We’ve reached the end of the line with season 1 of Marvel Studios’ What If…?, an animated series that flips the script on the Marvel Cinematic Universe by reimagining famous events from the films in unexpected ways.
The series is narrated by the Watcher, a cosmic being tasked with observing and compiling knowledge on the comings and goings from all vast corners of the universe … without interfering. Thus far, he’s watched all of the events from each episode play out across various timelines, including last week’s worst case scenario that depicted a victorious Ultron. The rise of Ultra-Vision then led him to make a difficult choice, “What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath?”
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
What’s an all-seeing cosmic being to do when he knows the fate of the universe as we know it is at stake thanks to a dangerously powerful, power hungry villain who’s wielding the Infinity Stones? Gather a team of the greatest heroes across the Multiverse, of course.
Throughout the course of season 1 of What If…?, existing characters have taken on new heroic (and sometimes villainous) roles with plots that diverge from existing MCU storylines. The finale serves as a culmination of all of these events, brilliantly finding a way to bring these characters together from their separate universes in a final showdown against Ultra-Vision. In a move that winks at the high-stakes events and epic team ups in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame during the fight against Thanos, the Watcher assembles … The Guardians of the Multiverse.
It’s been both entertaining and fascinating to see these alternate takes on characters — like T’Challa (in Chadwick Boseman’s wonderful final performance), Thor, and Doctor Strange — as they were introduced in each episode. Now, the story expands tenfold as these characters essentially find themselves in a position similar to that of the audience. They’re faced with new, wildly different versions of people that they know in varying capacities from their own universes, which puts an even more fun, meta spin on the dynamics of the show.
While not every episode established a hero that would eventually be brought forth into the fold of the Watcher’s Multiverse team, the finale still found a way to incorporate events that we’ve witnessed in the other universes as well — like dropping in an army in the form of an avalanche of zombies. And though we’re still mourning the loss of Black Widow in the current timeline of the MCU, it was very satisfying to see this episode’s Natasha given a chance to step into episode 3’s universe with the failed Avengers Initiative to take the place of the version of herself that didn’t survive there.
Although the purpose of What If…? is to explore alternate realities not yet seen in the MCU’s live-action films and shows, it grounds itself and creates a familiar setting for viewers by weaving in Easter eggs and nods to events big and small (like the reference to Arnim Zola’s “stomach face” form from the comics!) In this episode, we’re reminded that presumably* in Captain Carter’s universe, neither Steve Rogers nor Bucky Barnes exist in the current day. In lieu of that (very sad) reality, Peggy and Natasha serve as a representation of the shield and knife wielding pair. The two even have a conversation in the jet that directly mirrors the one shared between Steve and Bucky in Captain America: Civil War. *And to Captain Carter’s surprise in the mid-credits scene, it appears the Hydra Stomper and a certain someone have made it to the future in her world after all!
What If…? has consistently provided viewers with an impressive viewing experience in terms of animation, and this episode is no exception. An extremely battle-heavy affair, the finale is jam-packed with captivating visuals from start to finish. While CGI and special effects have certainly come a long way in recent years, there are still limits to what can be done effectively in live-action entertainment. These limits don’t quite exist in the world of animation. The team behind this series took that knowledge and ran with it, dancing across the Multiverse with a vast, sprawling platter of cavernous landscapes and elaborate, flashy battle moves from our heroes.
Overall, the first season of What If…? ultimately led to an exciting conclusion, providing a worthy payoff for the eight-episode buildup of Multiverse events. And it’s now left the door open for endless, intriguing possibilities as to what’s in store for season 2 …