Someone on the internet once said – if you cannot think of a good story to write, pick an old one and just wonder “what if?”. Clearly the author of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was thinking the same in 2009, a parody novel that no critic took seriously, until it became popular enough to get an onscreen adaptation in 2016. And well, there are thousands of other such examples. So why wouldn’t one of the most popular movie franchise in the world do the same thing? Hence, we get “What If…” from Marvel Studios, a nine-part series with our favorite comic-book characters living different lives or well… not living much at all.
‘Exploring pivotal moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and turning them on their head, leading the audience into uncharted territory.’Description of the show
A giant called ‘The Watcher’, who is sort of a time-keeper of all the multiverses, narrates all these different stories. Here’s a quick 9-part spoiler free review of all episodes –
Episode 1 – What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?
The title pretty much gives it away. It’s World War II and Steve Rogers gets seriously injured before the super-hero experiment can be tried on him, so his crush Peggy Carter ends up becoming Captain Carter. There’s no Captain America. This feminist reboot was sort of fun, but could’ve been better. Except for the fact that Carter has the twin challenge of dealing with the Nazis, and sexist shit-heads on her own side, there isn’t much in terms of new material. The animation on this one is very Disney-style and top-notch. The retro-soundtrack makes the mood cheery and buoyant, while Peggy kicks some serious ass. With just 30 minutes, the makers obviously cram in a lot in very little time, so the pacing is slightly awkward. It’s decent entertainment for episode one. Not impressive or compelling.
Episode 2 – What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?
This one was kind-of random and might make some feel like they are watching some show on Cartoon Network in the 1990s. Although the animation quality is way better and glossier.
Let’s get to the plot – in a goof-up, T’Challa, the crown prince of Wakanda gets abducted by ‘Ravagers’, who are a group of space-looters led by Yondu. So instead of growing up on earth and becoming the ‘Black Panther’, T’Challa grows to become Star-Lord, an inter-galactic Robin-hood of sorts. There’s a generous sprinkling of humor, some of which is courtesy Thanos, who in this dimension gives up his plans of genocide and retires to a more quaint life. In India we have a term called ‘time-pass’, which would aptly define this episode – it’s light, fast-paced and a good way to kill some time. There aren’t any ‘woah’ moments, the action sequences are very few, but the characters are fun. You watch it, you move on.
Episode 3 – What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?
Finally some serious questions are being asked! Like the title suggests, this episode starts at the point where Nick Carter has decided to form his team of Avengers, but before his vision can be realized, a serial killer works on murdering the candidates one by one. With the most coherent story-line among the first three episodes, this Avengers themed plot was fun, with a pretty unexpected (yet believable) villain. The animation seemed a little more shinier than others… seriously, it looked like Nick Carter had lip gloss on. But except for the weird sparkly glaze on everything, the screenplay was engrossing. I actually hadn’t paid attention to the title, so the surprise elements were bigger for me.
Episode 4 – What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?
This one is a clear favorite among fans, most people couldn’t stop raving about how they loved the Doctor Strange episode on its release date, some even calling it better than the live-action-movie. But unpopular opinion – I thought it was pretty shitty. Doctor Strange, an intelligent man, loses his girlfriend in a car-crash, becomes Master Sorcerer out of sheer determination and grit… and then loses his marbles? Seemed very out of character to me. The plot was as cliched as cliche can go – bright man goes cray-cray because the love of his life died & is willing to go back in time to save her – where have we heard of that before? Was hoping for a far more intelligent story-line here. But instead, we get a predictable, even if dark and bland tale of Strange gone stranger.
Episode 5 – What if… Zombies!
Horror fans, especially those who love anything with zombies, will find this way more entertaining it might be for regular viewers. The episode begins with a bang – Bruce Banner returns in a rush to earth, to warn everybody about Thanos’ plan to wipe half the planet out. However, earth already seems half-dead and he learns in the most hilarious fashion that zombies have taken over. Some of the avengers have also fallen. Superhero zombies! Are you fucking kidding me – what’s not to like?! As far as sheer entertainment value is concerned – this was totally zany, enlivened by Spider-man, who happens to be one of the last men standing. So Bruce Banner, Spidey and a bunch of their surviving friends go on a mission to find a cure. It’s in this episode that you know for sure that the makers kept younger viewers in mind, because despite the zombie theme, there’s barely any blood and gore. Marvel keeps it clean.
