Martin Carr reviews the third episode of Marvel’s What If…?
The Avengers coming together was a turning point for the MCU. That is when a disparate string of blockbuster films coalesced into something else. This is when comic book franchises turned into big business. Audiences were enthralled, Disney expressed an interest and studios started running to catch up. Without that defining moment which saw a decimated New York held together by a team of unique individuals, then Marvel might not be as celebrated. What If…? that never happened?
What episode three does is explore exactly that premise, subverting established timelines and throwing numerous curveballs into the mix. Taking a leaf from the other two entries, this takes a fresh look at the existing film and plays it differently. Team ups come from left field, some A-list voice actors make decisive contributions and Marvel’s multiverse gets cracked open.
Of the three, this is the most intriguing thus far. Those characters you thought incapable of evil turn on a dime, repercussions are insurmountable and things get dark. This direction is something which has been hinted at with forthcoming titles already, most notably with Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange sequel. That aside, What If…? also succeeds as an aperitif to the main events without adversely giving anything away.
This hypothetical, which offers up an alternate version of current events, only enriches the concept of dimensional differences. There is no showboating, no sly nods to camera and no need to pander to the public. What If…? displays a maturity and understanding only attainable over time. It draws on all the history built up over twenty plus films and other small screen incarnations. Rather than being something to criticise, for better or worse, What If…? needs to be celebrated for existing at all.
Comic books have now taken over as the equivalent of classic literature for some. The nature of content consumption means that multiple versions of any one thing are now normal. People absorb, process and apply knowledge in a different way, due primarily to advancements in technology. Things feel temporary, information is instant and so the idea of shows existing across numerous mediums fits right in.
That this change in popular culture has happened in conjunction with Marvel’s ascension is just a matter of good timing. However, their grip on story, adherence to character and consistency in content is no happy accident. This is a studio with clearly defined agendas in terms of their creative approach. What If…? just carries on that tradition by shifting into animation, as if that had been the plan all along.