The animation does provide a big advantage to the goal of action, and this first episode is nearly a mix of shield-bashing scenes which might be enough. The crisp visuals can pull off certain spectacle that would be tougher with live-action, like a mid-air fight scene where she jumps between different Nazi planes and uses her shield to bash the ever-loving crap out of her opponents. It’s mighty fluid stuff that even the highest budget live-action production wouldn’t be able to accomplish as cleanly with zeroes and ones. It looks cool, in one of the show’s many brief glimmers, even though it feels like it means very little. That’s the true indulgence of the episode, and I imagine will be for the series as it goes to Black Panther, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and more.
“What If…?” has an affable ease and comforting gloss to it, as Saturday morning cartoons are meant to. But the light fun of it is eaten away by the cynicism from within the project, that what purports to be about infinite possibilities is blatantly more about repurposing. I can’t tell if it’s more saddening than not to hear an original cast member return (as with Hayley Atwell), or to hear someone only try to sound like them, as with the guy who tries to nail Hugo Weaving’s hiss when playing Red Skull. Did Weaving, or Chris Evans (who also doesn’t return), see through the premise and decide their work hours were best placed elsewhere? Recognizing characters and performances from live-action Marvel movies, but seeing them inside these animated bodies, repeating much of what they’re good at, does not inspire the sense of creative freedom, but captivity. Isn’t that … the great evil that Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes were desperately trying to avoid in “Space Jam”?
First episode screened for review. “What If…?” is now playing on Disney+.
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