What If…? Season 2 doubles down on the series’ worst tendencies, giving us a season that never seems to understand what makes its premise appealing.
Never have I seen a series so fundamentally misunderstand what makes it conceptually appealing than Marvel Studios’ What If…?. Whoever is the person behind the scenes who keeps picking up their Captain Carter figurine and announcing that their multiversal anthology show could really do with being a bit more serialised honestly needs dealing with. It’s particularly strange because What If…?’s premise is such a good one on paper, an animated anthology series which explores a different alternate timeline in every episode, yet almost everything is executed wrong. Unfortunately, Season 2 doesn’t do anything to rectify these pre-existing issues, and instead decides to double down on them, resulting in a watch that’s at best boring and at worst infuriating.
What I will give What If…? Season 2 off the bat is that the actual individual premises for each episode are somewhat stronger than the first season’s. There’s still the constant, lingering feeling that they’re playing this all a bit too safe, but at the very least, there’s some premises here that feel like they’re starting to move in the right direction. My personal favourite was “What If… Peter Quill Attacked Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?”, which explored the possibility of a young Peter Quill (Mace Montgomery Miskel) actually getting delivered to his father (Kurt Russell), and introduced us to a team of Avengers formed in 1988, with plenty of fun dynamics and interesting choices. The episode focusing on the new character Kahhori was also quite good, and perhaps felt like the only episode of What If…? so far that truly felt like its own distinct timeline.
My problem is that it still feels like it’s only scratching the surface of what should be possible with a series like What If…?. This is a show that’s all about showing us the best bits of the multiverse, and yet there seems to be a distinct lack of imagination around every corner. Compare it to, say, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (2023), which does a brilliant job highlighting just how wacky and creative the multiverse can truly be. There’s one universe where Spider-Man is a pig, there’s one where he’s from a 1950s noir film, there’s one where he’s a car, etcetera. Surely, that’s the more interesting route this show could take, actually exploring those universes that present us with an entirely different look at these familiar characters.
Instead, all Season 2 gives us is the same versions of familiar characters in slightly new situations. What if Hela found the ten rings? What if it was Iron Man who crash-landed on the planet from Thor Ragnarok (2017) instead of Thor? These premises aren’t inherently awful and devoid of merit, but they’re just so dull and safe when you consider the endless possibilities afforded to you by the multiverse. This show should be a writer’s dream, but instead, it just feels like everyone involved is just collecting a paycheck and not putting in anything more than what’s required of them.
What If…? is still the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s only venture into the realm of animation, and again, it’s an area where the show still just feels so bland and cheap. There’s an obvious attempt to try and recreate the look of the live-action films, but my question is why is this attempt made in the first place? Again, you just need to look at the Spider-Verse films to understand why I’m frustrated. I’m not saying that it needs to be anywhere near that level, obviously, but at the very least, try and get close to the level of creativity and imagination present in every frame of those films. Why does every universe look and feel the exact same?
Star Wars: Visions (2021-) is a show with a similar premise, also released on Disney+, but personally I find it to be significantly more interesting than What If…? almost entirely down to its decision to put a different animation studio in charge of every episode, giving each instalment their own coat of paint. What If…? could be a brilliant opportunity to let other studios tell highly-stylised stories set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but instead, all we get is a corporate mandate, devoid of a single interesting idea. “What If… the Avengers Assembled in 1602?” could be a phenomenal episode, filled with unique Renaissance-themed versions of the Avengers, but instead, they all look almost the exact same as the modern-day versions of those characters, because the animation style forces them to. It’s all so consistently disappointing.
This isn’t even mentioning the aspect of What If…? that drives me the most crazy, which I was sure they would leave behind but unfortunately weaselled its way back into Season 2 – the constant need for serialisation. Why exactly an anthology show needs to be serialised, I don’t know, but it’s a problem that seems to keep plaguing What If…?. What I mean by this is that despite the show seemingly telling a brand new, standalone story every episode, it actually features an overarching narrative that slowly builds towards the final episode, which again, just like in Season 1, is another team-up, featuring various characters from the previous 8 episodes.
It’s a strange idea that seems to completely misunderstand why the show is appealing in the first place, and unfortunately, it refuses to stop shoving this in your face. Whether it’s The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) monologuing about how cool the show’s poster child, Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), is, or how most episodes end with a hook that explains how the main character will return in the season finale, it all just feels like What If…? doubling down on the worst aspect of its debut season. The Captain Carter stuff is particularly strange, given that her episodes might just be the most uninteresting, almost entirely down to the fact that they’re just Captain America stories with some of the characters swapped around. In a show that can theoretically be about anything and tell almost any story, it’s an odd storyline to keep coming back to.
All in all, What If…? Season 2 continues to disappoint. For whatever reason, Marvel Studios have yet to wrap their head around the idea that they can use the multiverse to tell interesting, creative stories and seem to just want to keep telling the same narratives with some slight differences. It’s a shame, because this should be the MCU at its most wacky and wild, but instead, it’s just the cinematic universe’s equivalent of a spot the difference puzzle. There may be the odd intriguing concept or neat idea, but it just feels like a show in desperate need of a refresh and perhaps an entirely new creative team.
Season 2 of What If…? is now available to watch on Disney Plus. Read our reviews of Season 1 of What If…?.