|This article is written from the Real World perspective|
|Beginning date||August 11, 2021|
|Number of Episodes||23 (Currently Announced)|
|Writers||Ashley Bradley (Showrunner)|
|Previous Series||Spidey and His Amazing Friends|
What If...? is an ongoing series. It will be set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This will be the first animated project officially part of the popular universe. In the vein of the comic series of the same name, the show will explore various alternate versions of MCU projects.
In discussing the Watcher showrunner Ashley Bradley said, "It was actually fairly early and that first conversation with [Marvel Studios producer] Brad Winderbaum. He mentioned the Watcher, which kind of surprised me because he was a Fox character technically because he first appeared in Fantastic Four. He said 'no no no, he’s coming back' and I was like 'okay...'. We had a lot of conversations. It was really important to me that the watcher wasn’t an old white man in the spec. I don’t want him to be Santa Claus. I don’t want him to be this Western white version of God. That was not who the character should be and it can very easily go that way."
She then added, "He's above everything else. He's above everyone, but there should almost be a gleefulness watching these stories. I keep using this metaphor, which I'm not too sure if anyone likes, but I always compare it to the pizza rat meme that went around a few years ago. Someone next to the subway recorded this video of a rat dragging a slice of pizza across the platform. I think that's what the Watcher is, he's a guy watching a rat drag a slice of pizza across the platform. He has no interest in becoming friends with the rat, living amongst the rat, or doing rat things. He just goes, 'Man, this is remarkable. Look at the little guy go'! That is the Watcher's relationship with humanity. It's like he's watching this weird theater and stories unfold around him and he doesn't know always if he should be watching. He doesn't intervene because that's not the point. The point is for him to watch and observe."
When Disney+ launched on November 12th, 2019, one of the original content available on launch was Marvel Studios: Expanding the Universe. The twelve-minute documentary offered a look at Phase Four series and films including What If...?. The sneak preview offered a look at concept art and several animated sequences.
Winderbaum said of the timing of the series, "Now is the right time for What If...? because we finally had enough stories behind us to be able to riff on them, change them and move the pieces around, as well as play with the stories that we have told in the past in brand new ways." The idea for a What If series had come up for several years but Marvel never felt they had enough to reference. The comics had decades of material to work with and it wasn't until after the "Infinity Saga" that Marvel felt they had enough. The expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into television series on Disney+ gave them the opportunity.
Bradley said of developing the series, "When it came to creating the first ten episodes of season one, ironically the first question was not What If...? The first question was let's take all these heroes and figure out what makes them tick. Let's find the heart behind the hero. The hero behind the shield, so to speak, and explore that, because, at the end of the day, the reason we love these movies is that we feel a connection to these characters."
She also said of the series, "In each story, we wanted to play in genre and tone. As a writer, it was great to be able to stretch my talents and abilities and to make every episode stand-alone, both story-wise and we wanted everything to feel visually different. Everything is edited differently, the sound is different. We want people to drop in during each of these episodes and feel like they're watching one short Marvel movie. We have a spy thriller, we have a party episode, there's comedy, there's horror, there's a mystery, a heist episode. It was a real treat to be able to play around with different genres and tones and styles."
Bradley said of the T'Challa/Star-Lord episode, "When it came to actually figuring out the T'Challa episode, obviously, this was over two years ago. So Chadwick was still with us. The way that one actually came about was by looking -- we had in the writers' room, we had a poster that had all the characters on it. And we realized that T'Challa and Peter Quill are the same age, or very close to it. So spoiler, I think, Yondu takes the wrong kid -- what other nine-year-olds are running around the MCU around about the same time. And it was like, he gets a little bit lost, they end up in Wakanda. You know, all humans look alike. So, that's kind of where that one started from." She added, "And then the question became, again, trying to find the other side of the heroes. The whole point of the show is like, what else can we say. T'Challa is an interesting character because he's not a character that arcs himself. He's a character that changes the world around him. And he doesn't go through a transformation, he transforms the world. So then taking a step back would be, 'Well, how would T'Challa transform outer space?' And that's how you get that episode."
The producers decided on animation as the only way to explore the multiverse unbound is through animation.
Winderbaum said of the animation, "We went into the process with no rule book. Bryan just had a number of references he brought in, like early 20th-century illustration and art. Our visual department head and character designer Ryan Meinerding was playing with different styles of illustration. Some were flat, some were 3D. We knew that we wanted to play with light, lensing and atmosphere. What we ultimately achieved is something that doesn’t emulate anything else."
