What If…? debuted last week with a great spin on the origin of Captain America, twisting a familiar premise into something new and different, and altering the rest of the MCU in little waves that fans like me can debate endlessly. The second episode changes things on a more cosmic level, with a lot of fascinating repercussions. As with last week, the title gives you basic concept: “What If T’Challa Became A Star-Lord?” This is, it’s worth noting, the last performance of any kind from Chadwick Boseman. This will be a shorter review than normal, because I’m tapdancing hard to avoid spoilers.
The Ravagers get to Earth, as in the Marvel Cinematic Universe we know, but this time Yondu doesn’t go along for the capture of young Peter Quill. His enthusiastic but not really bright underlings manage to end up on the wrong continent entirely, and instead bring back young T’Challa, who had been chafing under the restrictions of palace life and had snuck past the Wakandan cloaking field to see some of the world. Yondu is annoyed at the Ravagers, but apparently not enough to go actually find Quill. Instead, impressed by T’Challa’s love of exploration, Yondu decides to bring him along, and the MCU as we know it changes yet again.
Some twenty years later, we see the opening scene of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, except more has changed than just T’Challa taking Quill’s place. The two are very different people, and the raid on Morag to get an Infinity Stone plays out very, very differently, most noticeably from the reactions of Korath, Ronan’s henchman. In many ways, it seems like T’Challa has become what Quill always wanted to be. The Ravagers meet up in a bar after their newest success, and the goals they talk about are surprising. So is the membership of the group, as some familiar faces are living very different lives. One of those new versions of someone we know comes to the team with a new job, including large risks but a major reward of the sort the improved Ravagers are interested in.
After a lot of discussion, which tells us a bit about the new lives of some of the characters, the team naturally accepts. They go to plan a heist, targeting a new and powerful force in the cosmos, who has gathered new allies to their side. It’s a bit like a cosmic Ocean’s Eleven, with a lot of twists and surprises along the way. There are more cameos, and a big fight that reveals some things have really not gone well back on Earth, as well as a big shock for T’Challa. There’s also a passing reference that a minor character from a different movie did not fare well in this reality. Altogether, it’s a much darker universe, despite T’Challa being a positive presence in space.
Eventually, the mission wraps up, a resounding success for almost everyone involved. T’Challa’s words, and compassion, prove to be a key piece to their success, and it’s the kind of thing that Peter Quill, for his various talents, couldn’t have pulled off. Armed with new truths, T’Challa and the Ravagers make another journey, and there’s a reunion of a surprising kind. That’s not the only one, as, elsewhere, a meeting between two close kin might mean doom for everyone… but, as the Watcher says to end the episode, that’s another story.
What I liked: I was deeply saddened to hear of Chadwick Boseman’s death, and it was nice to hear him one last time in the role of T’Challa. This new version of the MCU was a darker place in many ways, but it was interesting to see the positive changes that the Guardians of the Galaxy would never have been able to accomplish, no disrespect to any of them or their fans. Seeing familiar characters in new incarnations is always fascinating, and it was interesting to parse out here. Just as in the first episode, they got a truly impressive percentage of the original actors to come back and voice their characters. T’Challa made an amazing Black Panther, but you could argue he was more effective as Star-Lord.
What I didn’t: Despite some comic relief and a few obvious jokes, this was a darker world. Some of the Easter Eggs they threw in really made me want to know what happened, and we never will. I feel bad for some of the characters in their new lives.
This really impressed me. I’ll give this a high 3.5 out of 5. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of this season.