There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people…
In its first episode Marvel’s What If…? experimented with using variant characters in a familiar story. In its second episode we saw a huge cast of variant character inhabiting an original story. Now in episode three What If…? is balancing out the two and creating its most successful episode to-date.
“Avengers Initiative” takes us back to the early days of the MCU, knitting together moments from each of the core Avengers MCU origin. Each one features a twist which puts the Avengers Initiative in danger, creating a tense and exciting murder mystery.
The cast of “Avengers Initiative” is much more concise than we saw in “Star-Lord.” Consequently the episode works much more cohesively. Returning voices from the MCU this week are Samuel L. Jackson (Nicy Fury), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Jaimie Alexander (Lady Siff) and Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow). Each has their place amongst the narrative and never has to fight to have their moment in the spotlight. In addition, Harley Quinn‘s Lake Bell does a brilliant job taking over as the voice of Black Widow, she sounds like Scarlett Johnasson but with enough originality to make the role her own.
Of the three episodes to-date “Avengers Initiative” feels like the one which fits the brief the most. The balance between the original storytelling and the familiar world is strongest here. For example, the scenes with Mark Ruffalo are set at the university seen in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, a film which Ruffalo never starred in. Here What If…? takes a tangential MCU moment and weaves it in to the core of the franchise.
Weaving in Loki, the Asguardians and Hank Pym helps the episode building to an exciting conclusion. One which fans won’t see coming. Additionally, there’s some classic Marvel humour which really helps give the ending a kick in the teeth. It’s an episode which pivots a number of times to keep the audience guessing and for that I can’t applaud it enough. The open ended story certainly leaves me with hope that this is a world we may return to in the future.
What If…? strikes a brilliant balance with its third episode. Taking familiar characters and a familiar story but spinning it off in a bold and original new direction.