The following contains spoilers for season two of “What If…?”
Over the course of nine days starting from Dec. 22, audiences returned to the Marvel multiverse with the release of “What If…?” season two. Each episode takes viewers through alternate realities that feature new stories, battles and twists on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s, or MCU’s, heroes and villains.
While the season overall is not better than season one, it does have better individual episodes. Here are season two’s episodes ranked, from worst to best.
9. “What If… Iron Man Crashed Into the Grandmaster?” (Episode Four)
Mario Kart with Marvel characters, and it is not as fun as it sounds. In an attempt to imitate the nonstop adventure and wit of “Thor: Ragnarok,” the episode moves way too fast, which is an odd complaint for a story about racing. The dialogue goes a million miles a minute and is crammed full of painfully bad jokes. The Grandmaster is a complete buffoon the entire time who just spouts complete and utter nonsense. The only good idea in this episode, which is about Tony Stark being stuck on another planet and building an Iron Man suit out of alien technology, isn’t fully explored. Because the episode moves so quickly, the audience doesn’t get to see Stark experiment with the technology, a part that made the film “Iron Man” so interesting. Stark instead builds a suit with no problems at all. This episode also contains a subplot about Gamora teaming up with Stark to kill Thanos, which is horribly developed and shoehorned in at the end.
8. “What If… Kahhori Reshaped the World?” (Episode Six)
Episode six fails on the promise of its own premise by trying to introduce a completely new character. The title character, Kahhori, does not even have a history in Marvel Comics to draw upon but was made for this show specifically. Because of this lack of connection to not just the MCU but Marvel as a whole, the episode feels out of place in the series. This lack of connection does provide the episode with a few unique elements, specifically the way the entire episode is spoken in the native language of the Mohawk Nation and Spanish. While it is aesthetically unique from the rest of the episodes, it doesn’t deliver on the multiversal fun the series promises.
7. “What If… Strange Supreme Intervened?” (Episode Nine)
The “What If…?” season two finale commits character assassination both figuratively and literally. Strange Supreme was given such a powerful arc about overcoming grief in “What If…?” season one. Season two undoes all of that character development off-screen, ruining one of the best parts of MCU phase four. Episode nine is also subject to extreme character bias. Captain Carter is able to wield all the infinity stones with ease, the same feat that nearly killed Thanos, injured the Hulk and killed Iron Man. The only reason this episode is as high as it is is because it does follow up on a plot point from “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” about Doctor Strange being the biggest threat to the multiverse.
6. “What If… Captain Carter Fought the Hydra Stomper?” (Episode Five)
A good enough episode that is let down by its main character. As someone who watched the “Agent Carter” TV show, the character Peggy Carter is not inherently interesting enough to lead her own show, and that applies to “What If…?” as well. The relationship between Carter and Black Widow feels natural since they are the only two women in the Avengers, but Carter is so bland and stoic that every interaction is carried by Black Widow trying to make the audience like her. There is one heartfelt scene between Carter and Steve Rogers, but one good scene doesn’t save an episode.
5. “What If… Nebula Joined the Nova Corps?” (Episode One)
“Blade Runner” in the MCU. The season premiere delivered a solid episode with fun characters and the best animation the series has had so far in this ranking. It is also a fun surprise how well the Marvel characters map to a noir detective story. Nebula works great as the rough-around-the-edge, no-nonsense detective. Howard the Duck is always a fun addition, and it is great seeing him fill a bigger role in this episode as a mob boss. Episode one also lifts shots directly out of the “Blade Runner” franchise, which gives it a distinct artistic direction and shot composition.
4. “What If… Hela Found the Ten Rings? (Episode Seven)
A great character study for one of the MCU’s more memorable villains. Hela is given a great arc that feels true to her character from “Thor: Ragnarok,” while also taking her in a new direction. Another great addition to the episode is the return of Xu Wenwu from “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Seeing this character go toe-to-toe with Odin was a sight to behold that shows off how formidable of a combatant he is as well as how powerful the 10 rings are.
3. “What If… Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?” (Episode Three)
The MCU adapts one of the best action films ever made, “Die Hard.” The dynamic between Happy Hogan and Darcy Lewis is so entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Justin Hammer is such a lively villain and delivers the best jokes in the entire series. The episode does a fun spin on iconic moments from “Die Hard” as well as including well-done references to holiday classics like “A Christmas Story” and “Jingle All the Way.”
2. “What If… Peter Quill Attacked Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?” (Episode Two)
An episode that capitalizes on the rich history inside of the MCU. The MCU has such a rich pantheon of older characters that it makes sense that an Avengers-like team could form in the 1980s. The episode brings back characters like Bill Foster and Wendy Larson from “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “Captain Marvel” respectively. It also recontextualizes well-established characters like Hank Pym and the Winter Soldier. The episode’s ability to expand on familiar characters and the idea of a super team, in such a new and refreshing way for the MCU, is how “What If…?” shines the most.
1. “What If… the Avengers Assembled in 1602?” (Episode Eight)
The MCU meets classic English literature and it works beautifully. Taking influence from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” gives the episode a gravitas that adds to its universe-ending stakes. Having Captain America be the Robin Hood of this universe perfectly echoes his character in “Avengers: Infinity War.” The relationship between Captain America and Captain Carter as these star-crossed lovers who are fated to keep losing each other throughout the multiverse is beautifully tragic and does make you feel bad for these characters.
Featured Image Courtesy of Marvel Studios