Spoilers follow for the Season 1 finale of What If…?, which is now streaming on Disney Plus. For more, check out our reviews of all the previous episodes:
What If…? Season 1, Episode 1 – Review
What If…? Season 1, Episode 2 – Review
What If…? Season 1, Episode 3 – Review
What If…? Season 1, Episode 4 – Review
What If…? Season 1, Episode 5 – Review
What If…? Season 1, Episode 6 – Review
What If…? Season 1, Episode 7 – Review
What If…? Season 1, Episode 8 – Review
After eight episodes of build-up, The Watcher finally breaks his oath this week… well, again, he already did that last week. But now, The Watcher is going on offense with a team of cosmic Avengers to stop the multiverse’s latest threat: Ultron. It’s a set-up fraught with peril for a show that has, to this point, often let good storytelling take a backseat to the action. That dynamic recurs this week, with a climactic showdown that often miscalculates when to hold back and when to let loose. In that way, What If’s first season manages to end with both a bang and a whimper.
After Ultron’s (Ross Marquand) victory last week, The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) and Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch) agree that the only way to stop the robot is to, in grand Marvel fashion, assemble a team. The ensuing sequence of The Watcher gathering his chosen warriors gives What If the chance to put a button on some of the loose ends it’s created. Instead, scenes like a Dairy Queen-set attack on Ego and Shuri and Pepper storming Wakanda’s throne room to face Killmonger are just used as backdrop, which was a missed opportunity to bring those storylines to a more satisfying close. It does, however, culminate with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) hilariously shrieking as he’s pulled into the sky in the middle of an excellent battle cry. “Thor, but dumber and funnier” has been one of What If’s greatest successes to date.
The bulk of the episode is dedicated to, you guessed it, a giant fight against Ultron! And after last week’s mind-bending, multiverse-shattering trip through the cosmos, the finale’s showdown was underwhelming. With Ultron nigh-invincible thanks to a full set of Infinity Stones, it’s a series of attempts to slow Ultron that are obviously destined to fail, and no amount of explosions or zombies pouring out of sky portals can add momentum to that effort. The fight is basically a rehash of Infinity War’s battle on Titan, with the Guardians of the Multiverse attempting to separate the Stones from Ultron’s body. But with all these heroes strangers to each other and to their foe, it’s hard to get emotionally invested in the action, especially after how good a job last week’s episode did at handling Clint’s story.
Marvel’s What If…?: Every New and Returning MCU Actor
There are some effective moments through the clash, though. At one point, the heroes manage to separate the Soul Stone from Ultron, and the camera focuses on the stone on the ground, restricting perspective as the battle happens around it. A close up of a rock on the ground is the most cinematic moment of this cosmically scaled showdown, a great reminder that getting the story’s foundation right is far more important than focusing too much on the chaotic action running through it. But the finale relies on shoddy plotting left and right to push itself forward. At one point, Black Widow (Lake Bell) is sent careening across the city into a random building… the one in which her motorcycle and last remaining magic hacking arrow are waiting in a beam of light! When you’ve already had the hand of a demigod involved in getting your finale to where it needs to be, deus ex machina is overkill.
Speaking of, sidelining the powerful Watcher while he waited to freeze Zola (Toby Jones) and the treacherous Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in a pocket universe doesn’t make sense. He’s already broken his oath by assembling his Guardians (the title of the episode is “What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath?”), why stop there? He’s perfectly happy dropping Widow in a universe where her Variant died; that sure feels like interference to me. It took Ultron levelling countless universes for The Watcher to become an active participant and now all it takes is a stern look from Natasha Romanoff? While Jeffrey Wright’s performance has been solid throughout the season, it would’ve been nice to see more thought given to establishing The Watcher as a character to make sense of these idiosyncrasies.