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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

What If...? Debuts as Marvel's Most Ambitious & Unpredictable Series Yet

Premiering on Disney+ on Aug. 10, What If...? is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and quickly proves itself to be more than just a standard tie-in animated series. The show is dripping with elements of the MCU but imbues its stories and characters with new levels of energy. Created by Trollhunters veteran A.C. Bradley, What If...? might be Marvel Studio's most ambitious television project yet. If the animated series' initial episodes are anything to go by, What If..? might also be Marvel Studios' most successful project to date.

What If...? is an anthology series with each episode delving into a different setting and array of MCU characters. In the three episodes screened for critics, the show jumped from the battlefields of World War II to the farthest corners of the MCU's galaxy. Taking place across an expanding multiverse, each episode explores a new reality where a single deviation from the established canon of the MCU leads to radically different heroes, villains, lives, and deaths. The series is glued together by the Watcher, a perfectly cast Jefferey Wright, who observes all these realities and effectively serves as the Rod Serling-esque narrator for the shifting worlds.

The show's animation style is reminiscent of the comics-inspired Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (but on a tighter television scale) and is consistently impressive. While the specific dubbing in close shots can seem a bit off at times, the show is able to pull off grand action scenes and massive sequences of spectacle. There's a fluidity to the series that doesn't betray the weight of the characters and the world around them. It gives the action scenes a level of inventiveness and movement that even the best of the MCU films have had trouble matching and helps the show stand out as one of the most visually thrilling parts of the MCU.

Like the comic it shares a name with, the inherently loose connections between the universes allow the creators to delve into different genres and tones with each exploration -- and with the freedom to change or kill any character they desire for the sake of the story. Sometimes the episodes lean more towards action. Other times, the show leans more towards comedy. There's even one episode that repositions a character into a genuinely terrifying light. It's an impressive opening salvo from Marvel Studios' upcoming animation department and a promise of the kind of ambitious projects that could come from this facet of the MCU.

Beyond the voice cast -- which features a mix of returning MCU veterans and solid stand-ins -- the series feels wholly in-tune with the MCU while still being experimental enough to fully embrace plot deviations and concepts that would never fly on the big screen. There are hints towards a potential overarching plot that could tie the worlds together, but the show wisely focuses on the new realities above all else, crafting enjoyable stories with unique edges.

With a second season already in development, What If...? confidently cements itself as one of the most exciting corners of the MCU in terms of sheer storytelling potential and execution.

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