DIRECTOR: Bryan Andrews

CAST: Jeffrey Wright, Jeremy Renner, Lake Bell, Toby Jones, Ross Marquand, Josh Keaton, Mick Wingert, Alexandra Daniels

RUNNING TIME: 30 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12

BASICALLY…: The Watcher (Wright) observes alternate versions of events throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

IN THIS EPISODE: Rogue AI Ultron (Marquand) takes over the universe – and beyond – using Vision’s indestructible body…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

For eight episodes of Marvel’s What If…?, The Watcher – as voiced by Jeffrey Wright – has observed and guided viewers through a vast, unpredictable multiverse where we’ve seen everything from Wakandan royalty becoming intergalactic Robin Hood figures, to a full-on zombie invasion. But now, for its penultimate outing (of season 1, at least), What If…? has shaken things up so much that even The Watcher can no longer, erm, watch from the shadows.

For the first time, The Watcher has become an unwilling participant in one of his own stories, adding to not just the completely apocalyptic story he is paying attention to, but also the flames of what could very well be a spectacular finale next week.

What gets The Watcher so involved, you may ask? The clue’s in the episode’s title, What If… Ultron Won? – taking place in a universe where Ultron (Ross Marquand, filling in for James Spader) was able to ignite the indestructible body that would have become Vision, the rogue AI has pretty much fulfilled his Earthly mission by destroying everything, save for lone Avengers Natasha Romanoff (Lake Bell) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) who head to Russia for a last-ditch attempt to stop their nemesis. Meanwhile, Ultron – who has also acquired all six Infinity Stones, thanks to poor timing on Thanos’ part – has taken his destructive programming to all corners of the galaxy, laying to waste dozens of planets in no time at all. Very soon, there is nothing left for Ultron to conquer and destroy.

But then, he notices something that should be impossible: the narration of a large-headed being with suspiciously pouty lips who’s watching everything from another dimension. Imagine if in The Twilight Zone, the aliens from the famous To Serve Man episode suddenly set their hungry eyes on Rod Serling midway through; that’s basically what happens here.

Naturally, The Watcher gets his fair share of screentime in this episode, adding fuel to a character we have only seen prior as much more of an observer than anything else. Here, we get to see him engage in pretty nifty combat, use his power of hopping from one universe to the next, and even grow frustrated when characters he’s watching are giving up just as they are about to make a breakthrough. Jeffrey Wright’s smooth voiceover work is fun and pleasant to listen to, as it has been for the entirety of What If…? so far, since it allows the actor to retain his character’s controlled dignity while also engaging in some traditional Marvel banter that just sound so cool coming out of his mouth in the recording booth. The Watcher also has a fight sequence that ranks highly among the stylised animated brawls in the series thus far, with each punch from an exceptionally powerful Ultron literally blasting them and us into several different universes in one go; credit must, once again, go to the animators and storyboard artists who crafted and realised these gorgeous frames with exceptional imagination, and who none of this intricate storytelling would even be possible.

Honestly, the stuff with Ultron and The Watcher is far more interesting to watch than what’s going on in the actual story that the latter is meant to be observing. It is mostly just a typical post-apocalyptic robot action movie plot (and yes, one character even explicitly mentions Skynet), with Black Widow and Hawkeye not being given much to do other than some nifty new tricks that only animation could allow – one of them has a new bionic appendage that’s pretty cool – and the return of a minor MCU character who, again, doesn’t do a whole lot other than lend additional snark to the heroes’ main plan. It’s fine enough, but every time it cuts to this section all you want is to go back to what is going on with either Ultron or The Watcher, or both at the same time.

Unlike most other What If…? episodes, though, it seems like this one is actually going to follow through on its cliffhanger, and perhaps even incorporate past episodes into what could very well be an action-packed and satisfying finale. It’ll be interesting to see how all the loose ends (or as many as it can do) will tie together next week, but for now I can confidently say that The Watcher, with all his observational powers, is shaping up to be a lot more than his name suggests.

SO, TO SUM UP…

What If… Ultron Won? sets up an action-packed finale with some unexpected showdowns and vibrant action, even though it is occasionally interrupted by a more straightforward post-apocalyptic narrative.

What If…?: Episodes 1-8 are now available on Disney+. Episode 9 will be available next week.

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