A Spoiler-Free Review of WHAT IF...? S1E2: What if...T-Challa Became a Star-Lord?
While it is heartbreaking to listen to what has become Chadwick Boseman's last MCU performance, it also gave extra weight to every word his character T'Challa uttered in this episode. And boy, did the writers of this episode give both Boseman and T'Challa a grand finale. This episode is filled with the power of hope, positive thinking, social justice, and peace.
In What If?, one choice can create limitless possibilities and new timelines. This time, The Watcher shows us what happens when a young T'Challa goes outside Wakanda's protective dome to explore the world, and the Ravagers kidnap him, their ship's sensors set to extraterrestrial energies. Instead of homing in on Peter Quill (whose father is a cosmic being of immense power), they home in on the ancient alien mound of Vibranium in Wakanda. Young world explorer T'Challa can't resist Yondu's offer to explore all the worlds.
We learn this in a flashback sequence, but first we get a recreation of the events of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, on which this episode is based. Specifically, the Indiana Jones-y tomb-raiding scene where Star-Lord steals an Infinity Stone and is confronted by Korath (Djimon Hounsou). This time, Star-Lord's reputation actually does precede him, and Korath is a true fanboy when he realizes who he is facing. Their entertaining banter is so fast and well-timed, I would be surprised if they weren't in the recording booth together. If not, then major kudos go to the editor for making it seem like they were.
Later, we meet all of this alternate reality's Ravagers as they celebrate their Infinity Stone score in a colorful alien bar. I won't spoil the team's surprising line-up. Let's just say T'Challa's powers of persuasion have led to recruiting interesting and powerful Ravagers, and in doing so, many violent MCU events we are familiar with have been avoided. Nebula is very different—she has hair. And WOW, what hair it is. If the character designers were going to give Nebula hair, why not give her the best hair in the history of the galaxy (Veronica Lake and Jessica Rabbit should be very flattered). She has a job offer and a plan to help the Ravagers steal a valuable artifact.
We never see the Infinity Stone revealed or entrusted to The Collector, as in GotG (nor do we see what becomes of it), but the Ravagers will still meet him, because Nebula reveals he has this valuable artifact in his possession. T'Challa's influence on Yondu and the Ravagers has been a noble one: in addition to becoming actual Guardians of the Galaxy by stopping alien invasions and wars, they've also become the Robin Hoods of the Galaxy, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. The Collector's artifact can terraform planets (hello, Genesis Device!), which would benefit the entire galaxy. T'Challa's credo: "No treasure is worth as much as the good that can be done with it."
As in GotG, we see many characters and Easter eggs while visiting The Collector, but this time one caged character in particular gets a lot more screen time and dialogue (WAUGH!), as they help T'Challa find the artifact. We get some social commentary from T'Challa, shaming The Collector for keeping people in cages. Karma is a bitch, and she doesn't care whether you believe in her or not.
This entire sequence on Knowhere, as well as the entire episode, is action-packed and exciting, and includes a very much more—ahem— hands-on Collector than the one seen in GotG.
The animation is well-done and the colors are vibrant, a feast for the eyes. The likenesses to all the actors is
All of the voice talent from GotG and characters from other MCU films reprise their roles, all except for Dave Bautista as Drax, who was controversially not invited to participate. I was especially impressed with Djimon Hounsou's voice work. Every word was clear and understandable, a welcome difference from his heavily-accented dialogue in GotG.
As in most What If? tales, a single choice may make for an interesting diversion of known events, but the end result is often the same. I leave it to you to see for yourself which way things go. And, to see what happened to the kid the Ravagers were supposed to kidnap.
What If...?, a 9-episode series (with Season 2 already greenlit) airs Wednesdays on Disney Plus.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Infinity Wars (2018)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)