Martin Carr reviews the second episode of Marvel’s What If…?
Episode two of Marvel’s What If…? comes with a certain degree of poignancy built into its fabric, as this is the last work Chadwick Boseman ever did. From the outset, his rich embodiment of T’Challa comes through effortlessly. Intonation, self-assurance and an innate dignity make his presence a real pleasure. By melding both Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy, which saw Peter Quill get kidnapped by Ravagers while T’Challa grew up in royal serenity on Wakanda, episode two poses a very interesting question.
By reworking the narrative continually and introducing key figures in leftfield scenarios, What If..? perpetually ups the ante. Audiences will be drawn in by this fresh approach, which not only changes individual perspectives, but also softens the edges of some unexpected franchise favourites. By taking this approach, Marvel are dragging viewers deeper into an alternate rabbit hole where all bets are off.
By focusing the action primarily on Knowhere, there is a reassurance of familiar ground which allows fresher elements to make an impact. Moments featuring the voice work of Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan and Carrie Coon subvert expectations and fully exploit this unique set up. Unexpected conversations, heavily armed diversions and genocidal running jokes turn the tables constantly.
Outside of those changes, What If…? excels in peppering little differences into the mix. Very specific franchise favourite moments get a face lift and if nothing else people will think differently. Marvel have now become an institution in cinematic terms, that puts them alongside golden age studios in terms of power and influence. Their business model is constantly evolving in line with public expectations. What If…? is just another well judged piece of that corporate puzzle.
Disney have now taken on the role of a conglomerate, harbouring stand alone business concerns under an overarching umbrella. Some might say that this type of monopoly is not ideal. To have one corporation with access to so much creative muscle will affect the quality of content. That argument has some validity, but again, if the marketplace had no need of such things Disney would be out business. Marvel’s arrangement with the Mouse House allows for unbridled autonomy, with a degree of creative oversight. What If…? may allow them to repackage their back catalogue, but also provides time for filmmakers to make decisions. A commodity which is always in short supply, when an average mid-level film now costs north of seventy million dollars.
From a critical perspective What If…? serves two masters. One is the franchise machine which makes it possible, while public need backs that up. This creative catch twenty-two has always been there, very much like multiverses existing in parallel. Ever present but just beyond reach, this interdependence has rarely been personified on screen until now.