The multiverse has arrived, but how does it fare in the world of animation? Reviews for Marvel's What If...? anthology are making their way online in the wake of Kang's death and...well...the results seem to be mixed. While the tales of alternate outcomes are certainly engaging, the execution — whether it be the animation or voice acting — leaves something to be desired. If these first reactions are anything to go by, the MCU has come across its very first misfire on the small screen.
"Some what-ifs prove vastly more compelling than others," writes Angie Han for The Hollywood Reporter. "What If…? promises to be a space for the kinds of weird or challenging or just-plain-silly ideas the live-action properties will never touch — but then, presented with these playful hypotheticals, it can hardly muster enough curiosity to wonder what happens next."
"It’s fun simply because the level of quality control at Marvel is pretty high these days (give or take that Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale), and because some of the ideas are either inherently appealing or are used to cleverly tweak what we know from the films. But not every installment lives up to the title’s seemingly limitless potential," adds Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone, bestowing the new series with four-and-a-half stars out of five.
Critics were only given access to the first three episodes, which involve the arrival of Captain Britain (Hayley Atwell); an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to assemble the Avengers; and a version of Guardians of the Galaxy where T'Challa (voiced by the late Chadwick Boseman) became Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill. Wrapping all the disparate storylines together is the narration of Uatau the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright).
"What If...?'s first tale of alternate MCU history shines during its moments of action, but uneven voice acting and visuals hold back the rest of Captain Carter’s debut, though it’s undeniably satisfying to watch Peggy get her super soldier due," concludes Tom Jorgensen of IGN in their review of the season premiere. "It’s hard to predict where What If...? will go — that’s the nature of a multiverse anthology — but judging by this first episode, the show has a lot of room for improvement if it wants to be the same kind of appointment viewing that its live-action counterparts have proven to be."
"They do dig into some interesting things, such as exploring the place of women in the war," writes Kaitlyn Booth for Bleeding Cool. "Peggy came across as pretty empowered in the first movie, but that was because she was mostly working within the constraints of where she could go in the military. Once she becomes a super soldier, she is very much not in her lane anymore, and the episode does take some time to comment on that. However, far too many scenes are just lifted wholesale from the movie with some names changed around."
T'Challa's episode seems to be the standout, especially given the poignant nature of Boseman's final role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which "feels like an absolute gift," writes Empire's Ben Travis in a three-star review. Prince T'Challa's adventures in outer space alongside Michael Rooker's Yondu apparently "results in significant shifts in the cosmic power structure, delivering laughs while staying true to the Wakandan warrior’s diplomatic prowess. To say any more would spoil the fun — and the fun, really, is the whole point."
Tyler Hersko of IndieWire declares that "the Boseman episode is easily the highlight of the series’ early installments; his 30-minute adventure might be the first time viewers have seen this version of T’Challa, but Boseman and the fellow returning voice actors riff with a natural chemistry that gives the impression they’ve been trekking through space throughout several years worth of Disney titles."
"It's a clever examination of the impact someone as charismatic as T'Challa has, no matter what their circumstances," writes Sean Keane in their CNET review. "The altered character dynamics are a delight to behold, setting up plenty of fun battles in the climactic action sequence. The animation in one crowd scene is a little disappointing though -- bar patrons stand completely still behind the main characters, momentarily taking you out of the otherwise beautifully rendered world."
As mentioned above, the third episode revolves around Nick Fury who is forced to go from recruiter to detective when his top list of Avengers candidates turn up dead. It brings to mind Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato's "Original Sin" storyline from 2014, which actually kicked off with the homicide of Uatu.
"It’s this episode that paves the way for some kind of epic culmination that will presumably create a narrative tie between the episodes, despite initially appearing to be part of an anthology series where each episode stands on its own," states Ethan Anderton of /FILM. "To that end, each episode also ends with what amounts to a credits scene (not actually in the credits) that teases a larger lingering mystery."
ComicBook.com's Adam Barnhardt wagers that while the first few offerings of the debut season (at least one more is on the way) are a little "too safe," things could ramp up in subsequent storylines. "It's a solid start, but this first batch of episodes leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily for us, we know that the craziest stuff — Doctor Strange vs. Doctor Strange, Zombie-Hunter Spider-Man, and others — are on the way, so it's still worth hanging until that comes around."
Marvel's What If...? arrives on Disney+ tomorrow — Wednesday, Aug. 11.