Martin Carr reviews the fourth episode of Marvel’s What If…?
There is something compelling about the idea of love viewed through a rose-tinted prism. That moment of compulsion which shapes us into something else, merely though the extended proximity of another. In the darkest episode yet What If…? addresses just that notion, by turning Doctor Strange into a toxic love story, which audiences will find hard to shake off.
In this tale of adoration turned obsession Stephen Strange is delusional, using the tools of his trade to cheat death. A task which sends him deeper into darkness, splitting timelines and dismantling universal constants. Turning from a benevolent being into an arcane aberration, he is blinded by emotion from recognising an absolute truth.
Featuring some of the strongest voice acting thus far, this pitch black alternate reality throws in some intriguing tangents. Turning perceptions inside out, while dimensions fall like dominoes in the pursuit of catharsis. Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams and Benedict Wong are all present and correct, in an episode which asks more questions than it answers. Time travel combined with the arrival of disparate doppelgangers, only make matters worse as Stephen Strange tackles his greatest adversary.
Intervention takes many forms, yet this Doctor Strange absorbs all comers without breaking sweat. What remains is a multitude of differing perspectives, perpetually at odds with the worlds around them. This about face is pivotal to making the episode work as arrogance, self-interest and an overarching need prove all consuming.
There is little room for jokes within the compact running time yet this may require repeat viewings. Easter eggs abound amongst the maudlin mood and philosophical navel gazing, which pervades every frame of animation. As the Doctor Strange sequel promises to be Marvel’s first self-proclaimed horror film, this must surely be a taste of things to come. An emotional rollercoaster of sorcerer supreme proportions, that merely whets the appetite for the main event due for release next year.
In this twisted freakshow of an episode Benedict Cumberbatch really unleashes the beast, moulding his performance from multiple angles. Playing anguished malevolence with all the bloodshot reality of an action-packed feature, he offers up something flawless for those that follow. Retaining the use of those hands whilst being stripped of any emotional judgement really opens things up. Ambition is superseded by more abstract concepts and the rational mind of a once great man is permanently derailed. Something which plays strongly into multiverse concepts, without really revealing anything.
As the credits roll and something akin to a Turin shroud is drawn discreetly over this delicate subject matter, audiences will be left with innumerable questions. As What If…? breezes past the mid-way point and people begin questioning its significance, just be mindful that with Marvel there is always a purpose.