Episode 1 of What If…? premiered just last Wednesday, and it’s already been revolutionary for Marvel Studios. Not only does the series mark the studio’s very first trek into animation, but it’s also the first of Marvel Studios’ projects to delve into the multiverse following Loki’s explosive season finale. However, the show’s premiere episode did lead to a lot of mixed reactions, and sadly, I’d say I’m on the negative side of this one.
While the series has the potential to lead to a lot of very fun and ambitious things for the MCU, the first episode felt about as run-of-the-mill as anything I’d ever seen. For about 80 percent of the episode, instead of being a creative answer to the “what if” question, it felt more like they just copy and pasted characters on other people’s bodies and occasionally alluded to a pro-feminism subplot that the episode never fully commits to. It felt like the writers had on handcuffs, and they weren’t able to fully explore the idea. Whether it be Kevin Feige’s obligations for the story or the extremely truncated runtime, the episode suffered.
However, there is a lot to be hopeful for. Episode 1’s handcuffs seemed situational purely based on the proposed “what if” question. Because they decided to just essentially rotate the roles between the characters inside the framework of the story of Captain America: The First Avenger, they aren’t able to dramatically explore a new exciting story until the very last 5 minutes of the story; which is easily the most fun part of the story, featuring a new cool Hydra castle and the revelation that the character in the “Bucky role,” Steve, actually survived his plunge off the train thanks to the Hydra Stomper suit.
But as I said, there is much to be hopeful for. When looking at future episodes of the show, specifically episode 2 and 3, those handcuffs shouldn’t be present. Episode 2 is based on the question “What if T’Challa became Starlord?” Based on the trailers it also includes a fight between Yondu and Starlord against the Collector.
The same can be said for episode 3. According to early critic reviews, the episode is a play on the once-considered-canon story “Fury’s Big Week.” For those who don’t know, the whole idea of Fury’s Big Week was the idea that the events of Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk all occurred during the same week. The additional implication is that these events directly lead to the assembling of The Avengers. Fury’s Big Week was never adapted to the MCU officially, but having this multiversal take creates the assumption that a variation of these events also took place in the MCU.
Regardless of the little rant I just went on, I hope my point still got across. While the first episode might have been stuck on the train track or stuck inside the framework of the story of The First Avenger, the rest of the episodes should not or might not have that same issue. Things like Marvel Zombies and Supreme Doctor Strange are things that haven’t even been closed to touched on in previous MCU projects and have extremely high ceilings for potential.
Not to mention the potential to do what the other Disney Plus shows are built to do: focus on characters who haven’t yet gotten proper focus in other projects. With Strange having a dedicated episode, could Christine Palmer finally get her due spotlight? Or with episodes focused on Nebula and Black Widow with huge alterations to their situations, could we potentially see big alterations made to their characters? This show has huge potential, and I want to see that potential met. That’s partially why I was so disappointed with the first episode, but that’s also why I’m so excited for the rest of the series.
What If…? premiers new episodes every Wednesday at Midnight PST and features an endless list of returning MCU actors and new voice actors on the cast.