Despite its Style and Uniqueness, ‘What If…?’ Is Marvels Clearest Failure
The season one finale for Marvel’s newest series has finally debuted, and the animated avenue that the studio has taken has received mixed reviews; regardless of one’s opinion on the series, it is clear that What If…? is Marvel’s clearest failure.
Considering the many criticisms levied against Marvel, and the lauded MCU, many of them seem rather inconsequential; some will dislike the way the Studio tens to handle sequels, or the often formulaic nature of the films, or their haste in granting deaths to very relatable villains.
For much of the MCU, however, there is an overwhelming clarity as to the effectiveness of the universe as a whole; despite the films decade long dominance of the industry, they have yet to produce a film that strays from the high-quality standards they have set for themselves.
That may have changed.
What If…? is an interesting ride; It makes use of our connection with these greatly established characters and develops storylines based around our own experiences within the MCU as an entity.
The series is stylish, it is unique, and, at its best, the character work dives deeper into the methodology of some of the MCU’s greatest heroes and characters; granting us a deeper look at those for whom we have dedicated so much of our fandom.
At worst, What If…? is Marvel’s clearest failure.
Marvel’s fandom, like any fandom, is vast, diverse, and immensely passionate; they have accepted invitations on that decade-long voyage and committed their time and money to take part in the construction and thriving of this multi-film universe.
What If…? takes the passion and investment of Marvels fans, and does with it as they please. With a penchant for taking liberties with characters that, are not only beloved by much of the fanbase but have been the focal point of MCU stories since its inception over 13 years ago.
This detriment isn’t the sole function of What If…?, where the story can also take a beloved character like Peggy Carter, and build upon the foundation set by the Marvel films; crafting a beloved hero that is every bit as interesting, likable, and heroic as Captain America himself.
What If…? can also take a complicated and nuanced character like Stephen Strange, and craft a darker path for the character to travel; building, once again, on the foundation set by the films, and exploring a Doctor Strange who was forged in tragedy, pain, and limitless resolve.
But as clearly as What If…? builds on these foundations, and crafts characters worthy of our fandom, they just as easily, and just as ruthlessly, demolish others.
Thanos was the primary force of opposition within the MCU since its inception; the entire story of the Avengers, the entire livelihood of those within the MCU, was destined to be haunted by the presence of the gauntlet-wielding Mad Titan, dead set on protecting the universe from their imperceivable doom.
This looming presence was undone by a conversation with T’Challa’s Star-Lord in one episode. This villainous and undefeatable foe was rendered inconsequential by another; and as quickly as Thanos was a revered name in Marvel lore, was as quickly as he became a Meme.
The mere presence of T’Challa’s Star-Lord almost functions as an exercise in showing viewers how much greater the universe would be if Peter Quill had never existed.
Vision- a Computer with limitless access to human history, and is the representation of our species obsession with the philosophical and technological- spends another episode kidnapping heros to cut into pieces and feed to his zombie bride; despite the endless moral discrepancies he must have calculated.
Some will defend the series, noting the outlandish, and almost comedic extravagance of the situations that establish on the show as something not to be taken seriously; where the entire premise acts as the punchline.
This perception and defense loses weight, however, when we consider some of the episodes we got in this first season.
Doctor Strange was immensely sympathetic, dealing with loss and tragedy, driven to near madness. Hank Pym lost his entire family to his partnership with Shield, yet the implication was the outlandish idea that his revenge led him capable of eliminating Earth’s greatest defense.
Too often there are sacrificial points that diminish the entire journey of the MCU; characters and moments that don’t ask the question What If…? but instead tell the viewer, why not?
Although the series has plenty of redeeming qualities and maintains much of the humor, and world-building, that has endeared many of us to the MCU, its near-obsession with narrative and plot has forced it to sacrifice the prime source of success for their studio; the characters.
Some moments are brilliantly done, those brilliant moments, however, always come at a cost; and the reality is, when compared with the incredibly high standard the MCU upholds, What If…? is Marvel’s clearest failure.