In a shocking bit of risk-taking Marvel Studios, nine new episodes of their canonical animated series, What If…?, are set to roll out daily over the holiday season. The first season of What If…?, which streamed in 2021, was a fun exploration of the multiverse that sometimes failed to fully capitalize on its subversive premise. The creative team of director/executive producer Bryan Andrews and writer/executive producer AC Bradley returned for Season 2 and significantly upped their game; however, despite attempting to go “further outside the box”, the series still feels far too boxed in at times.
Following the premise of the Marvel comic that debuted in 1977, What If…? explores the repercussions of changes to key moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Narrated by the omnipresent Uatu, the stories in the anthology take place at points all around the Multiverse where any and everything should be possible; however, for a series that takes place in an infinite multiverse of possibilities, the scope of the stories told in Season 2 of What If…? occasionally still feels far too limited.
That’s not to say that Season 2 is a disappointment; in fact, it’s far from it. It’s reasonable to postulate that 7 or 8 of the 9 episodes of the sophomore season are better than 2/3 of the first season of the series. Episodes like “What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” (and let me tell you, that doozy of an episode remains vitally important into Season 2), “What If…Ultron Won?” and What If…Zombies?” truly embodied the nature of the work that could be done in telling stories across the Multiverse and Season 2 has many more episodes of that caliber. “What If…Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?”, “What If…Hela Found the Ten Rings?” and “What If…The Avengers Assembled in 1602?” are spectacular examples of the sort of stories that can be told when the creators unshackle their imaginations and, quite honestly, set out to have some fun. Each of the episodes mentioned above is arguably of higher quality and more enjoyable than any episode of Secret Invasion. And, it may turn out that one of them may be more consequential to the narrative tapestry of the Multiverse Saga than the disappointing live-action series.
Season 2 also ventures into groundbreaking territory by telling an original story with an original character. In what stands as unequivocally their most bold and audacious adventure yet, Andrews and Bradley introduce the Mohawk hero, Kahhori, into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “What If…Kahhori Reshaped the World?”, the sixth episode of the season. An episode four years in the making, it’s clear from the opening moments–which see Asgard destroyed by Surtur in a Ragnarok set far before the events of the 2017 film–that the story set to unfold will blaze its own trail. “What If…Kahhori Reshaped the World?” not only tells the story from the point of view of the Mohawk Nation–indeed the First Nations characters in the episode speak in Kanien’kéha–but it also introduces an all-new in-universe mythology (which includes the beautiful Mohawk Skyworld), wonderfully reimagines the powers held within the Tersseract/Space Stone and finds its villains in European colonizers. The episode is beautifully animated, wonderfully inventive and in every way the epitome of the kind of stories the premise of What If…? allows for. And because it exists it also shines a light on some of the issues the series still faces.
To the point, if Marvel Studios can produce an episode with the singular ingenuity and quality of “What If…Kahhori Reshaped the World?”, what if…they were as creative all the time? The poster child of this dissonance in Season 2–as it was unfortunately was in Season 1–is the Captain Carter-centric episode, “What If…Captain Carter Fought the Hydra Stomper?”. Once again, Captain Carter, the lead of the ENTIRE series, gets done dirty by the studio’s boring choice to retell Steve Rogers’ MCU story chapter by chapter but with Peggy as the woman out of time. If last season’s episode was Captain Carter: The First Avenger, this one is Captain Carter: The Winter Soldier with Steve Rogers’ Hydra Stomper taking the place of Bucky Barnes. While things truly are not beat for beat as they were in The Winter Solider, the beats resonate far too much with that film, right down to pairing up Peggy with Black Widow. Fortunately, Andrews and Bradley remedy it by giving Carter an original and wonderful role in the 2-part finale which is one part awesome (Episode 8: “What If…The Avengers Assembled in 1602?”) and, once again, one part a little less awesome (Episode 9: “What If…Strange Supreme Intervened?”).
The finale makes a less-than-shocking reveal about the true nature of one of the series’ lead characters–at least it’s not shocking if you’re following along with the MCU’s ongoing Multiverse narrative–and introduces the evocative conceit of “Universe Killers.” An amazing idea, the nature of which seems fully congruent with a show exploring the infinite multiverse…until it unfolds on screen. In an infinite multiverse full of an infinite number of potential Universe Killers, they are almost all Variants of characters we’ve already seen with the exception of a one-second shot of a Thor Hulk mash-up that looks like the one Donny Cates dreamt up for Banner of War. While it’s more likely than not that Marvel Studios’ One Above All, Kevin Feige, has a list of characters that don’t get to make their MCU debuts until he’s ready to roll them out, spicing up the Universe Killer trophy gallery with an Apocalypse here, an Onslaught there or a Doom up in the corner somewhere shouldn’t be off limits.
Ultimately, however, even though if much like the first season the finale isn’t bulletproof-maybe it’s because trying to thread a story through it is antithetical to the anthological nature of the series but the finales of both seasons have certainly fallen short of greatness–Season 2 of the series is a marked improvement over Season 1. The creative team of Andrews and Bradley seems to have found a winning formula in which playing with influences from beloved films such as Blade Runner and Die Hard, exploring different genres and true innovation combine to make a wonderful addition to the MCU’s Multiverse Saga and allow the besieged studio to end 2023 on a high note.
About What If…? Season 2
The Watcher returns to season two of Marvel Studios’ What If…? when the animated series
begins streaming on Disney+ on Dec. 22. And in the spirit of the holiday season, fans are
invited to unwrap a new episode nightly for nine nights.
With a new episode debuting nightly beginning December 22, season two of What If…? continues the journey as The Watcher guides viewers through the vast multiverse, introducing brand new and familiar faces throughout the MCU. The series questions, revisits and twists classic Marvel Cinematic moments with an incredible voice cast that includes a host of stars who reprise their iconic roles. Featuring fan-favorite characters this season like Nebula, Hela and Happy Hogan, episodes are directed by Bryan Andrews (eps 2-9) and Stephan Franck (ep 1) and written by AC Bradley (eps 3, 4, 5, 8), Matthew Chauncey (eps 1-3, 7, 9) and Ryan Little (eps 6, 8). The animated series is executive produced by Brad Winderbaum, Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Bryan Andrews and AC Bradley.