‘What If…?’ Season 1 Review: Underwhelming with Some Bright Spots
What If…? Season 1, developed by A.C. Bradley, is the weakest of all MCU Disney Plus television shows, but it does have a series of bright points. The animation style both references comic book art and feels supremely realistic.
The Watcher (Jeffery Wright) figure is the perfect narrator and a grounded character in the Multi-verse. Wright’s performance harkens back to Rod Sterling in The Twilight Zone.
The first episode, “What If … Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” was the best episode because the variance on Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) felt like something that could continue in other series. Sadly, after the pilot, the episodes went downhill, sometimes disregarding the adult audience and even underestimating child viewers.
What If…? Animation Style
The animation style in What If… Season 1 brings the iconic characters to life. It might have been fun to have different animation styles for every episode to act as a visual indicator every time we moved onto a new universe. Still, in all, the animation has a comic book feel to it that works in any Marvel piece of media.
When Captain Carter (Haley Atwell) beats up the Nazis, there are tiny sparks as a fist or bullet hits her Union Jack shield, and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) vibrates as he roars at General Ross’s troops in “What If … the World Lost its Mightiest Heroes”. All the superhero costumes are super detailed. The spacecraft and Quinjet look life-like.
The only minor issue with the animation is the facial reactions, especially when a character is in pain has a Disney Princess look that doesn’t fit with these badass moments in the series. Creator A.C. Bradley should have known that fans of all ages would consume What If…? Season 1 and made it appeal to a broad audience.
The Watcher & Captain Carter
Jeffery Wright’s Performance as The Watcher, a.k.a. Uatu, really brought all the stories together. First off, the animation of The Watcher in the opening credit sequence shows him as this looming Galactic presence with eyes that are made of stars. The Watcher is mostly seeded throughout the episodes as a voice-over, so Wright’s tone is vital.
Uatu has a warm, confident mysterious tone when he speaks that reveals his interest in the lives of the Avengers and the rest of humanity. The Watcher explains that he can’t interfere in any events, though he proves he will bend the rules. He can’t help but create a Multi-Verse team to save all the worlds from Ultron.
In “What If …. Ultron Won?”, Uatu’s tone shifts to uncertainty for the first time the minute that Ultron hears him narrating the story. He doesn’t understand what is happening. Ultron finding the Watcher destroys the fourth wall sucking Uatu into stories he usually observes. If Wright didn’t masterfully voice The Watcher, the final episode connecting all the universes wouldn’t work.
“What If … Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” honors Captain America: First Avenger while creating a whole new superhero. Everything that happened in the first Captain America movie occurs in the pilot until right before Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) receives the super-serum.
Everything changes after that, allowing viewers to feel grounded in the canon mythos. The fact that the main character Peggy Carter is voiced by Hayley Atwell, who plays her in live-action MCU content, makes the story feel more legitimate.
While the super-soldier serum physically changes Peggy Carter, she is the same badass loyal, sarcastic British woman. Many things turn out differently because Captain Carter doesn’t react to challenges in the same way as Captain America.
However, some elements stay the same because the MCU characters still have the same heart. Steve Rogers’s heroic soul leads him to become a different kind of superhero. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) builds Steve an early version of the Iron Man suit called the Hydra Stomper.
Captain Carter also gets trapped in time, but just not in the ice like Captain America. The engaging episode creates a desire for a live-action television series about Captain Carter or even a solo movie. I had high expectations for the rest of What If…? Season 1, but sadly the creatives behind the show have not met them.
My Biggest Gripe with What If…? Season 1
My biggest gripe with What If…? Season 1 is that many of the episodes’ plots don’t make sense or have our heroes acting out of character. The biggest culprit is “What If … T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” where Star-Lord T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) can suddenly convince all the villains to transform into Robin Hood figures. Thanos (Josh Brolin), as one of T’Challa’s sidekicks, is a step too far for me. I have a hard time buying that this version of the Star-Lord can convince him not to kill half of the whole universe.
Nebula (Kare Gillian) has a new personality along with long red hair, even though I’m pretty sure she would have still spent her childhood being abused by Thanos. Unless a child T’Challa convinces Thanos to change his ways, which seems unlikely since Nebula hates her father. Thanos must have tortured her.
End Thoughts on What If…? Season 1
Adult MCU fans understand that superhero media is made for all ages but still expect well-written, nuanced stories that consider the extensive character backstories that have been built over ten years. Children enjoy intelligent films or television, proven by the popularity of Gravity Falls and Adventure Time. Unfortunately, Bradley seems to have forgotten adult viewers and the sophistication of child audiences.
Let us know what you think of What If…? Season 1 in the comments!