Apparently, at some point, if you’ve been a superhero long enough—in this case, Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s five years in—you eventually end up in a junkyard having a Superman III fight; wait, so was Christopher Reeve. Anyway, in this universe, Rachel McAdams is not a disposable girlfriend character in Doctor Strange; she’s the all-powerful girlfriend in a refrigerator. And after she dies instead of Cumberbatch losing the use of his hands, he becomes obsessed with going back in time and bringing her back, even though wise Asian sidekick Benedict Wong tells him it’s a bad idea.
Cumberbatch doesn’t listen, obviously, because he’s the white male savior, and A.C. Bradley’s script for “What If: Doctor Strange” impressively brings in all the colonizing white male saviorism of the movie. He discovers McAdams dying is a fixed point in the timeline—can’t wait to see if anything else time travel going forward in the MCU respects this nonsense—and there’s nothing he can do. Or so Tilda Swinton tells him. She has to bring herself back from the dead to warn him.
But she’s just a girl—I really hope Swinton’s magic bald white lady cultural appropriationist has some amazing history, like she was a missionary to China in the 1800s—so he runs off to find someone who’ll help him. So he goes searching for the mythical library of Cogliostro (or something, I’m just assuming it’s Cogliostro because Cogliostro is Nicol Williamson from Spawn and it’s hilarious to think Marvel-Disney’s ripping off Todd MacFarlane now) but only finds a Black guy dressed in tribal attire who doesn’t seem to speak English.
It doesn’t turn out to be a cringe-y Wakanda reference, and instead, the Black guy, played by Ike Amadi, does speak English; Cumberbatch is just a shitty white guy who assumes making demands while speaking loudly and slowly is the way to get through to people with different color skin.
There’s then a bunch of magic stuff when Cumberbatch is absorbing interdimensional monsters—if there are any Easter eggs, I missed them, save a reference to the Cthulhu from the first episode of “What If”—before eventually discovering there’s going to be the Superman III junkyard fight. It’s going to resolve the episode.
During said junkyard fight, there are moments when you can see the potential in a “Doctor Strange” cartoon. Unfortunately, this episode doesn’t realize them. But you could do it. Even as cheap as they do this episode.
Jeffrey Wright gets to interact with the main story. His voice acting is worse when doing it, but Cumberbatch is somewhat risible, so it’s nice to have a reminder “What If” doesn’t promise any good acting whatsoever. Of course, Wong, Swinton, and Amadi are fine. McAdams seems to have contributed a paragraph of dialogue they keep rearranging, but she’s at least better than Cumberbatch or Wright.
The most compelling experience during the episode is waiting for Wanda to show up since she’s supposedly more powerful than Doctor Strange in the MCU now. Clearly, Elizabeth Olsen has a better agent than Cumberbatch.
Otherwise, it’s just marveling at how cheap the animation’s getting and Cumberbatch’s inability to emote.