‘What If…?’ TV Review: One Question Changes Nothing
Disclaimer: Review based on first episode only. My thoughts are not indicative of the series as a whole. An addendum will be added upon the conclusion of the series.
What if… Marvel‘s debut animated series consisted of nothing more than a weak story and poor dialogue? Well, it turns out that adapting one of the weaker MCU movies and ripping out all character development in favor of lame quips will result in an episode that does nothing to captivate its audience. With a significant portion of the original cast returning, What If…? promised a hyper-cinematic experience unlike any other animated property, but as this episode made clear, the show flounders for precisely that: an attempt to stay true to the film’s story while condensing it down to a quarter of the length.
Marvel was undoubtedly aware of the inevitable pacing issues they would face, and these problems manifested themselves in two significant ways, both of which are hard to look past. The larger of these can be seen throughout the entirety of the episode. Between lines, there is virtually no downtime. Characters nearly cut each other off at the pace at which the dialogue is moving, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. While this may not sound like a big issue, I urge you to watch the first ten minutes before forming your opinion. Some of the moments meant to convey emotion end up carrying far less weight than they would have with the addition of dramatic pauses. On the flip-side, most of their attempts at comedy fell flat considering there was no manufactured timing.
The faulty dialogue would be more acceptable if the ambition of the story matched its speed. Unfortunately, what we have on our hands is a slightly altered version of Captain America: The First Avenger that shares the same pitfalls as its source material. One of the main complaints of the original was the mismanagement of World War II, condensing it down into a montage. Not only does ‘What If…?’ do this yet again, but the montage lacks the polish of the original. One of the casualties of the shortened story was the complete omission of character development. Marvel assumes, at this point, that all its viewers are familiar with its characters and their stories, so it skims over one-on-one interactions and heartfelt moments in favor of keeping the story’s fast pace. Taken as a standalone story, Agent Carter, Steve Rogers, and especially Howard Stark are one-dimensional. It might be time for viewers to accept that without a thorough knowledge of the MCU and its lore, they won’t be able to get the full experience. This sums up the show as a whole. The childish humor and brutal action result in a lack of identity (seriously Bucky, three fish jokes?). Is it aimed towards children? Certainly not, as the brutal action and extensive lore bars them from full enjoyment. How about adults? Again, no, as the dialogue and story are so simplistic that you’d be hard-pressed to find a single viewer who saw it as a thought-provoking piece of media. If this is a premonition of what the rest of the series has to offer, it will turn out to be one of the MCU’s weakest entries, and a poor start to Marvel animation.
Although What If…? underwhelmed in almost every sense of the word, it remained entertaining for —big surprise— the action. It’s been years since Marvel has failed its audience in terms of action, and this show continues that streak. Its 3D cell-shaded animation allows for rich and detailed action sequences that genuinely feel film-quality at times. So, if you’re a film fan who only watches these shows for the mindless action, this outing should whet your appetite. For anybody else, even knowing these characters will make an eventual transition to live-action and begin to affect the universe in a more pertinent way, it feels blatantly unnecessary to ask, What If…?
Marvel Studios’ What If…? disappoints in its debut episode with a lackluster (altered) retelling of an already mediocre story with lazy humor and overly fast dialogue.
Before we conclude, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Chadwick Boseman will be posthumously making his final performance as T’Challa throughout this series, in what will no doubt be an emotional goodbye. Boseman passed almost a year ago, and remains a pillar of the Marvel universe and an idol to many in the community. I‘m hopeful that Marvel will do him justice in his final send-off.