*Warning: This piece contains spoilers for episode nine of What If..?*
As much as some would’ve hoped for a purely anthological story, What If…? ends on a whimper by trying to tie in the series to the larger MCU in a way that feels strictly inconsequential. The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) finally assembles a team of Multiversal Avengers, or in more apt terms, The Guardians of the Multiverse, to defeat Ultron (Ross Marquand). The team is comprised of Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), T’Challa Star-Lord (Chadwick Boseman), Killmonger Black Panther (Michael B. Jordan), Party Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Doctor Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams) who we have not seen in the show (aside from a brief cameo in the last episode) until now. She murdered Thanos (Josh Brolin) and took the Infinity Gauntlet for herself, but that episode is in season two instead of season one.
Some storylines were reshuffled due to COVID-19, but every other character on the team has had their backstories pre-established before the team-up finale. There was no reason for Gamora’s episode not to be integrated into season 1, even if it meant a slight delay, as her appearance feels more like an afterthought than a legitimately fleshed-out variation of the character.
We see Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) in the Hulkbuster, seemingly surviving whatever storyline he had with Gamora. Still, we won’t know the backstory behind her variation, therefore rendering any emotional connection non-existent. She’s barely in the episode and immediately gets lost in a climax that focuses too hard on Captain Carter and Doctor Strange Supreme. There are rumors that Carter will show up eventually in live-action, but that shouldn’t excuse the showrunners from making every team member feel whole and essential, just like in the live-action Avengers films.
In the Avengers movies, every character has their time to shine, and the synergy between them all crafts the friendship behind the team. In What If…?, since every character is from a different universe, their connection feels somewhat distant. They must put all of their differences aside to defeat an enemy that could potentially cause the end of all worlds. Ross Marquand is again terrific as Ultron, but the guardians easily defeat him without an ounce of fear from the heroes. When The Watcher fought him in last week’s episode, he couldn’t believe what was happening and, for the first time, was afraid of the potential impact on the multiverse.
None of the guardians are afraid of Ultron and treat him as a minor annoyance that becomes quickly defeated once Natasha Romanoff (Lake Bell) inserts Arnim Zola’s (Toby Jones) virus inside Ultron’s eye. Without much importance, a big battle ensues, and the characters go back to their original timeline, except Killmonger and Zola. They are trapped in a pocket dimension by Doctor Strange as they are both fighting for control over the Infinity Stones.
Because of this, What If…? felt more like a backdoor pilot for other MCU animated spinoffs on Disney+ than a show with an actual endgame (pun very much intended), and director Bryan Andrews confirmed that they were developing a T’Challa Star-Lord spinoff series. Sadly, due to Chadwick Boseman’s passing, the show will never see the light of day, but the director inadvertently confirmed how What If…? opens every single door for endless spinoffs.
If every single anthological storyline came together satisfyingly, then maybe it would’ve been worth watching in the end. But since there’s no emotional cohesion between the characters and the multiple multiversal storylines they create, the show ultimately feels quite hollow and barely scratches its untapped potential. Hell, it marketed itself as a series that would “explore” the multiverse, but it seemed so laser-focus on re-hashing Infinity Saga films with minor differences. The Captain Carter bits indeed showed how unconfident the show was, as it tweaked The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier without legitimately changing both films’ stories. A new “First Avenger” would drastically change the entire MCU, but What If…? is uninterested in exploring how odd spins could potentially shift the series since none of the multiversal worlds are well-defined, except for “a multiverse of endless possibilities.” Audiences are inclined to accept everything thrown at them “because multiverse,” but that’s no explanation for how variations work within the multiverse except for lazy writing. As the films and series are ready to crack open the multiverse, here’s hoping that “because multiverse” won’t be the norm to explain everything that’s going on, and the worlds will be more fleshed-out as the franchise goes along.
If not, the MCU likely peaked at Avengers: Endgame, and everything coming after it feels more like a fun distraction than anything else. And while there was enjoyment to be found in some episodes of What If…?, the finale proved how inconsequential and weightless the series was and that Marvel Studios is better off doing a show that would genuinely benefit the animated medium, like a Marvel Zombies, for example. Now that would rule.