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Review – “What If…?” Season 2

The second season of the animated Marvel show hinges on fun team-ups and mesmerizing animation

By Monita MohanPublished 5 months ago 10 min read
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WHAT IF...? SEASON 2 (©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.)

Fans of Marvel comics have loved the “What If…?” tales that explored alternate possibilities for their characters. I am definitely one of those fans, and I was delighted when Marvel Studios announced they would release an animated television show based on the same concept for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“What If…?” Season 1 aired on Disney+ in 2021, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve rewatched it a couple of times since, and still love the show, so I was looking forward to the second season. Every sequel and new season of a beloved property brings with it its own trepidation, but “What If…?” Season 2 is quick to quell any fears.

The second season is a delight, especially because it leans into unique team-ups—which is what made the “What If…?” stories in the comics particularly interesting. The animation and colours are glorious to look at, and I think that’s intentional given the second season was released during the holiday season. This season also focuses more on the cosmic/intergalactic side of the MCU, which is in keeping with the latest Phase of the franchise.

©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

My one critique is that I had expected some of the newer MCU characters to make an appearance, but the show still relies mostly on pre-“Avengers: Endgame” characters. Hopefully, we’ll get plenty more seasons of the show, and the character roster will expand to include characters like Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, the Eternals, Shang-Chi, and more.

I received screeners for the entire season, so here are my spoiler-free thoughts on each episode.

EPISODE 1: WHAT IF… NEBULA JOINED THE NOVA CORPS?

Intergalactic history is very different in this universe, and because of that Nebula is now part of the Nova Corps. But, life in the Nova Empire is tough, and when a looming threat re-surfaces, she’s sent on a secret mission to save the planet.

This episode is very noir, which appears to be the general vibe the show is going for when exploring alternate versions of Nebula. The colours and shadows are gorgeous in this episode, and that stood out to me more than anything else. Story-wise, it’s a condensed, suspenseful investigation, with twists and turns that you won’t see coming. All the MCU actors reprising their roles in this episode are great, especially Karen Gillan, whose love for Nebula is so obvious in the way she imbues such depth to her voice-acting. Weirdly, Jude Law doesn’t sound anything like himself, which threw me off but didn’t detract from the episode. And, the voice actors stepping in for their MCU counterparts are seamless additions to the cast.

EPISODE 2: WHAT IF… PETER QUILL ATTACKED EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES?

(L-R): Black Panther/King T’Chaka, Howard Stark, Bill Foster/Goliath, Peggy Carter, Dr. Wendy Lawson/Mar-vell, and Hank Pym/Ant-Man in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF…?, Season 2 exclusively on Disney+. © 2023 MARVEL.

Peter Quill’s dad, Ego (Kurt Russell), is the biggest jerk in all of the cosmos, so it’s no wonder he’s behind a new and devastating threat to Earth in the second episode of “What If…?” Season 2. It’s the 1980s, and S.H.I.E.L.D. has to work fast to ensure Earth is safe—to do that, they have to assemble a team of heroes who can stand up against a god.

I loved this episode. It took me a minute to get into it because I thought this was going to be another “Guardians of the Galaxy” story (my love for this team has deteriorated considerably since “Vol. 2” and especially after “Vol. 3” and the controversies behind the films’ director and main star), but turns out that Quill and Ego are the catalysts for one of the most intriguing team-ups I could have imagined, and yet they all make sense.

This story was exactly what one would expect from “What If…?”—it spans a number of properties, and takes place in a different time-period so we get to see characters in action who we’d only glimpsed before. The episode also has a ton of heart and a strong emotional core, that make it exceptional. I think the fact that the majority of the cast of this episode is made up of the live-action actors benefited the MCU-feel of the episode. I loved it so much.

EPISODE 3: WHAT IF… HAPPY HOGAN SAVED CHRISTMAS?

