‘What If...?’ Season 2 review: A downgrade from the first season but a much-needed win for the MCU

At a time when superhero fatigue is much spoken about and the usual charm of Marvel is not working in favour of its feature films and series, ‘What If...?’ is a fantastic deviation

Updated - January 05, 2024 06:34 pm IST

Published - January 05, 2024 06:08 pm IST

A still from ‘What If...?’ Season 2

A still from ‘What If...?’ Season 2 | Photo Credit: @marvel/YouTube

When the first season of What If...? was out on streaming, it was a revelation for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it doesn’t add much to the colossal franchise’s narrative, the alternate realities that put some of the series’ favourite characters in the least expected situations paved the way to a new set of untold stories: a meta-multiverse in a sense. This is why even if season two doesn’t feel like an upgrade, the core idea of this particular series makes the recent outing a win for the MCU.

The core idea of What If...? remains the same and that’s for The Watcher (in Jeffrey Wright’s wonderfully deep voice) to take us through storylines the films accustomed us to but with a new set of characters. What makes both seasons of this series fascinating is the fact that despite the scenarios and the characters that go through them look random, there’s a sense of a method to this madness, an order amidst the chaos and that’s always been the strength of the MCU. The new scenarios are mostly unconventional and even borderline absurd. Take, for example, the penultimate episode in which our heroes are in 1602 in a Renaissance-themed universe. Everyone from Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and Scott Lang plays to their strengths that have very well been established in the MCU films, but the new setting puts a twist on their capabilities which not only pushes their potential but also that of those penning the episode.

What If...? Season 2 (English)
Directors: Bryan Andrews, Stephan Franck
Voice cast: Jeffrey Wright, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston 
Storyline: The Watcher is back to explore alternate timelines in the multiverse 
No. of episodes: 9

Another strength of season 2 is how some of its episodes come together cohesively for the final showdown; it’s more of a miniature of the MCU that culminates into an Avengers film. There are some nifty callbacks to the previous season as well but given how long it’s been since we last saw that, they don’t really make an impression. But that said, who in their right mind would say no to zombie Marvel characters once again? While the final episode feels like a no-holds-barred display that puts aside the logic of the franchise itself — which we recently also witnessed in the final episode of the underwhelming Secret Invasion— it also reiterates how it’s fun at times to not go by the rule book. Speaking of rule book, for a series that doesn’t stick to such notions, it’s rather ironic that the media giant has had a comic book anthology series under the same name.

While the voice cast brings back the stars from the original gang — Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen and so on — Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson aren’t returning to voice their iconic roles. Though the able voice artists do a fine job, the actors are definitely missed given how recurrent their characters appear. What doesn’t work in favour of season 2 is the sheer lack of surprises that we got in season 1. By now, the animation style doesn’t gain them any cookie points and some of the episodes are clearly not on par with the rest.

But this season makes up for it with episode six, ‘What If... Kahhori Reshaped the World?’, which revolves around Kahhori, a Mohawk woman who gains superpowers, courtesy of the Space stone, which she uses to save her people from conquistadors. Apart from introducing an original MCU character, the episode celebrates the culture of the Indigenous community while also focusing on the terrors meted out by the conquistadors. It reminded me of Prey, which is arguably the best Predator film to date and instead of fighting the unknown like in the feature film, here, it’s about embracing the unknown for fighting for the right cause.

Despite not being as consistent as the first season, What If...? Season 2 builds up on the lore and the craziness that comes with it that’s unique to this series. At a time when superhero fatigue is much spoken about and the usual charm of Marvel is not working in favour of its feature films and series, What If...? is a fantastic deviation and a much-needed win for the franchise.

What If...? is currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar

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