The Marvel characters you’ve come to know on the big screen and Disney Plus are about to get a bit of a makeover in Marvel Studios’ first animated MCU series: What If…?
As Marvel keeps moving ahead into Phase 4 with series and films like Loki and Black Widow, What If…? is taking the MCU into new directions on a few fronts.
Check out everything we know about What If…?, coming to Disney Plus later this summer, below.
Warning: This post contains major plot details from Avengers: Endgame, Loki, and more MCU films and series.
What’s it about?
The aptly titled What If…? asks a series of what-ifs, all related to familiar MCU stories, and lets them play out.
What if Peggy Carter had been chosen for the super-soldier initiative instead of Steve Rogers, rewriting the history of Captain America?
What if Yondu hadn’t kidnapped Peter Quill in Missouri? Would a lot change if he and his band of Ravagers had instead abducted a young T’Challa in Wakanda, rewriting both Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy?
These and other hypotheticals can be explored in What If…? outside the main continuity of other MCU titles.
When and where can you watch it?
The first season will be made up of 10 episodes.
It premieres August 11 and will air weekly thereafter.
Anyone adding a What If…? alert to their calendar will likely notice that August 11 is a Wednesday. That means that What If…?, like Loki before it, won’t be released on Fridays like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Rather, new episodes will be available to stream every Wednesday at 12am PST on the streamer.
The key players
Featuring many characters familiar to MCU fans, What If…? includes the voices of several actors reprising their roles, along with a host of new characters and voice actors.
Perhaps the most noteworthy voice actor in What If…? is the late, great Chadwick Boseman.
Boseman has been a part of the MCU as the iconic T’Challa/Black Panther since 2016, first appearing in Captain America: Civil War before his own standalone movie Black Panther, along with two more roles as the Wakandan king in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Boseman sadly passed away at the young age of 43 last year, following years of living with cancer. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his final live-action performance in Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom, and What If…? will be his last known acting credit.
Other MCU mainstays lending their voices to What If…? include Hayley Atwell, Michael B. Jordan, Sebastian Stan, Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth, Karen Gillen, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Neal McDonough, Dominic Cooper, Sean Gunn, Natalie Portman, David Dastmalchian, Stanley Tucci, Taika Waititi, Toby Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Rooker, Chris Sullivan, Frank Grillo, Seth Green, and Andy Serkis.
We don’t know whether all of these actors are providing new dialogue or are appearing via archival footage, as in Loki, but it’s a pretty huge returning cast.
The biggest known new addition is Jeffrey Wright. The Basquiat, Westworld, and Casino Royale actor is narrating and providing the voice of the Watcher.
Knowing Marvel, it’s probably wise to expect some surprise guest voices in addition to those currently confirmed.
Bryan Andrews directed all 10 episodes, with A.C. Bradley serving as head writer.
The series is produced in-house at Marvel Studios, with Kevin Feige, Brad Winderbaum, Bryan Andrews, and A.C. Bradley serving as executive producers.
How does What If…? fit into the MCU?
Marvel has been producing animated films and series for decades, but What If…? is the first to be a part of the company’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That means the characters onscreen will look and sound familiar to those who have appeared in films like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Black Panther.
They will very intentionally diverge from those films though. You can expect them to play with expectations already established in the rest of the MCU as different versions of familiar stories play out.
What If…? is the fourth MCU series to air on Disney Plus. It follows WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki.
Other upcoming MCU series include Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel heading to the streamer in late 2021. Series in earlier stages of pre-production include Armor Wars, Secret Invasion, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Ironheart, and a show set in Black Panther’s Wakanda.
It’s still unknown how directly What If…? will tie into those series, existing MCU films, or upcoming projects.
The Multiverse of it all
In the trailer for What If…?, we hear the Watcher invite us to “enter the Multiverse.” This means that we’re not, strictly speaking, just seeing self-contained hypothetical scenarios. We’re seeing versions of events that have actually happened, just not necessarily in the universes we’ve seen thus far.
If you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, or Loki, you probably already know where this is going.
Reality as we (or MCU characters) know it is protected by the Time Variance Authority (TVA). A Multiverse of different timelines exists, allowing for the possibility of forks in the timeline (sometimes via time travel), but the TVA steps in when things get too out of hand and cause “nexus events” that would stray too far from a “sacred timeline.”
With the sacred timeline freed from the TVA, branching timelines can develop unchecked.
Loki’s season 1 finally freed the sacred timeline. This means that branching timelines can develop unchecked now (or “unpruned” in the language of the TVA). In short, some amount of order could previously be maintained from one timeline to another within the Multiverse, with all of the timelines moving more or less in unison.
That has changed. A branching timeline could potentially see Thanos get away with wiping out half of all life in the universe. Or could see Tony Stark die in the cave where he was supposed to become Iron Man. Those would presumably have been nexus events previously, fundamentally altering the timeline.
We don’t know the precise nature of the Multiverse yet, and it sounds like Marvel creatives are still sorting it out too.
After the Loki finale on July 14, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige spoke on the podcast D23: Inside Disney. He had just had a meeting with his Marvel Studios team to establish “the rules of the Multiverse and exactly how to really deliver on the excitement surrounding the Multiverse.”
Where do we go from here?
Marvel likes to keep things pretty interconnected, and it stands to reason that What If…?, even as an animated series, will have some kind of impact on the broader MCU.
So far, the MCU Disney Plus series have been jumping off points for later films. WandaVision and Loki are setting up Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will likely be part one of a new Captain America franchise — while also introducing Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who has already popped up in Black Widow.
What If…? has a lot of room to remain contained. But it also takes place in the Multiverse. As characters like Wanda, Loki, and Doctor Strange start to jump into different timelines within the Multiverse, we may well see characters in scenarios from What If…? bleeding into other MCU properties.
Could the horror elements of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness be linked to zombies spotted in the What If…? trailer? Will Loki’s misadventures in What If…? affect him in season 2 of Loki?
We won’t get answers to these questions for a bit, but the premise of What If…? leaves plenty of room to imagine future crossovers.
What If…? theories, rumors and Easter eggs
Disney hasn’t shared too many plot details about What If…?, but we can piece together a few broad narratives from bits and pieces revealed in trailers and official What If…? art.
Those bits and pieces include:
- Tony Stark meeting Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger in the desert where he became Iron Man in 2008’s Iron Man
- The Guardians of the Galaxy taking the Avengers’ place in the Battle of New York
- T’Challa replacing Peter Quill as Star-Lord among the Guardians of the Galaxy
- Howard the Duck appearing in some capacity
- Peggy Carter taking on a British version of the Captain America mantle as Captain Carter (and possibly as Marvel Comics’ Captain Britain)
- The presence of one of the Watchers, cosmic beings with nearly limitless power in Marvel comic books
- Captain America, Iron Man, and Hawkeye appearing as zombies
- Spider-Man acquiring Doctor Strange’s magical cape and potentially replacing Strange as the Sorcerer Supreme
That’s what we know about What If…? so far.
Beyond that, we’ll all need to tune in August 11 to learn more.