Wish the animators had given a little more intricately drawn zombies to us, they seem very stock-characters like, more like robots covered in blood than beings that were once human. It has a clever twist towards the climax, but ends just when things get exciting. Hate the cliffhanger and totally want a part two!
Episode 6 – What if… Killmonger Rescued Tony
In the traditional Marvel comics, Ironman is born after Billionaire-playboy Tony Stark is seriously injured during a visit to Afghanistan. So what if… he never was wounded badly enough to have an electro-magnetic armor built for himself that would make him a superhero? That’s what happens in this episode, with the Wakanda-born Killmonger saves Stark, the two become best of pals and make killing machines together. But its obviously not friendship that Killmonger is after.
The strongest point of this episode is just how accurately the animators get the features of actor Micheal Jordan (who played Killmonger in the live-action movies) right. In contrast, Stark’s features weren’t that great, maybe because we are too used to seeing Robert Downing Jr in the role. Story-wise, it wasn’t very gripping and gets a little slow in the second-half. This one ends with an annoying cliffhanger too, the kinds where you want to know what’s gonna happen next. Not the “oh well, guess this is what they meant”.
Episode 7 – What if… Thor Were An Only Child?
This one was hilariously different from all the others in the series. Thor is a spoiled AF lone man-child of Odin and Frigga in this one. They even make him look like a blonde buffed up American Frat boy, who gets drunk and makes a mess wherever he goes. While the other episodes so far had relatively serious conflicts, Thor’s plot is just ridiculous and fun – his mother asks him to study and not leave Asgard, but he slips away with his friends to earth to party his butt off. While no longer brothers with Loki in this multiverse, Thor’s best-friends with the latter and is no less than ‘God-child of Mischief’ himself.
Thor’s misadventures on earth serve as a breather, before things get apocalyptic-ally serious again.
Episode 8 – What if… Ultron Won
You can guess the plot by yourself – the Avengers get their ass whooped by Ultron, the super-robot built by Tony Stark to bring peace to the world. The twist in the tale, like we remember from the movies – Ultron thinks the best way to save the earth is by getting rid of all humans. Obviously. There wasn’t much in the terms of excitement in this sub-plot, it’s pretty straightforward and Ultron is even more deranged than Thanos (who gets a two second cameo by the way). So while Ultron goes on an annihilation spree, Hawkeye & Black Widow are the only surviving avengers who are trying to find a way to stop him, even though they have already lost.
A lot of the little elements in this episode were just embellishments that made no sense. For example, Utlron can just reduce an entire planet to dust with a snap of his fingers, yet it turns out to be a bit of a struggle for him to take down a certain hero. Or the fact that he has a damn infinity stone embedded in his head, yet, he suddenly needs a medieval cape & fancy weapon in his hand? L-O-L.
Episode 9 – What if… The Watcher Broke His Oath
While the first seven episodes seem completely disconnected with each other, especially because each story unfolds in a completely different multiverse; the writers finally bring all of it together, even though some bits seemed like a superficial effort to tie it all down together. Also, just let go of all the cynical logical questions that might pop-up in your head and go with the flow.
So in this series finale, Ultron isn’t happy with having annihilated all the planets. He senses the presence of ‘The Watcher’ and realizes there are several multiverses that he can ‘fix’ too. Now, ‘The Watcher’, whose only job is to watch the world go to shit and not do anything to meddle, is in a quandary. He has to do something to stop Ultron, or the dude’s gonna eventually figure out a way to destroy all the multi-verses too. So ‘The Watcher’ finally meddles and forms his own team of ‘Guardians of the Multi-verses’. Some of the guardians are very questionable.
It was a thoroughly entertaining season finale. But a part two of the Zombie episode would still be nice. Overall, this series is good “time-pass”. It’s a 7/10 from me.
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