The most Christmas-y of all the episodes this season, the episode uses the Zeigarnik effect to pull the audience in, before pivoting to a fun frenzy. It’s Christmas, and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is in charge of Avengers Tower and the upcoming holiday party. At hand is the new intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), who is as useful as you can imagine pre-“WandaVision” Darcy being. Nothing is going to plan, but would you believe it’s about to get worse?

The episode is a nod to “Die Hard”, a film that continues to divide the world on its status as a Christmas film. “What If... Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?” has a little bit of everything in it, laughs, suspense, horror, loads of actions. It’s a lot of fun and reminded me why Happy became such a fan favourite. And, Darcy is ridiculously hilarious. I love that character.

The villain was too scenery-chewing for me, but totally in character and, again, in line with “Die Hard”. I missed seeing this version of the Avengers, especially the domestic side where they’re buying toys and entertaining kids while dressed in Christmas costumes. It’s the OG team, and we deserved to see them in action together a little bit more. Despite that minor critique, this episode will make you feel all warm and cozy for the festivities.

EPISODE 4: WHAT IF… IRON MAN CRASHED INTO THE GRANDMASTER?

Remember that time Iron Man made the sacrifice play in “Avengers” and almost didn’t make it back to Earth? So, now we know what may have happened if Tony wasn’t so lucky, at least in one universe. This episode sees Tony Stark stranded on Sakaar, The Grandmaster’s playground as seen in “Thor: Ragnarok”.

The episode is as unhinged as the threequel, which works when it’s focused on the Grandmaster (brought back to quirky life by Jeff Goldblum) and his right-hand woman, Topaz (voiced with insouciant snark by Rachel House), but not so much when the story turns to the protagonists, Tony and Gamora. These two are just way too serious and intense to fit in on Sakaar.

This episode was originally supposed to be released in Season 1, but due to the pandemic, was shelved till Season 2. Most of it is a drag race; it felt like watching the races in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and “Tales of the Jedi”. Basically it felt very Star Wars.

Something felt off about this episode to me, and I might re-think that feeling on a rewatch, but I couldn’t connect with it that much. I may backtrack on this when I rewatch it, though.

EPISODE 5: WHAT IF… CAPTAIN CARTER FOUGHT THE HYDRA STOMPER?

This episode takes off from the final post-credits scene in Season 1. I like that there are a few stories in “What If…?” that seemingly never end, so we essentially get a film-length version of a character’s story, but in bits and pieces, which makes our time with them last longer. Ok, who am I kidding, I just want to see more Captain Carter, and this show keeps complying.

I love Peggy Carter in every universe, and that’s probably why I have a particular fondness for the “Captain America” spin-offs in the show. “What If... Captain Carter Fought the Hydra Stomper?” is just tragic. It’s heart-breaking—we thought we knew where Captain Carter’s story was headed, and then it takes a turn. What really works in this episode, and was a highlight in the first season as well, is Peggy and Black Widow’s friendship, it’s so much more organic and livelier than anything Widow got in the live-action films. Captain Carter’s stories probably make me the most wistful for all the missed opportunities in the MCU when it comes to gender-diverse superheroes.

While the start of the episode saddened me because I’m a hopeless romantic, the episode itself is exciting, intense, and unpredictable. And it has a lot of Peggy in it, so I am a fan.

EPISODE 6: WHAT IF… KAHHORI RESHAPED THE WORLD?

Kahhori in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF…?, Season 2 exclusively on Disney+. © 2023 MARVEL.

This episode is tangentially related to the MCU, and it’s one of the show’s best. The episode takes place during the siege by the conquistadors; a young Mohawk woman, Kahhori (Devery Jacobs), is desperate to protect her brother, but then finds herself in a new world, with powers granted by the Tesseract.

The episode is almost exclusively spoken in the Mohawk language, with some Spanish, and the episode writer, Ryan Little, worked closely with historical and language experts from Kanien’kehá:ka, the Mohawk Nation, to ensure the names and story were accurately depicted and informed by facts.

