Madison Palmieri ’22
Die-hard fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are no strangers to discussions of “what if” an event in the franchise had turned out a different way. From those who question why Tony Stark had to die and Steve Rogers had to return to the 1940s in Avengers: Endgame to those who wish they saw an onscreen romance between Captain America and Black Widow, these fans have long expressed their desired alternative MCU plotlines through means like fanart and fanfiction.
The executives and creatives at Marvel Studios seem to have gotten wind of the intense fan fervor surrounding that question, “what if?” Indeed, in April 2019, the studio announced a forthcoming animated series with that exact title.
Although the details of the series, like those of all MCU projects, were kept tightly under wraps, the studio shared that What If? would revisit some of the most iconic characters and moments from the franchise and explore what would have happened if a single moment was different.
Marvel Studios also announced that the series would be animated as well as that many of the MCU’s actors would be providing the voices for their animated counterparts. Among the most notable returns were Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and, in one of his final projects, the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa.
Other characters, however, were recast. Among the most-missed actors who did not return were Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. as Captain America/Steve Rogers and Iron Man/Tony Stark, respectively.
While it was certainly jarring for fans to see these and other characters with slightly different voices, from the moment the first trailer for the series dropped in the summer of 2021, they knew that it would not be one to miss. Indeed, in a year that had already seen three original series and a film from the studio after a year of pandemic-induced inactivity in 2020, fans were growing used to a near-constant stream of content from Marvel Studios.
The first episode premiered on Wednesday, Aug. 18 and follows the question of “what if” Peggy Carter took the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers, creating Captain Carter instead of Captain America. Episode two jumps from World War II to outer space in an alternate universe where T’Challa, rather than Peter Quill, was abducted from earth as a boy and became Starlord.
Episodes three and five both center on the original Avengers, with the former examining “what if” they were all targeted and killed before the events of 2012’s The Avengers and the latter placing them in the chaos of a zombie apocalypse.
Episodes four and six explore two of the series’ more depressing timelines. Episode four follows Dr. Strange as he continuously goes back in time in an attempt to save his love interest, Dr. Christine Palmer, but ultimately fails and nearly loses his sanity in the process. Episode six places Killmonger in the plot of Iron Man, with the Black Panther villain killing Tony Stark and those around him before the billionaire philanthropist could become an Avenger.
The seventh episode in the series, however, provides a light-hearted contrast. It explores the question of “what if” Thor and Loki weren’t raised as brothers. Without their sibling rivalry, Thor becomes a “party prince” who travels to different planets and creates well-intentioned chaos—until Captain Marvel steps in.
The final two episodes of the series examine “what if” Ultron defeated the Avengers, with episode eight detailing the universe in which the defeat occurred and the latter showing the Watcher, a mysterious character who presides over all the different universes in the series, bringing together different versions of characters from various universes as the “Guardians of the Multiverse” to finally defeat the villain.
With the return of fan-favorite characters in new situations and too many callbacks to earlier MCU projects to count, What If? is a must-watch for anyone who claims to love Marvel.