Review: ‘What If…?”‘ Strongly Suggests ‘Why Not?’

The animated Marvel series debuts on the Disney Plus streaming service. 

Where does the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe lie as it enters its fourth phase? The answer may be found in the Marvel Streaming Universe. 

The first three series, available on the Disney Plus streaming service, have served as the kick-off to Phase Four — since the backward-glancing Phase Four feature film Black Widow was delayed more than once — beginning with the excellent WandaVision, followed by the more routine The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and then the hit-and-miss Loki, which served as an introduction to the Marvel Multiverse. 

What If…?, billed as the first animated series from Marvel Studios — Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., which debuted earlier this year on the Hulu streaming service, originated with Marvel Television — is an anthology series, inspired by the Marvel Comics series, first published in 1977. It’s a great, self-explanatory  title, since you can easily guess that the series will feature key events from the Marvel films, only twisted to explore what might have happened if things ended differently. 

In speculative fiction, this sort of time-twisting story is often billed as an ‘alternate history,’ and can sometimes lead to richly rewarding works. More often, however, scant attention is paid to the far-reaching implications of an alternate history, and the deeper effects of such a momentous change, beyond ‘what if Marty McFly’s parents never got together’? 

The new Marvel series, directed by Bryan Andrews, with AC Bradley serving as head writer, benefits from its animated format. The first three episodes that were made available to critics in advance all acknowledge the biggest heroes of the past and wonder about possible, rapidly changing futures. 

It’s brain candy, of a sort, probably best appreciated by devoted Marvel fans, rather than those of us who struggle to remember what happened to whom in the movies over the past decade plus, much less spend any time speculating about the respective destinies of fictional superheroes. 

The anthony format, however, may be the most appealing aspect of this new offering, since it offers an easier jumping-on point. You don’t have to necessarily know who is who and what is what, since older narratives are quickly discarded, and most time in each episode is passed with a previously-unseen timeline and a fresh new set of characters. The animation is quite lovely as well, allowing each episode to be absolutely filled to overflowing with action, yet not feeling overloaded somehow. 

And each episode is 30 minutes or less! That’s a bonus as well, allowing the more time-stressed among us to more easily enjoy a taste of Marvel during a break. It’s very tempting to think of What If…? as Why Not? 

The series debuts on the Disney Plus streaming service on Wednesday, August 11. For more information, visit the official site.