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What If...?, Episodes 1-3

What if (a) God (of Thunder) was one of us?

 

TV REVIEW /// What If...?, Episode 1, "What If... Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?"

Episode summary: When Steve Rogers is seriously injured, Peggy Carter becomes the world's first super soldier. (IMDb)


I'm just going to shorten the episode title to "Captain Carter" for the sake of this review, or half the words will just be repeating what it's named! Funnily enough, the episode takes the same approach to the first Captain America movie and shortens the events down from two hours to thirty minutes - something which I know put off a lot of viewers, but not for the same reason as me.


A lot of people complained that it jumped forwards through events too quickly because of trying to condense so much, but it makes sense to skip a lot because the movie is centred on Steve Rogers and the show on Peggy Carter, so surely it makes sense to skip the Rogers-centric scenes and keep the focus on Peggy? It's not like it borrows a huge amount from the movie anyway.


"Captain Carter" begins with the experiment to give Steve the Super Soldier serum, which is interrupted; Red Skull discovers the Tesseract; the Captain rescues the Howling Commandos and destroys the Skull's facility; and Peggy leads an attack on a Hydra train. Everything else is different, including the entire third act and a plan from the Red Skull that couldn't be more different the Captain America: The First Avenger.


The problem I had with the episode's pace is that there weren't enough quieter scenes, and the ones we did get didn't last long enough. Don't get me wrong, the action sequences are the high point of the episode, with the animation style really given a chance to shine in them as a result, but I think it would've been more interesting to focus on the characters to let the audience connect better to them - the bittersweet feeling the movie ended on certainly isn't replicated here.


I get that the differences between what originally happened and what happens in this show are the point, but I can imagine "Captain Carter" coming across as unsatisfying to those who aren't dedicated Marvel fans who can remember all the details of the movie the story is based on. I think it would be a much better idea to still try and have each episode tell an enjoyable story on its own rather than hope that pre-existing connection to the world and events of the MCU carries the audience through.


Ultimately, this first episode of What If...? feels more like a test run to prove the premise of the show, rather than an actual new thing in its own right. I still enjoyed it thanks to the excellent animation in this action-heavy story, and it's always great to have Hayley Atwell back in the MCU wherever the studio can fit her, so I would still recommend seeing it - just don't set your expectations too high.


"What If... Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?" is a decent start to the series, even if it's not quite as removed from the original story as I would've hoped. Events do rush by with few quiet moments, but Hayley Atwell again excels as Peggy, the animation is good - rising to excellent in fight scenes - and it's still enjoyable, even if it's also a little safe.

[7/10 - Good]

 

TV REVIEW /// What If...?, Episode 2, "What If... T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?"

Episode summary: The rough-and-tumble space pirates known as the Ravagers abduct T'Challa instead of Peter Quill. (IMDb)


I was really looking forward to this episode just for Chadwick Boseman's performance as T'Challa, hoping that it would prove to be a fitting tribute for him and, thankfully, it lived up to expectations and then some. If the first episode of What If...? was a test to make sure the premise worked, we've already had an example of just how good this series could be.


And this isn't just sentimentality seeping in because of Boseman's untimely death either, this is truly a great half-hour of television that left me wanting to see more of this particular world and the characters in it thanks to how well the story established just how different it was from the MCU and how that changed the characters living in it.


Boseman's T'Challa is unquestionably the star though, showing a more light-hearted and swashbuckling side to the Wakandan royal while demonstrating that his compassion and desire to do good weren't impacted by the change to his life after being abducted by the Ravagers by accident instead of Peter Quill. Hell, he's so good that the plan was apparently to make the live-action T'Challa as Black Panther more like the T'Challa of this show.


He's ably supported by a large number of cosmic-based MCU actors, including a reformed Thanos (Josh Brolin) who helps out - even if he does still think his genocidal plan had merit due to being efficient. That said, the standout from the supporting cast is Djimon Hounsou as Korath, who is an unabashed T'Challa fanboy, desperate to both aid and praise his hero, in an excellent comedic role.


The antagonist of the piece is Benicio Del Toro's Collector, taking advantage of Thanos' turn to good by filling the power vacuum and apparently killing some notable beings (Captain America, Thor, Korg, Malekith and Hela among them) to add trophies to his collection on Knowhere. He's a fun, flamboyant villain who is easy to root against and is just as much fun to watch as the heroes.


If there's one minor let-down, it's that the action isn't quite as dynamic or impactful as "Captain Carter", meaning that the flaws in the animation do stand out a little more. It's not something that ruins the experience in any way, but having the two episodes right next to each other certainly highlights how best to cover up the weaknesses there.


All in all, "Star-Lord T'Challa" is an excellent episode of television and strongly recommended - even if you don't know all the characters and references, it's so entertaining that even MCU newbies should enjoy it. The fact that the story is completed in a single episode and not based off one of the movies is a huge help, which is hopefully the road this show will walk going forward.


"What If... T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?" is a real step up for the series and, hopefully, a benchmark of what's to come. Chadwick Boseman excels as T'Challa almost to the point of surpassing his live-action portrayal of the character, aided by other excellent performances and a tight, one-and-done story that is completed in the same episode while still making nods to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

[9/10 - Great]

 

TV REVIEW /// What If...?, Episode 3, "What If... the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?"

Episode summary: Nick Fury struggles to launch The Avengers when candidates are targeted by a serial killer. (IMDb)


I've seen a lot of comments refer to this episode as a murder-mystery, but that doesn't feel quite right thanks to how much the show needs to get through in its short running time. I don't think you can really classify something as a mystery without allowing time for the characters and audience to actually think and take in what's going on, instead speeding to the next event, then the next and so on.


Thriller may be a more apt label, as Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) tries to figure out who's killing off his selected candidates for the first Avengers team, forging an unwelcome alliance to bring down the murderer (who shall remain unspoiled here). His main help comes from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg returning as an even bigger superhero fanboy) and Black Widow, who is excellently brought to life by Lake Bell.


For me, the biggest problem is the very premise of this episode, with the split from the canon events of the MCU occurring two years before episode starts, so it's a different universe from the very beginning. Events have unfolded similarly enough that what happens in Iron Man 2, Thor and The Incredible Hulk all take place as we know them up to a point, but it's just one more thing that counts against the episode being a 'mystery'.


The biggest plus point has is something baked into What If...? as a whole, in that the series can kill off whoever it wants as it won't affect the movies, Disney+ shows or even the next episode in this series. The 'mystery' part of the episode might not work, but the 'murder' part absolutely does, including a shocking and surprisingly gruesome death for one of the yet-to-be Avengers.


Ultimately, this a good episode, but it does often feel like a jigsaw puzzle where some of the pieces have been forced to fit together rather than because they fit naturally. The performances are pretty good too, with the stand-ins for some of the stars doing astonishingly well at times, although the animation is again nothing outstanding outside of the combat scenes, with Natasha taking down a truck full of troops the action highlight of the episode.


"What If... the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?" is another fun episode, but its nebulous point of divergence from the mainline MCU and fast pace means that it again struggles to cover the ground needed to make a truly satisfying standalone adventure. The subject is also pretty dark for a Marvel Studios production, but that actually makes for a nice change and arguably pushes further away from what's expected than the previous two episodes.

[7/10 - Good]

 

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