Marvel's "What If... Thor Were an Only Child?" Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Marvel's "What If... Thor Were an Only Child?" Review

Alexander Wallace helps clean up the mess.
As the opening to this episode of Marvel’s What If…? says, we are all shaped by the people we grow up with; I certainly would not be the person I am without my younger sister. This episode of Marvel’s anthology series asks this question about Thor Odinson, God of Thunder, and one of Earth’s mightiest heroes.

This version of Thor, voiced by his actor of a decade Chris Hemsworth, is odd, befitting how odd this episode is in the context of the series. There have been complaints that the episodes of this series have been rather dark in tone; I understand this, doubly so by virtue of being an alternate history reader. The alternate history genre is filled with stories of things going worse than in our history, because it is much easier to write about a world where things went wrong, rather than where things went right. Dystopia is always easier to write than utopia, for what people see as bad is generally more universal than things they see as good.

This Thor is a roughhousing, hard-partying frat boy, essentially. He sneaks away from the watchful eyes of his mother, Frigga, and his steward, Heimdall, claiming that he is on a ‘study trip’ to Earth (or Midgard). When he arrives, he proceeds to turn the whole world into an excess of revelry that rivals the ancien regime (fitting, given that he’s training to be a king). This leads to no end of jokes and a great deal of confusion among the authorities on Earth.

This episode, unlike any other episode of the series, is a straight-up comedy. It moves ever forward, bouncing joke to joke with a frenetic energy that has echoes of old animated shorts, like Tom & Jerry or anything involving the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Whether all this lands is subjective; for me, it worked some of the time but not all of the time. Partially, I think a lot of the dissonance comes from how we have expected more serious stories from this series. In any case, Hemsworth brings an undeniable warmth to Thor, much as he has done in live action, and that takes a lot of the edge off. His antics are zany and lead to many of the loudest laughs in the episode.

What If... Thor Were an Only Child? sufferers when it comes to literally any character who isn’t Prince of Asgard. You have a very brief appearance by Nick Fury, who is wasted (being voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, no less!) and the other humans feel like paper cutouts. Darcy Lewis, voiced by her live-action actress Kat Dennings, is occasionally funny but not as funny as Hemsworth’s Thor. Natalie Portman returns as Jane Foster, but doesn’t end up doing much. The rest of the cast, including both humans and otherworldly entities, are essentially glorified cameos.

The seventh episode of What If…? is one that stumbles. It has a plot that suggests a real direness to proceedings, but is also committed to comedy to the point it is tonally inconsistent. It is a plot driven by Thor, and only Thor; everyone else is sadly underwritten. This episode tried to break new ground for the series, but ultimately failed in doing so satisfactorily. Such is some attempts at innovation, I suppose.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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