What If, the new series set to soon arrive on Disney+, is a very different kind of production than what fans are used to seeing from the folks at Marvel Studios. For starters there is the fact that the new series is animated – but far more significant is its storytelling and relationship to other projects from the company. The various episodes utilize elements from the established Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters, locations, and specific events, but certain tweaks are made that distinguish them and set them apart from the stories with which we are already familiar.
But what is the relationship between the various What If chapters and the MCU? Are they designed to be wholly separate from the canon first established with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, or do the different adventures play out in alternate realities that run parallel in a larger Marvel multiverse? According to producer Brad Winderbaum, there isn’t an “official” answer to the question at the moment, but things do seem to be leaning toward the latter.
Speaking with the filmmaker this past weekend during the virtual press day for What If, I asked directly about how Marvel Studios views the relationship between their animated series and the live-action movies/shows, and he explained,
Well, I think you're asking a very philosophical question, and it's something we are defining right now and will continue to define in the stories as we explore the multiverse. And that is, you know, what is it? What is the multiverse, and how do stories that take place in other realities impact the 'Sacred Timeline,' as the TVA would call it? And without going into detail, I could tell you 'quite a bit' is the answer.
In broad strokes, the multiverse is a theory that posits that there are potentially an infinite number of alternate realities that co-exist simultaneously and are all distinct thanks to differences that range from the infinitesimally small (ex. There’s a universe where you had ham sandwich for lunch instead of peanut butter and jelly), to the ridiculously massive (ex. There’s a universe where aliens invaded Earth in 1935 and successfully enslaved the whole planet).
Viewed from the perspective of the multiverse, the core concept of What If essentially allows fans to take a peek into canons where things mostly play out like events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but are distinguishing by having things move in new directions – such as Peggy Carter being given the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. And while it sounds like Marvel Studios is a bit hesitant at the moment to declare that this is the official way to look at the new Disney+ series, it could eventually become a big thing.
As alluded to by Brad Winderbaum, the events that play out in Loki involving the Time Variance Authority and the “Sacred Timeline” set the stage for the multiverse having a big impact on the MCU going forward – and let’s not forget that one of the earliest blockbusters set to arrive in 2022 is Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. Winderbaum has let it be known that Marvel Studios is excited by the prospect of someday taking animated elements from What If and rendering them in live-action, so we’ll just have to wait and see how things develop.
What first has to happen, of course, is that What If has to premiere – and that’s going down next week. The debut episode of the show will be streaming on Disney+ starting Wednesday, August 11 at midnight PST/3am EST.