‘What If…?’ offers very different look at Marvel stories

Rick's Reviews

New Disney+ series “What If…?” offers a different version of Captain America and Peggy Carter stories. (Photo courtesy of Disney)

(KGET) — Comic book fans for years have pondered deep questions regarding comic book heroes. What if Daredevil had been deaf and not blind? What if Loki had gotten the hammer instead of Thor?

Marvel Comics fed into that with the launch of “What If …” in 1977. The comic book dealt with such topics as what would have happened if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four and what would have happened if Captain America hadn’t vanished during World War II.

That comic book line now has spawned the latest Marvel Comics series for Disney+. The animated “What If …?” launches on the streaming service Aug. 11 with nine episodes of thought-provoking questions from the Marvel Universe.

Any details of the episodes would spoil the fun of discovery. But, episodes will deal with “What If…?” scenarios dealing with Captain America, Agent Carter, The Avengers, Black Panther and others.

The series deals with very deep and complicated takes on the established Marvel world. That’s obvious with the Agent Carter tale that offers a whole new look to the Captain America mythology. And, there is no shying away from darkness as revealed in the tale of The Avengers.

Each tale – under the guidance of head writer A.C. Bradley – is presented with super smart storylines that will throw some plot curves to even the most knowledgeable fan of Marvel Comics. Take what you know about the Marvel comics and movies, toss it in a blender and hit the button. That’s how mixed up these tales get.

The smartest thing the production team has done is seamlessly blended the comic book world with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only do the characters in the new production for the streaming service look like the actors who played the heroes in the live-action movies, but those actors have been hired to provide the voices.

There were 50 cast members from the MCU who reprised their roles including Angela Bassett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, Benicio Del Toro, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Hemsworth, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Dominic Cooper, Don Cheadle, Emily VanCamp, Evangeline Lilly, Hayley Atwell, Jaimie Alexander, Jeff Goldblum, Jeremy Renner, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Douglas and Natalie Portman.

A nice touch is having The Watcher – voiced with an omnipotent style by Jeffrey Wright – as the narrator of each episode. There has been such a perfect pick as an anthology host since Rod Serling hosted episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”

In a press release to announce the series, executive producer Brad Winderbaum says, “The Watcher introduces us each week to these alternate storylines— each a kind of cautionary tale in the spirit of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ We bounce around genres and tone—some episodes will be dramatic; some will be tragic or comedic.”

The only thing that surpasses the clever writing and amazing voice cast is the animation. All of the smart writing is elevated by an animation style that rises above standard animation to a level of artistic brilliance. Production designer Paul Lasaine, head of visual development Ryan Meinerding and animation supervisor Stephan Franck have opted for a realistic visual style for the series.

The cartoon versions of the characters from the real-life movies are so perfectly rendered it is as if the entire MCU collection has been rebooted. There is no doubt when Bruce Banner arrives on screen that Mark Ruffalo is the basis for the design. The same goes for every character in the series.

Marvel Studios veteran Bryan Andrews – the man guiding the project – describes the animation as having “a certain kind of heroic, hyper-realized, super-idealized look that feels iconic. There’s a style to it but it’s not pushed or cartoony.”

The style is the bridge between live-action superhero movies and the animated comic book world. That’s very obvious because there are scenes lifted directly from the Marvel movies in a very elevated way.  

New series often take time to find an audience. That’s not going to be the case here as there is an immediate connection to the episodes because all of the faces and voices are familiar. It’s so easy to slip into these mind-twisting tales because it is such a comfortable fit.

“What If …?” reaches a whole new level in animation. The stunning design, superb writing and the ability to pull together such a staggering cast of voice actors leaves only one question to be asked. What if they would consider making more? Or, what if they don’t make more?

TV review

“What If…?” Grade 4 stars

Available starting Aug. 11 on Disney+

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