Marvel’s What If..? Episode 1 Review: Animated Series Is Conceptually brilliant

Marvel’s Loki series made the bold move of introducing the multiverse to the MCU, so naturally, its successor, What If..?, is an even bolder project that shows exactly what that means. The animated series uses key moments from the cinematic universe as jumping-off points to explore the possibilities of what could have happened if events had occurred differently. Some of these ideas have already been expressed in the comics, so What If..? will wow fans of both mediums. 

The premiere episode smartly starts right at the chronological beginning of the MCU, during the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. But what if there was no Captain America, but a Captain Britain instead? This brand new timeline starring Hayley Atwell‘s Peggy Carter is introduced by the show’s narrator, The Watcher. His character is suitably mysterious, and he serves as a good storytelling device that brings some cohesion to the show overall. Instead of isolated episodes showcasing a concept, The Watcher turns the series into a tour of the galaxy, himself being the guide that allows us a peek into the windows of alternate timelines. 

Peggy’s turn as an avenger is a fun variation on a familiar story, with plenty of action and humour, and a few surprises, too. It’s an excellent choice to get many of the original actors back to voice their characters, as it emphasises that these are versions of the figures that we already know and love. Super-strengthened Peggy is an incredibly likeable hero, and the episode bears a wonderful and empowering feminist message about overcoming adversity and standing up to your condescending colleagues. 

As a premiere episode, it makes sense to start where the MCU began, but Captain Britain is not the most adventurous of concepts. There are relatively few twists and turns, and events progress largely in a familiar way. The premiere feels almost like it’s testing the waters, trying out a simple idea before starting to push the boundaries. That’s not to say that it’s not entertaining, though, and the series is undoubtedly conceptually brilliant. 

What If..?’s most prominent weakness is the animation itself. It is a strange amalgamation of 2D drawn scenery, and characters that are drawn in a way that puts them in a blurry middle ground between two and three dimensional. They have harsh, thick outlines and more dimension to them, and they stick out like a sore thumb against the illustrated backgrounds behind them. The stark difference has quite a jarring effect, and that’s not the only thing about the character animation that’s offputting. 

The facial expressions are also uncanny. The face is the part of them that is the least animated in terms of movement – their brows move incrementally, but their mouths talk quickly, and the rest of the face moves very little. There is something strange about the facial animation that makes you uneasy to look at, and I can only hope that it improves (or I adjust) as the show goes on. 

A Captain Britain episode was a safe choice to start the What If..? series with, but it certainly paid off. What it lacks in surprises, it makes up for in lighthearted comedy and action. The animation style may not be for everyone, but Marvel has clearly struck gold with this show’s concept, and it will be exciting to see it get more adventurous in future episodes. 

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