The fourth entry of Marvel Studios’ What If…? anthology follows what would happen if Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) lost the love of his life instead of the use of his hands in his fateful car accident. What follows is a cacophony of emotion, death, sacrifice and, of course, a few magical spells.
Episode four continues the now three week streak of hits for What If…?, with an absolutely amazing episode that delivers a great plot, acting, animation and more. Any doubts I may have had about this episode not living up to the previous two were completely squashed by its perfect ending that completely encapsulates the potential for what this series can be on its best day.
While the overall quality and entertainment factors may not reach the constant highs of the previous two episodes, the ending of episode four is the best of the series to date, feeling more like Black Mirror than anything the series has presented before. The constant darkness surrounding both Strange and the settings he inhabits throughout the episode helps develop and deliver on the tone the creators were going for. Some may see the dark nature of this episode as an odd deviation from the usual tone of the MCU, but that’s exactly what this show is meant to do at its core, deviate.
As mentioned previously, the acting in this episode is fantastic. The entirety of the live-action cast returns to voice their animated counterparts, something the series has struggled to do so far. Benedict Cumberbatch is great, as per usual, in this role. This time he takes on double duty, voicing two different versions of himself. Benedict Wong is also great in his limited screen time, as is Tilda Swinton, who returns as the Ancient One.
Jeffrey Wright is also given a lot more to do this week as The Watcher, which is a welcome change.
Rachel McAdams returns as Dr. Christine Palmer, Strange’s love interest, and is mostly fine in the role. While she’s no weak link in the chain that is this series’ cast, her lack of voice acting experience shows a bit. Her performance doesn’t make her feel like the same character she played in the Doctor Strange film, instead feeling like a completely different character. While this isn’t a big problem, it’s one of the only nitpicks to be had about the episode as a whole.
The animation is absolutely fantastic this week; every scene feels full of life (or death) and has an energy unmatched by the previous episodes. It feels like a lot more effort went into making this episode more visually unique than the others, with all the magical elements constantly on display and the universe-altering repercussions that result from them. It’s a visual feast highlighted by several scenes similar to when Strange was sent flying through different dimensions in his original film.
What starts as a seemingly close retelling of Doctor Strange quickly becomes its own thing, and it’s all the better for it. Having an episode with the scale only possible in the MCU alongside the hopelessness, darkness and introspection of another anthology series like Black Mirror is a definite recipe for success. The more What If…? embraces the more out-there side of the MCU’s multiverse and has the great ideas to compliment it, the more this series will continue to thrive and create its own corner of the multiverse. While that corner may differ in its content, tone and topic from week to week, it will always have its own definitive place.