I was surprised when Chris Hemsworth showed up for this episode, but even more surprised when Academy Award winner Natalie Portman’s named came up on the titles next. Especially since the part is entirely a girlfriend role, even more than I remember her part being in the first Thor movie. They’ve also got Tom Hiddleston and a bunch of other actors. There are some very notable recasts, however. For example, the title just as well could be “What If… Thor Was an Only Child and His Mom Was an Afrikaner.” Josette Eales is in for Rene Russo, which is a bummer because the Mom role is prominent in the episode, and Russo and Hemsworth’s reuniting in Avengers: Endgame could’ve used a post-script. The other significant recast is Alexandra Daniels in for Academy Award winner Brie Larson. It’s a big deal because the episode’s about Thor wanting to party all the time and Captain Marvel being a serious Buzz Killington.
It turns out Odin not keeping Loki as a hostage child meant an entirely different Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not just one where Loki isn’t teaming up with Thanos, but a generally more peaceful, friendly intergalactic bunch of party animals. All thanks to Thor not having to deal with Loki’s conniving. It’s also unclear if there’s an Iron Man or whatever. But apparently, there’s not a Starlord, but it’s thousands of years of Earth history changed. The episode doesn’t acknowledge any of those changes, instead relying on sight gags, cameos, and general good humor.
And it works. I mean, Kat Dennings is a major supporting player for the first half. Right up until she, Portman, and Cobie Smulders get together for a girl talk and flush Bechdel down the toilet.
It’s unclear what’s up with Hydra because Frank Grillo’s guy is played for laughs here. So presumably, some aspects of World War II went differently in this reality.
Speaking of realities, Jeffrey Wright has very little narration this episode. It’s great.
There are some other amusing cameos and in-jokes. And it’s fun. Being fun helps. Hemsworth’s good at the humor, enough it helps Portman’s phoned-in performance. Literally phoned-in? Possibly, based on her differing audio quality. Maybe they told her Larson did these cartoons too, and then she found out they suckered her.
Oh, and Seth Green’s finally Howard the Duck long enough to confirm… he’s not good. Though the scenes are still funny tJhanks to the costars.
Maybe “What If” should just lean on its strengths, like being amiably sophomoric. The narrower its swings, the better.