What If… Marvel’s animated series resembled Star Wars: Visions?

"The Twins." Star Wars: Visions. Courtesy of StarWars.com.
"The Twins." Star Wars: Visions. Courtesy of StarWars.com. /

Star Wars: Visions demonstrates how Marvel’s first MCU animated show could have expanded the universe instead of developing insignificant ponderings.

Star Wars has been responsible for some of the best animated shows of this century. And its latest, Star Wars: Visions, is its most audacious yet, allowing anime studios to construct efficient one-off stories within the Star Wars universe. The risk pays off immensely, not only with their masterful storytelling abilities, but also with an invigorating visual texture that immaculately coexists within this science fiction setting.

Marvel’s What If…? is the first animated series set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, whether it takes place in the MCU is debatable – the storylines are reimaginings of previous events with specific variations to the original content. While Star Wars: Visions’ plots could canonically exist within that universe’s timeline, What If…? operates under the assumption that there are endless alternate universes where anything is possible, such as Peggy Carter becoming a super-soldier instead of Steve Rogers.

So why bother comparing Star Wars: Visions and Marvel’s What If…? besides the fact that they are both animated shows that hit the Disney Plus streaming service around the same time? Well, as episodic anthology series, both are first of their kinds for their respective franchises. Each studio has given the talent behind them almost complete creative freedom. Although Visions brought original protagonists to the Star Wars universe, What If…? essentially allowed the writers to take any MCU character, along with the skeleton of established stories, and reassemble them in any way, shape, or form.

They are both successful on their own merits, but vast disparities in quality are quite clear from the very beginning of each series; Star Wars: Visions is poignant, stimulating, and downright groundbreaking, while Marvel’s What If…? is merely a little bit of fun. Which leads us to a hypothetical thesis: An MCU animated series along the lines of what Visions accomplished would have been better than What If…?.

Obviously if the MCU emulated Visions‘ narrative approach, their show would then cease to be Marvel’s What If…?, and would need to be renamed something closer to Marvel’s Visions. A Marvel Visions project could carry with it a promise of more meaningful, relevant, and consequential chronicles of the MCU’s history than What If…? ever could. Theoretically, Marvel could still acknowledge how Visions is the superior animated experience and can decide to go that route in the near future while still continuing with its sophomore season of What If…?.

As entertaining as it was to watch all of the multiverse plot points converge in the grand finale, the ramifications of What If…? are fundamentally hollow. Black Widow died in Avengers: Endgame in the prime timeline… so what? Let’s just move the setting to an alternate universe so that she can live on. Maybe some avenues were never explored with particular heroes in the movies because it would take them down an uncertain path in forthcoming storylines. In What If…?, they can keep resetting the stage over and over with impunity for future consequences.

The point here is not to be a What If…? party pooper – were some of the episodes enjoyable to watch? Very much so. But for a franchise that was the pride of interconnectivity and story continuity across dozens of films, What If…? turns its back on that credo.

Star Wars: Visions, on the other hand, never betrays its canonical content. Both series employ an anthology tactic, but Visions’ producers recognize how there are so many potential worlds and characters that endure in the universe and deploy that concept as a launchpad for their series. Plus, the mood and style of the various chapters are incredibly vibrant and inventive. Perhaps that is the most uniquely laudable function of Visions, and it all wouldn’t mean much if the short tales didn’t leave us wanting more or if the mysterious protagonists didn’t capture our imagination.

What If…? focuses on many heroes that have already been covered in depth. The Visions formula could have definitely worked well if it were applied to some of the dozens of named characters that the MCU has barely cracked the surface of yet. How about a one-off with the Warriors Three or an adventure about the original Ant-Man and Wasp? Or there could be many clever ways of introducing brand new characters that were impacted by the world of the Avengers in the same vein as Star Wars: Visions, where the chapters are essentially side stories of the larger imperial conflict within the Star Wars Universe.

Marvel could even flesh out accounts that we have only heard about in passing, such as the battle of Harokin that Thor mentions a few times, or what about War Machine’s anecdote that he likes to repeat for laughs in Age of Ultron; you know, the one that ends with “boom, you looking for this?”. There are countless possibilities, but that is actually the case with both Visions and What If…?.

The core of the issue is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is already immensely rich with content from its original timeline/universe, therefore branching off into alternate versions is a bit overwhelming. And because it is inherently growing with each new property or sequel, retelling old storylines with a twist is obviously not vital for its survival or its expansion. As it currently stands, Marvel’s What If…? is the only piece of MCU content that is not essential viewing. If Marvel would have instead produced an animated show akin to Visions, fans might have been completely invested rather than passively indifferent.

Both Star Wars: Visions and Marvel’s What If…? are available to watch on Disney Plus.

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Were you on board for Marvel’s What If…? or do you wish that the superhero franchise would have stayed within the bounds of its established universe similar to what Star Wars: Visions accomplished? Let us know in the comments below.