Ever since the infinity saga’s conclusion in Avengers: Endgame, which wrapped up many character arcs and storylines in the span of roughly a decade, Marvel Studios’ phase 4 of their ongoing cinematic universe left many fans wondering where these stories could go next. After the popular Disney+ streaming service was created, Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige opened many new doors to what the MCU could delve into in future projects and how they would go about doing it.
This introduced the new television format for the MCU which centered on many supporting characters and that was still set in, or inspired by, the shared universe of the films. Series like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki were able to explore these side characters in greater depth, almost making them even more compelling than how they were portrayed in the films. The addition of these larger budget series meant a bunch of new content was coming for fans to latch onto, content like Marvel’s What If…?
A.C. Bradley’s 9-episode animated anthology series brought a fresh perspective to the MCU, diverging from the main timeline and presenting alternate scenarios for some of the biggest faces in the cinematic universe. Characters are free to act drastically different due to these new scenarios, with the only constant being Jeffrey Wright’s The Watcher, a member of the extraterrestrial species of the same name who observes the Multiverse and strictly refuses to interfere with its events. Although met with generally positive reviews, with many critics praising the series’ eye-popping visuals and the endless possibilities, it fails to deliver in many aspects, making it the weakest of the newly released series.
The Rushed Storytelling
The first problem that is obvious right away is not letting the story have time to breathe. In episode 1, the story centers on Peggy Carter as she is given the super-soldier serum instead of the scrawny Steve Rogers, creating a different path with Carter as the titular hero. The events that follow are mostly a retread of the film Captain America: The First Avenger, but instead, condensed down into a 30-minute episode. That’s how many of these stories feel. While still delivering exciting new scenarios, the short runtime doesn’t allow for the audiences to become emotionally attached to these versions of the popular characters and the new adventures they’re on.
What made the MCU so great in the first place was that it spent so much time developing characters and their arcs before any big climactic battle would occur. What…If?’s premises zoom on by, as if the writers are ending things right when it’s about to get really good, leaving no room to really become fully invested in because audiences are then already onto the next story involving the next MCU character. Extending the length of each episode or having storylines carry over into other episodes is an easy way to fix this problem. Both the budget and production time would increase, but it would result in a more compelling show.
No Real Impact (So Far)
Although each episode is visually stunning, providing some breathtaking fight sequences that looked as if they were stripped right out of a comic book, the series as a whole doesn’t feel too impactful since everything that plays out so far doesn’t relate to or affect the main MCU timeline as a whole. Yes, it’s a series based on the multiverse and different scenarios, and executive producer Brad Winderbaum did state that What If…? would somehow connect to the MCU in the future, but being separate from what has been building up in the main films and the live-action series for so long, it feels as if there are no real stakes or weight for any of the characters and these new stories. Shows like WandaVision have done a great job of building a bridge to the films that still keep fans invested in what will happen next.
Similar to the way some of the Star Wars series like Clone Wars and Rebels connect to the main saga films, the MCU could fix this issue in What If…?’s future seasons by having it tie in more with the live-action MCU universe and have bigger implications on phase 4 and beyond, which then could greatly improve its first season when revisiting it. How it will weave into the main timeline, viewers will just have to wait and see. There is currently no release date for season 2, but new series such as Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Secret Invasion and big film releases like Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and The Marvels should keep many fans satisfied until then while continuing to push the Marvel Cinematic Universe in bold, cosmic, and exciting directions.
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