This review contains minor spoilers for Episode 4 of What If…?
This week we see a universe where Dr Stephen Strange loses his heart rather than his hands. In literal terms, this means that Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) dies in a car crash with Strange rather than his hands being injured irreparably. Following Palmer’s death, Strange goes on basically the same quest he embarks on in Doctor Strange.
This episode certainly rectified an issue with previous stories where they basically just recount the events of the MCU film in question throughout only with a change of characters. The recapping of the events of the 2016 film Doctor Strange is mercifully brief.
However, one issue with this episode that is consistent with the T’Challa as Star Lord story is that it’s based on a bit of a contrived change. After Dr. Palmer dies, Strange goes to exactly the same temple to learn exactly the same magic. In the original film, Strange is searching for someone who can fix his hands because his whole livelihood is based on him being able to use them with precision. He finds the Ancient One who shows him a world of magic where he doesn’t need to be able to use his hands to be precise.
If he didn’t lose the ability to use his hands properly, Strange would still be able to be a master surgeon and his work wouldn’t be affected. Granted of course he would mourn the death of Christine but it seems a bit of a jump that he would think to go on a search around the world to find answers about death and how to fix it. He would still be a surgeon so he would focus on his work and maybe get obsessed with that to distract himself from the tragedy. Essentially, if Stephen Strange’s hands remained intact, he wouldn’t have the motive or forethought to become the Sorcerer Supreme as it wouldn’t even be in his purview.
With all that being said though, the alternate story of Strange does have interesting elements. The idea of him replaying the day of Christine’s death over and over again was tragic and well done, although there were some points where her various deaths seemed a bit extreme and unbelievable.
Eventually it felt like the story was a bit bloated coming close to the end. Strange’s search for how to change set points in time was a bit dull and only really got interesting at the very end of the episode. The whole segment based solely on Strange summoning creatures to eat/consume them wasn’t massively entertaining and had a weird combination of 2D and 3D animation that didn’t really mesh brilliantly. It just came off as a bit cheap rather than a cool stylistic choice.
There was an interesting element to this week’s story but if you’re a big fan of the original film, it’s hard not to be a bit let down by the set up. It doesn’t feel like as much thought was put into this and it ultimately just felt like an excuse to make a cool evil looking Dr Strange for merchandise.
What If…? is streaming weekly on Disney +