What If…? (2021) s01e03 – What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?

What a profoundly stinky stinker of an episode. And not just because the writing is terrible (script credit to A.C. Bradley and Matthew Chauncey), the animation is sparse and cheap, and Lake Bell does a terrible job voicing Black Widow. Because everything about it is bad. Down to the villain reveal. “What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” is about three fateful days in 2010 when Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and Thor 1 are all happening simultaneously—whoever thought that bad idea need realizing was wrong—except someone’s killing all the mighty heroes.

Now, the episode opens during a scene in Iron Man 2. Samuel L. Jackson’s back—Jackson puts in way more of a voice performance than the animation deserves, especially when there’s a semi-Matrix fight scene with him and you wonder if someone got him and Larry Fishburne confused—but Bell’s voicing Black Widow (one assumes Scarlett Johansson wouldn’t have been back even if she wasn’t suing Disney for what amounts to sexual discrimination) and not great actor Mick Wingert is playing the Robert Downey Jr. part. Luckily it’s a brief performance because the scene ends with Iron Man dropping dead and Black Widow in custody.

Except Sam Jackson knows she’s good, so he breaks her out and gives her the mission to find out what’s really going on. She interrupts a scene in The Incredible Hulk; Mark Ruffalo plays Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner, and Stephanie Panisello plays Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross. Panisello’s worse than Bell, which is saying something, but the animation on this part of the episode is the cheapest, so it’s having an increasingly negative effect. Plus, the writing’s terrible, and the sequence is boring, and they couldn’t convince William Hurt to do a half dozen lines. So instead, Michael Patrick McGill fills in as the general hunting the Hulk, and… well, McGill’s not William Hurt.

At the same time, Jackson’s trying to avert an alien invasion of Earth without having to use his Captain Marvel beeper because you know Brie Larson’s not showing up, so Bell’s on her own.

It’s a silly, lousy episode with some really cheap moments. Not narratively cheap. Even though the whole thing ends up based on a twist reveal and one too close to DC Comics’s Identity Crisis wavelength—because if DC’s not going to adapt their material, Marvel’s fine using it. But visually cheap. The animation is of the “too cheap to be taken seriously” variety. Disney+ didn’t even give them enough money to get through ninety minutes without the cash running out. What a gem.

I guess… kudos to Jackson for holding it together? No one else is anywhere near as professional. Clark Gregg sounds like he’s literally phoning it in. Tom Hiddleston shows up for a bit and does a little better. But only a little. Jeremy Renner seems held hostage. And is Jaimie Alexander trying to sound British?

You know who’s actually just fine this episode? Jeffrey Wright. He’s got the least amount of lines ever, and it works for his performance.

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