I’m definitely overthinking it.
Marvel Studios makes its first foray into animation with the gorgeous and admittedly very fun new Disney+ series What If… For fans unfamiliar with the comic book, What If… is essentially the Sliding Doors of the Marvel Universe. Imagine a scenario where Steve Rogers wasn’t the one to take the Super Soldier serum. Imagine a scenario where T’Challa was taken instead of Peter Quinn and thus becomes a Black Star-Lord. What if someone killed the Avengers before they could assemble?
How would the stories we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe transform?
Well, What If… gives you those answers, all wrapped up in the now blossoming concept of the multiverse.
But more on that later.
What If… emerges as a very fun and novel entry into the Marvel Studios world. The animation boasts a tactile, almost pop-up book feel to it. The vocal performances are compelling, and for those film actors who didn’t voice their characters, you’ll likely never know the difference. The episodes move briskly, giving the audience much to ponder as these new events unravel. Honestly, What If… provides a lot of fun. Marvel fans will eat it up. With a spoon.
So, why am I not jumping for joy? Well, my issues are entirely my own, I suspect.
I’m just not a fan of the concept of the multiverse.
When I read comics (waaaaay back in the 1980s kids), What If… was just sort of a novelty act. A fun little series that sort of existed there on the side. You could dabble or you could let it go. Avengers died. X-Men died. There were stakes. Unless you were Jean Grey, and then they’d keep bringing you back in many, many, many different versions. Each one seemingly hotter and more unbalanced than the last.
But I digress.
I left the comics before the multiverse really took hold.
The concept in Avengers: Endgame seemed very cool, and it provided a convenient way to wrap the plot with surprise and this sense that anything really could happen. It was used to great effect in Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse too. The problem is that anything really can happen. Gamora dies, so they find a different version of her in a multiverse. She’s miraculously back. Same with Loki in his recent series. Eventually, any Marvel Cinematic Universe character can be conveniently resurrected through the multiverse if the actor (looking at you RDJ) needs another cool couple of million.
What If… celebrates that, and it underscores the fact that — while these are stand alone stories that would never blend into the timeline we knew (or thought we knew) — nothing is really permanent. Everything can be rewritten with a twist of a timeline.
I don’t fault What If… for that. It’s a very strong show. But I’m not exactly jumping with excitement with the tortured concept of parallel yet slightly tweaked universes it proposes.
By its very existence, it underscores the complete loss of stakes that Marvel Studios introduces into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that, for me, takes a lot of the fun out of the ongoing narrative.
But maybe I’m really overthinking it.
What If… debuts on Disney+ on Wednesday, August 11.