Featuring a more original story starring Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, Episode 2 of Marvel’s What If…? is the first truly great episode of the series.
While Episode 1 of Marvel Studios’ first animated series What If…? was good, it felt like we were just watching a different version of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). That may have been a treat for those that were already Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, but it also could have been confusing for those that hadn’t seen The First Avenger. I mentioned in my review last week that the series might be a struggle for outsiders to watch if it didn’t feature more original stories. Right on cue, Episode 2 of What If…? offers the audience a fantastic and mostly brand-new story that should delight MCU fans and newcomers.
Written by Matthew Chauncey, What If…?’s Episode 2 sees Uatu, also known as The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), presenting audiences with a timeline in which T’Challa (portrayed by the late Chadwick Boseman) becomes a Star-Lord. Boseman was able to record his dialogue for this episode and 3 additional episodes of the first season of What If…? prior to his tragic passing from Colon Cancer in August 2020. In the MCU, T’Challa becomes King of Wakanda and the Black Panther, but in this timeline, he was mistakenly abducted as a child in 1988 by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and the Ravagers. I say mistakenly because the Ravagers were hired by the Celestial Ego (Kurt Russell) to retrieve his son Peter Quill, sometimes known as Star-Lord, as they did in the MCU film Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Here, they instead abduct T’Challa from Wakanda, who travels the galaxy with them for 20 years, and becomes a Star-Lord.
Outside of the opening scene, which is ripped and replaced from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Episode 2 of What If…? tells an original story centered on this new version of T’Challa, and it’s one that sticks the landing. While there may be less time with character moments that you want to absorb, it’s still engaging and fun. There are references to and new versions of characters from the MCU, but this is the first episode of What If…? that could probably stand on its own thanks to its more original plot line. It gives fans some cool nods and Easter eggs, but it’s not overwhelming or confusing in the way that Episode 1 might have been for outsiders. Does it help if you’ve seen certain MCU movies? (Mainly the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films released in 2014 and 2017, respectively, and 2018’s Black Panther) Yes. However, I wouldn’t call them essential for you to understand the basic plot.
Much like in Episode 1, we have a majority of cast members reprising their roles, including a few surprises that I wasn’t expecting and won’t spoil here. Not only does this make Episode 2 of What If…? feel authentic to the MCU, but it’s almost like an animated short film spin off because it brings these actors back to tell a new story from a separate timeline, rather than having them reprise their roles just to retell a different version of one that we’ve heard. It’s wonderful seeing and hearing Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa Star Lord. You can just hear the passion and enthusiasm in his voice with each line of dialogue. Clearly, as series director Bryan Andrews pointed out in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he loved playing this new version of the character. The duo of Boseman’s T’Challa and Michael Rooker’s Yondu are electric together thanks in part to the charm of both actors and that makes this original story that much more exciting.
The comedy in Episode 2 is a lot more consistent than in the first episode, there are a ton of hilarious moments throughout. While some of the opening episode’s jokes were funny, others fell flat, and that’s a contrast to the second episode, where even a single running gag remains funny to me even after multiple watches.
Another issue from last week’s review that I thought might come up is with the pacing. Episode 2’s pacing is mostly fine. There are some moments in Episode 2 that I expected to be able to sit with and be allowed to process the character’s decision making and emotions. Instead, the second episode would quickly be moving on to the next scene. While it’s understandable that these shows will be shorter than what we’ve become accustomed to for the most part, I wish we could have let more of the character moments sit for a little during Episode 2, let us absorb it. That would have it easier for fans and outsiders to get invested in these versions of the characters. The strange thing is, there are big moments that flash by that work in Episode 2, but not all of them do. Two episodes in, Marvel is close to finding what I believe to be the proper pace – a pace that allows the audience to get invested in a shorter amount of time. Hopefully they’re able to find that balance in future episodes.
Thanks to an original story, a wonderful performance from Chadwick Boseman, and some solid comedic moments, Episode 2 of What If…? is the first truly great episode of the series. It should be an absolute joy for MCU fans and newcomers, even if the show’s pacing isn’t quite where it needs to be yet.
What If…?‘s Episode 2 is now available to watch on Disney Plus.