Sunday is usually reserved for watching movies I would never have gone to the theater to see now that they’ve hit the streaming services. Big budget action films with dubious plots for example, or media tie ins with old television franchises (like Transformers). This past Sunday, though, I opted to catch up on two series I’d been very interested in. The Marvel/Disney show, What if?, and the Star Wars/Disney show, The Bad Batch.
Marvel’s What If? has been a bit of a mixed bag so far, for me at least. I have particular needs when it comes to animation series. Not only good plots and good acting, but I seem to be one of the those unlucky few who can’t enjoy one without good animation. Or at least interesting animation. That’s an intrinsic quality of the medium for me, and why I bounce off so many shows others like.
What If? started strong with the Captain Peggy show, whereby Peggy Carter becomes the super soldier. Great animation style, excellent acting, although the plot begged for more than a relatively close repeat of the original Captain America movie and tried to jam too much into 30 minutes. The second episode, with T’Challa becoming Star Lord, had a better plot, but the animation was far inferior, reminding me of bad 80’s G.I. Joe cartoons, and there was some strange plot choices I didn’t care for. The third episode, with the Avengers being killed as Nick Fury tried to form them, fell right in the middle. Decent all around but nothing outstanding.
The fourth episode is the best of the bunch so far. In this one, we get to see What If Doctor Strange hadn’t been the one injured in the car wreck. Instead, the wreck killed Christine, who in this reality was the absolute love of his life. He still goes on to become the Sorcerer Supreme as he tries to find a way to cure his broken heart. But now, having obtained the Eye of Agamotto, he wonders if he can go back in time to save the woman he still loves.
This is a poignant, well acted episode. Benedict Cumberbatch has already done yeoman’s work in voice overs, and he’s more than able to carry his signature charm and charisma while channeling all the pain and heartbreak the episode deserves. Rachel McAdams remains one of the most underrated women working in movies today, and Christine is warm and funny and sad and perfect. Tilda Swinton returns as the ancient one. Even Leslie Bibi reprises her role as reporter Christine Everhart (first Ironman film if you remember). Marvel constantly impresses me by getting these folks back for an animated show. You get your money’s worth with this level of quality.
The plot is interesting for a change. Unlike Captain Peggy, we only briefly rehash the (slightly different in this universe) history of Doctor Strange. The rest of the show is an all new conceit, which plays off the arrogance of the good doctor to perfect effect while still allowing him to engage the audience as a sympathetic character. Who wouldn’t want to try and save the person they loved most from a terrible fate? It’s never that easy, though, for while Stephen Strange can travel back in time, he can’t actually stop Christine from dying, no matter how hard he tries. It seems some events in the past are fixed points, immutable. To change them would be to destroy all the fabric of time and space. But he’s going to keep trying to find a way, and it’s this fulcrum that propels the story into ever darker depths.
The animation style is simply gorgeous, among the best in American television. Very similar to Captain Peggy, but slightly more… drawn? I can’t really explain it, all I know is I was stunned by the graphics and how beautiful everything was. The smoothness of the characters and vehicles, the way light played a significant role in each scene. It simply blew me away.
If you haven’t yet started this series, this is a great place to begin. If you don’t love this episode, you can skip the rest.
Speaking of shows that channel G.I. Joe, Star Wars’ The Bad Batch is literally G.I. Joe set in the Star Wars universe. A group of clone troopers, each of whom has very specific traits that make them: very strong; excellent shot; very smart; etc, etc. They are literally walking stereotypes of “I’m only really good at one thing and my entire personality is wrapped around that one thing.”
I hated it.
A lot of folks love this series, and I understand why. But for me, these very narrowly drawn character tropes are tired. They were tired when the G.I. Joe television series was on in the 80’s, and they’re exhausted now. There’s no range to these people. In particular, I’m SO TIRED of “big, strong, really dumb guy.” There was no reason to make him really dumb, and the excuses made of how these troopers were experiments gone wrong resulting in their exceptional (but very minutely focused) skills and also their mental changes didn’t impress me.
The stories are fine, nothing too exciting after two episodes. The inclusion of a young female clone named Omega definitely reminds me this is a show for children, and that’s fine. The computer character animation is just okay, but the range of Star Wars ships and droids is really excellent and look great. The acting is not my cup of tea due to the way each character is reduced to its tropey single best attribute. All the main characters in the squad are voiced by once actor, which makes a certain sense (they’re clones after all), but he does a reasonable job of making each sound different.
One of the characters is Echo. I kept thinking I’d seen him before. He reminded me very much of Lando’s assistant, Lobot, because of the bald head and the wrap-around prosthetic he wears over his ears. Alas, not the same guy, which would have been kind of neat and would have worked with the Star Wars timeline, these stories taking place right after the Clone Wars ended.
I’m all for more Star Wars stories centered around anyone BUT the Jedi at this point. Unfortunately I’m bouncing off this series. I’ll probably return to it from time to time when I’m really bored, but this just isn’t for me.