Watch Of The Week: What If …..? Season 2

When Marvel released the first season of their animated anthology series, What If…?, it was a simpler time. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had flirted with the idea of a canonical multiverse, with hints dropping in Wanda Vision, Loki Season 1, and, of course, the multiversal crossover event that was Spider-Man: No Way Home. The best
thing about the What If…? concept, and indeed, the first season of the series, was the zero-pressure takes on so many of our favourite MCU characters. Like a child playing with action figures, What If…? was allowed to be nonsensical, high-concept, and have zero repercussions for it. For that, it was refreshing.

But What If…? Season 1 came out at a time before the multiverse dominated MCU storytelling. It was more a curiosity and an exciting new possibility rather than one of the primary driving forces of the new wave of movies and shows. In that sense, it was a novelty. The episodes were relatively standalone. There was no question of any of this being “canon” or something audiences needed to keep track of beyond the 30-ish minutes it appeared on-screen. That is not the MCU landscape in which this second outing of What If…? premieres, which begs the question: does it hold up in a world now saturated with multiverse stories?

Based on the Marvel Comics series of the same name, this animated anthology looks at alternate timelines in the multiverse that would happen if specific moments in the MCU
occurred differently. Fans of the first season are doubtless excited to see the return of favourites like Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Black Widow (Lake Bell), and, of course, The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) in the same sort of familiar Marvel-lite stories we’d become accustomed to. But where the first season retained the same general formula of superhero mini-movie, Season 2 sees showrunner A.C.

Bradley and the entire creative crew branch out and try something new. It’s not entirely outside that superhero formula, of course. This is the MCU, after all. But as other Marvel projects have shown — Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and Thor: Ragnarok to name a few — several decades of ongoing superhero storytelling can have that breath of fresh air when creatives are willing to play with genre, concepts, and the characters at the heart of it all.
What If...?

Of the latest batch of Marvel hypotheticals, Episode 3, What If… Happy Hogan Saved Christmas? and Episode 6, What If… Kahhori Reshaped the World? stand out as the best. Episode 3 is one of the season’s funnier episodes, taking advantage of a Christmas Eve release date to riff on the genre of Christmas movies and specials (including a certain action film that’s frequently at the heart of Christmas movie debates). It’s not trying to be serious and doesn’t ask the audience to treat it as such The big “twist” at the end of What If…? Season 1 was The Watcher assembling characters from most of the standalone stories to serve as the “Guardians of the Multiverse,” meaning that these stories were not all that standalone after all.

Understandably, Marvel repeats this concept in Season 2, with the converging plots revolving around a different character this time. There’s something to be said for interconnectivity: it inevitably raises the stakes for any story when it becomes so much bigger than just one or two characters. But there’s only so high the stakes can get before the charm wears off, and this is no longer the self-contained “what if” story it was supposed to be but simply a different Marvel Cinematic Universe somewhere else in the multiverse.

In connecting some of the stories, but not all of them, What If…? Season 2 winds up attributing more importance to some plotlines and characters over others. Arguably, the same could be said of the MCU as a whole, which calls back to certain films and series more than others. But making a smaller, interconnected, ongoing story within an anthology that functions best as a series of standalones can make the series feel tonally stuck in the middle.

In trying to have both an ongoing plot across episodes and seasons, peppered throughout with standalone stories, What If…? is trying to both have its cake and eat it too. That’s not to say the season is not enjoyable. It’s a lot of fun, and several of the episodes are rich and compelling, making me wish the whole season was just that. It’s frustrating, however, when the potential for it to be just that much greater is visible but seems to be lying just out of reach.

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Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.


About Author / Boluwatife Adesina

Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.

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