Marvel’s What If…? Season 2 Review: A Fun, Familiar If Narrow-minded Return

The Watcher, Captain Carter, and the Multiverse Make a Comfortable Return in Disney+’s Animated “Anthology”

What If…?“, the animated series from Marvel Studios, made a notable impression with its first season, offering a playful and imaginative twist on the familiar narratives of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). As the series returns with its second season on Disney+, it continues to explore the tantalizing possibilities of alternate realities in the Marvel multiverse. This season, premiering on December 22, comprises episodes that extend through December 30, coinciding with the festive period and endowing it with an additional layer of celebratory charm.

One of the most talked-about episodes is a Christmas-themed story drawing inspiration from “Die Hard.” This episode features Jon Favreau’s character, Happy Hogan, undergoing a Hulk-like transformation, humorously referenced as “Hulk Hogan.” It’s a clever nod both to the popular wrestling icon and the Marvel character, encapsulating the series’ penchant for witty, pop culture-laden humor. This season, while retaining the light-hearted tone of its predecessor, does not shy away from experimenting with its narrative structure and character dynamics.

The overarching theme of the season revolves around the concept of alternate possibilities – a cornerstone of the “What If…?” series. The show excels in reimagining key moments and characters from the MCU, offering a fresh perspective on well-known stories. For instance, the series revisits the narrative of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but with a twist – it’s Captain Peggy Carter, not Steve Rogers, who takes the helm. This scenario not only serves as a testament to the show’s creative liberties but also highlights the potential of alternate character arcs in the MCU.

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Hayley Atwell’s portrayal of Captain Carter stands out as one of the season’s highlights. Her character, which was well-received in the first season, continues to be a focal point, appearing in three of the nine episodes. Captain Carter’s storyline, deeply rooted in the MCU yet distinct in its trajectory, represents the essence of the “What If…?” concept – familiar yet refreshingly different.

The introduction of Kahhori, a new character with cosmic superpowers, marks another significant development this season. She is a young Mohawk woman whose narrative is only tangentially connected to the main MCU storyline. The inclusion of Kahhori not only diversifies the character roster but also opens up new storytelling possibilities within the Marvel universe. Her future within the MCU, however, remains uncertain, akin to the trajectory of Emilia Clarke’s character in “Secret Invasion.” This uncertainty is reflective of the broader narrative approach of “What If…?”, where characters and stories exist in a fluid state of possibility.

The season’s narrative structure, while adhering to the anthology format, does hint at a recurring pattern. In a similar vein to the first season, where a version of Ultron collected Infinity Stones, leading to a multiversal team-up, this season follows a somewhat predictable path. The show’s narrative, mirroring the MCU’s tendency for individual stories to converge in team-up scenarios, risks becoming formulaic. However, this is counterbalanced by the character-driven focus of the season, which delves deeper into the personalities and motivations of its characters, adding a layer of complexity to the narrative.

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The voice acting in the series is a mixed bag. While some actors seamlessly transition from their live-action roles to voice acting, others appear less comfortable in this medium. Jon Favreau, reprising his role as Happy Hogan, particularly shines, bringing a sense of fun and authenticity to his character. The writing this season is notably stronger, with clever quips and references that will resonate well with Marvel fans. Jeffrey Wright’s portrayal of The Watcher adds a unique flavor to the series, with his narration often playing a comedic role, providing levity to the otherwise intense scenarios.

In terms of visual storytelling, the animation style of “What If…?” remains consistent with its predecessor, offering a sleek, comic-book-like aesthetic that complements the fantastical elements of the stories. The use of vibrant colors and dynamic action sequences brings each episode to life, ensuring that the visual aspect of the show is as engaging as its narrative.

Devil’s Advocate: The Marvel Multiverse’s Narrow Scope

However, it’s important to consider a criticism that has surfaced regarding the scope of Marvel’s multiverse as depicted in “What If…?” season 2. The series, while offering creative spins on the MCU’s established narratives, often seems constrained in its imagination, seemingly unable to push beyond the boundaries of its well-known characters and actors. The season’s episode titles, such as “What If… Nebula Joined the Nova Corps?” or “What If… Hela Found the Ten Rings?”, suggest intriguing possibilities but often fall back on familiar faces and scenarios.

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This reliance on recognizable characters and actors, while ensuring a certain level of audience engagement, does

raise questions about the true expansiveness of the MCU’s multiverse. The series appears to shuffle plot events and character dynamics without significantly deviating from the core elements of the MCU. This approach, while functional, limits the potential richness and diversity of the multiverse. The challenge lies in balancing the appeal of familiar characters with the need to explore more radical and diverse narratives that can truly showcase the infinite possibilities of the multiverse.

In essence, “What If…?” needs to venture further in its questioning and narrative exploration to avoid the multiverse feeling like a mere extension of the existing MCU rather than a boundless realm of possibilities. The series stands at a crossroads where it must decide whether to continue playing it safe with known quantities or to take bolder, more creative risks that can redefine what the Marvel multiverse can be.

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