CAST: Jeffrey Wright, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Frank Grillo, Taika Waititi, Karen Gillan, Jaimie Alexander, Seth Green, Alexandra Daniels, Rachel House, Josette Eales, David Chen, Fred Tatasciore, Max Mittelman, Clancy Brown
RUNNING TIME: 36 mins
BASICALLY…: The Watcher (Wright) observes alternate versions of events throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
IN THIS EPISODE: Thor (Hemsworth) arrives on Earth to throw a massive intergalactic party…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
After a number of pretty dark episodes in a row, Marvel’s What If…? finally lets itself loose and remembers to have a bit more fun with itself. It’s appropriate, then, that the lightest episode yet in the animated anthology series focuses on one of the most charismatic and entertaining heroes in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe… only he’s not so much of a hero in this one, but more of a rowdy party animal you’d find in a movie like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
What If… Thor Were An Only Child? explores exactly that; a universe where, instead of being taken in by Odin, infant Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is returned to his native people on Jotunheim. Since the relationship between brothers Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki in the main timeline is so integral not just for the fate of the wider universe but also their eventual humbling and morphing into heroes and anti-heroes respectively, the removal of that means that, in this universe, Thor has grown into a spoiled, irresponsible prince of Asgard who treats numerous corners of the Nine Realms as his personal party spots. His latest destination is “Midgard”, aka Earth, where species from across the galaxy descend for a non-stop rave that starts bringing about chaos across the planet, and leads Earth scientist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her sidekick Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Acting Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) – filling in for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) after he is, erm, disposed of early on – to call in outside sources to stop the hard-partying Thor from bringing about potential destruction.
Of the What If…? episodes thus far, this one is undoubtedly leaning the heaviest into comedic territory, specifically the rowdy teen party type like you’d find in Animal House or Superbad. You have cameos from intergalactic players across the MCU being shown in wild party mode – Nebula (Karen Gillan) is throwing dice at a craps table, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) is serving as a DJ, and even Howard the Duck (Seth Green) gets hitched to a very unexpected human bride in one of the funniest throwaway gags in the episode – and wrecking international monuments in the same way that rambunctious teens would desecrate their host’s house in one of those other films. When you take the senseless destruction part out of it, there is great fun to be had in watching these characters completely running rampant without any boundaries or self-control, often resulting in hilarious sight gags and, in the case of the more sensible human characters, amusing reactions to seeing such wild incidents take place with weird alien creatures.
At the centre of it all is a version of Thor who is not dissimilar to the arrogant and brash version we met in his origin movie ten years ago (!), but with that key element of a true brotherly connection now gone, he’s become someone much less heroic that it’s a marvel he’s still worthy enough to wield Mjolnir. The Thor of this universe is a complete frat boy, like he’s the Van Wilder: Party Liaison of the Nine Realms, and Chris Hemsworth is very much up for the vocal challenge of transforming his beloved Marvel hero into this obnoxious party animal while still turning up the charm to eleven. However, the episode is also a firm reminder of how, in the main timeline we’re more familiar with, the true brotherly connection between Thor and Loki really is so important, because without the other they will not be given a chance to develop the humility that made them such well-rounded characters, and slightly more importantly the universe would not necessarily be their wild stomping grounds. Nowhere is that clearer than the moments in this episode where we see Thor and Loki – who is here now completely immersed among the Frost Giants of Jotunheim – not as brothers, but as bros; two borderline douchebags who are the kind of guys you would not necessarily want to be alone with at a frat party, but still declare themselves spiritual brothers because of their combined love for partying and picking up ladies. Though it is definitely humorous to see someone like Loki act so frat-boyish, it’s also a little sad since you know how well they function together in the main timeline, and to see them reduced to such obnoxious behaviour because of a singular decision made when one was an infant makes their original and much more uneasy bond all the more palatable and even wholesome.
It is a fun episode on the whole, and definitely the most that What If…? has scored a lot of consistent laughs, with even the parts where it needs to be a Marvel property given a light source of inspiration. A continents-spanning throwdown between Thor and an intergalactic “party pooper” – to not give away their identity – contains some decent action set to some stellar (as ever) animation where the mere imagery of thunderous clouds and bright yellow lights can be the stuff of ponderous beauty, and it’s enjoyable spotting the numerous familiar faces in the background, some of whom are reaching deep into the realm of MCU obscurity for the sake of an unexpected laugh. Also, the presence of the ever-polarising Darcy isn’t too straining (then again, I’ve never found her annoying like a lot of people apparently do), and as for Jeffrey Wright’s The Watcher, while his presence is minimal at best, there are a couple of moments where even he gets to deliver a funny reaction – especially during an ending which possibly sets up a much darker future for this timeline than first appears.
While there are episodes which perhaps reach deeper into the emotions than this one does, What If… Thor Were An Only Child? remains a series highlight just for how much unapologetic fun it is having, and for the sheer enjoyment of watching familiar MCU faces like Thor act so irresponsibly like you actually are watching a teen party movie from the 80s. This is what What If…? should strive to be: an anthology series which goes into strong detail about alternative events in the MCU, but also remembers to make the most of how fun exploring such events can be.
SO, TO SUM UP…
What If… Thor Were An Only Child? is a fun and rowdy episode that depicts many familiar MCU faces, including a far more careless Thor, letting loose and enjoying themselves in a frat party scenario, leading to a lot of funny and entertaining visuals as well as some decent action set to occasionally stunning animation.