweating over pads with fists full of marker pens; there’s probably more than just a smidgeon of computer assistance. Despite that, they still manage to get the ‘feel’ of an old style, hand drawn animated film. As Jill said, “The more I watch these episodes, the more obsessed I become with how beautiful the art is, and how awesomely everything comes together.”
So what is What If…? all about? Basically, they took a few of the situations shown in the early phase films, changed them a wee bit, and asked what would happen if things were allowed to roll along from this new starting point. As I said before, this is a definite examination of storylines being affected by small changes in the starting parameters.
What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?
Over the course of the series, nine starting points are looked at and tweaked. I suppose another approach could have been to take the same starting point and tweak it nine different ways but, who knows, there could be any number of new series on the, quite literal, drawing board. I have heard that a second series is in development featuring the Guardians of the Multiverse.
The season starts with the creation of the first Avenger. Howard Stark’s machine is ready with the super soldier serum ready to be pumped into the seven stone weakling Steve Rogers. Unfortunately, those dastardly Hydra swine have sneaked an agent into the lab and he tries to disrupt proceedings. During the ruckus Steve is injured and can’t continue. Disaster! If somebody doesn’t get in the machine straight away then the whole thing will be a waste.
What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands?
So, who should step up to the mark? None other than plucky Peggy Carter! She strips down to her vest and jumps in while Howard flicks switches, presses buttons, and ignores the army bods saying a woman can’t be a soldier never mind a super one. Instead of Captain America we get Captain Carter and Steve Rogers ends up driving a giant suit of armour similar to the one his son would later build in a cave in Afghanistan.
Another episode has the Ravagers coming to Earth to abduct a child but they get the wrong one. Instead of Peter Quill they snatch T’Chala and he goes on to become Star-Lord. There’s one which has Steven Strange losing his girlfriend, Christine Palmer, in a car crash rather than the use of his hands. One has Killmonger rescuing Tony Stark before he ends up in the cave.
What If… Zombies?!
Obviously it’s the old quantum mechanics, butterfly effect thing; small change here, absolutely massive ones later on. However, there are some nice touches…I believe the younglings call them easter eggs. At one point Peggy Carter saves Bucky Barnes from falling off a train by grabbing his hand; he says “you nearly ripped my arm off!” In another episode a visit to The Collector’s place shows that he has Captain America’s shield and Hela’s Headdress. It’s the sort of thing that makes several rewatches well worth making the time and effort for.
What makes What If…? different to other MCU series is that each episode comes from a different starting point and draws upon different members of the ensemble cast. In many ways it’s more like going to watch short versions of the individual films rather than wondering how they’re going to resolve last week’s cliff hanger.
What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?
Because of this, I think you’ll find that, just like with the films, you will prefer some episodes more than others and your favourite will be different to your friends. For instance, I really liked the first episode which featured a British, female supersoldier; that was one of Jill’s least favourites. I don’t know if that’s just a question of rooting for your home team or not but we didn’t see eye to eye on that one.
(Jill here: the Captain Carter one bored me because it was a rehash of The First Avenger. All the others were more creative takes. I almost didn’t come back and watch What If because I thought they were all going to be rehashes. So glad I was SO WRONG!) (Note 2: I loved Peggy when she came back at the finale. She had great banter with Black Widow and an easygoing-ness she lacked in the solo episode.)
Similarly, Jill really liked the zombies episode and it just washed over me in a cloud of meh. Mind you, in all fairness to What If…? I’ve gone on record in the past to say that the whole zombie sub-genre leaves me cold and has done for years. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves, I can find the entertainment value in them but zombies? The only exceptions are the Zombieland films and that was because they were played for laughs.
(Jill, note 3: I love this one because it’s hysterical. It’s at least as funny as Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. I have a low tolerance for gore, but this was fine. And often poignant, seeing as how it’s a look at how WandaVision might have turned out, Hope talking about Hope, and Spider-Man as the MVP of the wh.)
What If… Thor Were An Only Child?
However, just to prove that we can occasionally agree on something, we both really liked the Star-Lord T’Challa and party Thor episodes. The Star-Lord T’Challa one is heaving with emotion filled as it is with the retrospective knowledge of the private battle Chadwick Boseman was going through and how much it must have taken out of him.
The party Thor episode was just fun! I’d like to say it resonated for me because I’m a real party animal but that would just be wishful thinking and wistful memories. Jill is several decades younger than myself and has been known to kick up her heels but I don’t think that’s the reason either. I think it’s more to do with the humour that was injected into it.
What If… Ultron Won?
Let’s face it, the Thor character is only a hair’s breadth away from being a stand up comedian anyway. That’s why Kenneth Branagh’s very serious Thor fell flat while Taika Waititi’s much funnier version romped away with the box office records. It makes sense to go with your strengths whenever possible.
I won’t say that the quality was variable; it’s more a case of some stories appeal to some people more than others do. The animation is very well done; the characters are recognisable and the movements are smooth and flowing which is, more or less, what you need in a cartoon. What makes the big difference is the voices.
What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath?
The big plus here is that the majority of the cast came back to reprise their roles. Peggy Carter, T’Challa, Thor, Loki, Bucky Barnes, Thanos, Nick Fury, Clint Barton, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and many others are all voiced by the original actors.
One new addition to the fold is The Watcher voiced by Jeffrey Wright. The Watcher is a member of an extraterrestrial species known as, well, Watchers. Their role is to observe, but not interfere with, the events taking place in the Multiverse. Any excuse to hear Jeffrey Wright is fine by me!
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!