What If? is a 2021 animated series created by Marvel Studios and released exclusively on Disney’s streaming service Disney Plus. The concept of the show is showing alternate timelines of the MCU and showing what would have happened if different things occurred in the films. For example, in the first episode we see what would have happened if Peggy Carter became Captain America instead of Steve Rogers. For this review I will be taking a look at the 4th episode What If Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands? This episode is based on the 2016 film Doctor Strange and features many returning cast members such as Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Steven Strange, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, Benedict Wong as Wong and Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One along with Jeffery Wright as the show’s narrator, The Watcher
This story shows what would have happened if instead of Steven Strange’s car crash prevented him from using his hands, it caused the death of his love interest Christine. He becomes obsessed with trying to save her by going back in time but because her death is a fixed point in time and saving her would cause a paradox he is unable to save her. After arguing with The Ancient One he is split in two with this version of Strange spending centuries absorbing powerful creatures from other universe’s so he can have the power to save Christine. After finding out that he has been split in two, this version of Strange, now dubbed Strange Supreme faces a good version of himself who has accepted Christine’s death. Supreme manages to defeat his good side and absorbs him so he can finally reverse Christine’s death. However, due to the paradox that he has created, the entire universe starts fading away. For the first time in the series, Strange talks to the Watcher and begs for him to save the world. The Watcher refuse’s saying that as a Watcher he is unable to interfere and that Strange was warned of the consequences. Christine disappears and Strange is left alone as the universe crumbles around him.
I loved the story of this episode as it’s depressing in the best possible way. You see the desperation in Strange at trying to save Christine and how frustrated he gets every time he fails, which makes his progression into becoming more powerful so he can do it make sense. It then makes it all the sadder that when he does finally save her it destroys the universe. This leads to my favourite scene in the episode, where Strange starts talking to the Watcher. This is the first time that the Watcher has interacted with anyone in the show as in previous and future episodes he is only used as the narrator of the show. So when Strange starts talking to him it is a surprise to the audience. Strange asks the Watcher to stop the universe from fading away but the Watcher cannot. Strange then asks to punish him instead and that the world shouldn’t pay for his own mistake. Again the Watcher refuse’s, stating that whilst he would love to punish him, he cannot interfere and that Strange should know full well why messing with time is a bad idea. I love the scene because of the blunt honesty that The Watcher gives to Strange whilst also calling him out for the mistake he made. Because of that I love how the episode doesn’t end with everything going back to normal. Strange actually faces consequences with his actions and he has to live with it. I also admire the guts that the writer’s had to end the episode on such a downer. This shows the benefits of doing an anthology show as they don’t have to worry about storyline progression. As every episode is a self-contained story they can get away with an ending that destroys everything. Another thing I like is that actually has a proper ending. One issue I’ve had with the other What If’s is they all seem to end on a “story for another time” way. For example, in the episode T’Challa (Black Panther) becomes Star Lord instead of Peter Quill it randomly ends with Quill being attacked by Ego the Living Planet. Whilst it does make sense in the story it can be frustrating to not get a proper ending and whilst they could maybe continue the story in a sequel episode it can still be annoying. But with this episode they don’t do that. Whilst Strange Supreme does return in a later episode, this story still has an ending.
Another thing I really liked was the voice acting. As mentioned earlier the show managed to bring back all the original actors from the official film which helps make the story feel legit. The performances are also really good with Benedict Cumberbatch giving the best one. He showcases every emotion that Strange is feeling perfectly from desperation when trying to save Christine, frustration at failing at being told he can’t save her and both sadness and fear when his actions cause the destruction of the universe. Some times when Celebrity’s do voice acting they can sometimes come across as not trying as hard and just doing it to get a pay cheque but Cumberbatch clearly cared about his role in the show and put just as much effort in as he would for a live action role. Even better is later on in the episode Strange is split in two and Cumberbatch does a great job at giving both version’s slightly different voices to show the difference in the two characters. The other actors are good as well, Rachel McAdams does well with the small time she has especially at the end where she is terrified of what Strange has become. Tilda Swinton also does good returning as the Ancient One, explaining to Strange why he can’t reverse Christine’s death. Finally, Jeffery Wright does a really good job as the Watcher. He has the perfect voice for the show’s narrator but also for the first time in the show manages to show some actual concern for the characters, leading him to actually interacting with the characters for the first time in the show and showing some actual anger to Strange for ruining his world for purely selfish reasons.
Finally, I really liked the animation. I think the animation for the whole show is good but this episode excels over every other episode. The show goes for a very stylized look where it looks like it’s 2D but it’s actually CGI. Because of this the show can look like the movie it emulates whilst also being able to do more creative stuff that wouldn’t be possible in Live Action. For example, in this episode during the scene where Strange is absorbing creatures, many of the creatures are drawn in traditional 2D animation to make them stand out and they look beautiful. The animation when the universe starts breaking is great as well with the colours starting to fade away from objects and people, causing them to disappear. Culminating in the whole world disappearing into a black void with nothing left.
In conclusion, this is the best episode of the show so far with an amazing story, great acting and beautiful animation. My only issue is that maybe it’s too depressing at points but even then that just makes the story work so much more as you have an attachment with these characters and this world so watching it all disappear hit’s you much harder. For that reason, I give this a 5/5 and I look forward to the future to see what other stories they will tell in the future.