What I loved about “What If... Kahhori Reshaped the World?” is that it includes a lot of tropes of superhero stories—a newly powered person learning to control and expand their abilities, their wish and desire to do good while enjoying being part of a new community; it’s quintessential, but the story is given a new, disturbing layer because we know how Native American and Indigenous communities suffered, and continue to suffer, because of invaders and settlers. The stakes are high, and while history can’t be changed, this alternative history on “What If…?” is a cathartic look at what could have been. This episode is stupendous, and I would love to see the show challenge histories again in future seasons.

EPISODE 7: WHAT IF… HELA FOUND THE TEN RINGS?

This was wholly unexpected. The episode takes place long before Thor and Loki came into the picture, and Hela (Cate Blanchett) was the one and only child of Odin. This episode combined two, seemingly, disparate properties and gave us a surprisingly cute storyline. The Goddess of Death is her quintessentially bloodthirsty and catty self, but can the people of another realm help her change her ways?

This was such an enjoyable episode. It starts of as a re-imagining of “Thor”, which works brilliantly. But then it becomes a re-imagining, of sorts, of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, and that floored me.

If I have any criticism of this episode—and of the MCU in general—is that this storyline was itching to be gay, and they didn’t go there. Why is Marvel so afraid of being gay? It’s the 21st century, how is this still a problem? A very believable romance was brewing, and nothing happened.

But this episode has a little of everything in it, and I loved seeing most of these characters in a brand new light. What really worked in the episode is Blanchett reprising her role as Hela—I think she brings a certain panache to the version of the character that makes this rendition particularly fun to watch.

“What If... Hela Found the Ten Rings?” is one of the many episodes in the show that made me wistful for Earth-616 to have had a different history; things could have been better for some of the characters.

EPISODE 8: WHAT IF… THE AVENGERS ASSEMBLED IN 1602?

“Marvel 1602” is a huge favourite among comic book fans, so it’s no surprise that it made its appearance on “What If…?” The penultimate episode of the second season takes us back to the Elizabethan-era, where the world is in peril, but the source of this peril is unknown. A time-displaced Captain Carter is intent on uncovering the truth, and along the way, she must assemble a band of heroes to help her.

I’ll get the negative out of the way first—this was one of the rare episodes that had structural and pacing issues. The ending, especially, made no sense. But I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. I couldn’t help myself—a bunch of our favourite characters adorned in old-fashioned costumes, find new ways of connecting and interacting with each other, all while uncovering a hidden mystery. This is my jam! Also, Tom Hiddleston voicing, probably, his favourite version of Loki (I’m making an educated guess here), is a highlight, in every universe. I had so much fun that the story issues didn’t even bother me that much. In fact, I want to go back to 1602—surely there are a few billion other “Marvel 1602” universes out there for the show to explore, let’s go to all of them.

The clincher was the team-ups in this episode, and it’s a theme that runs throughout the season. Unusual and unexpected pairings bring a whole new dynamic to the story. I can’t wait to rewatch this episode, 1602 times.

EPISODE 9: WHAT IF… STRANGE SUPREME INTERVENED?

Strange-Supreme in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF…?, Season 2 exclusively on Disney+. © 2023 MARVEL.

The “What If…?” Season 2 finale is much-needed closure for one storyline. It goes in unexpected, definitely tragic, directions. The central team-up is a pair of heroes who we would not have expected to see together, and yet they work really well together.

The episode is epic since the majority of it is a massive battle—that also means it has less time for interpersonal connections, which was the one thing I think this finale was missing. Despite that, the creators squeeze in a ton of charm and some surprising levity. The animation is astounding. The kind of motion we see in the visuals is smooth yet chaotic, adding to the tension.

There’s a twist partway through that had me giggling but was also heart-warming. This show is unpredictable in the best ways, and all I can think is that I’d love to see more. I hope “What If…?” is a regular occurrence for as long as possible. I love this show so much.

"What If...?" Seasons 1 and 2 are available to watch on Disney+.

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About the Creator

Monita Mohan

When not dreaming of a one-way trip to Coruscant, I'm usually staring at a blank page, hoping my articles write themselves.

Website: lightspeedwriter.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Monita_Mohan

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