Bryan Andrews collaborated with Flying Bark Productions, Squeeze Animation Studios, and Blue Spirit in order to develop a unique aesthetic. The look was ultimately inspired by early twentieth century artist J. C. Leyendecker. Brad Winderbaum said, "It's very painterly. The light spreads in a very unique way. We worked with that style, while also creating our own technique because it requires a 3D technique to achieve that 2D look."
The animation was developed through collaboration along with what was available. They had considered traditional 2D animation, but with the scope of the series knew they couldn't amass the people necessary. They decided to develop 3D to make it look 2D, similar to Spider-Man: The New Animated Series and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Based on the popular line of comics, What If...? will explore various possible alternatives in the Cinematic Universe. Feige has continuously teased that one idea will be if Peggy Carter, not Steve Rogers, got the Super Soldier Serum. Another episode teased will follow a classic issue of Loki finding Mjolnir.
At the 2019 Disney D23, Marvel confirmed two stories that would be part of the story. The first is if Peggy Carter took the super soldier serum and became Captain Britain, unrelated to the mutant character of the same name. Her shield will have a Union Jack in the middle rather than the American star. The other story will involve Steve Rogers becoming Iron Man.
A teaser at the 2019 Disney D23 confirmed that the Marvel Zombies would be part of the series. Marvel Zombies was a popular alternate horror-based universe that spun off from the Ultimate universe.
The series debuted shortly after the conclusion of previous Disney+ series Loki, which ended with the creation of the Multiverse.
Bradley said the show's place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "The events of What If...? are canon. It's part of the MCU multiverse. The multiverse is here. It is real, and it is absolutely fantastic, people."
The stories will differ tonally from the films. Some will be lighter, others darker, and some are tragedies. Inspiration for the episodes including the film Can't Hardly Wait and the author Agatha Christie.
When asked about introducing new Marvel characters Winderbaum said, "The potential is there, but every idea is based on something that precedes it from the MCU. So, for example, I don't think we would ever do an episode about a character that hasn't appeared in one of the movies or shows yet." He did say they could create all new characters.
Bryan Andrews said, "'We basically had operating instructions from Kevin Feige. Basically, we can't introduce anyone or any character that hasn't already been introduced in an MCU movie. You won't be seeing, like, some random person pop up from the comics or other franchises that we hadn't seen already in MCU proper."
One of the few rules the producers had to follow was that the episodes had to be based on projects already seen by audiences.
Ashley Bradley pitched an episode that she had spent several days developing. However, Feige rejected it as it was the same as a large portion of the third Guardians of the Galaxy film.
Bradley said the Zombie episode was a "no-brainer" for the first season and took more inspiration from the comics than any other episode.
One story that was rejected was based on What If...? #88. The issue dealt with Peter Parker mutating into an actual spider. "There were a couple of episodes that were just a little too dark. There was an original What If run where Spider-Man turns into a real spider, and that was just too dark and too body horror for their PG-13 (rating)."
Several times, Bradley and Bryan Andrews pitched a crossover with the Star Wars franchise but were turned down. Bradley said, "I was kind of notorious for trying to get a Star Wars character involved, and we did try at one point, but there was just... It's kind of like, 'Play with the sandbox you're given. We gave you the entire [Marvel Cinematic Universe], run with that. Still, Luke Skywalker would be an amazing Jedi. [Laughs] He'd be an amazing Avenger, he IS a Jedi." Andrews said, "There [are] a bunch of ideas that are around," director Bryan Andrews said. "Who knows, maybe at some point we'll get lucky and get to go further, but first order of business was, like, let's open up the multiverse off the [Marvel Studios] films that we know and then, hopefully, as things progress, things can get wilder and wilder and more crazy." Bradley jokingly added, "Season Twenty, Baby Groot and Baby Yoda can have a playdate."
Actor Role(s) Jeffrey Wright Uatu/Watcher Michael B. Jordan N'Jadaka/Erik Stevens/Killmonger Sebastian Stan James "Bucky" Barnes/Winter Soldier
James "Bucky" Barnes/Winter Soldier
Josh Brolin Thanos
Mark Ruffalo Bruce Banner/Hulk
Tom Hiddleston Loki
Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury
Chris Hemsworth Thor Hayley Atwell Peggy Carter/Captain Britain Chadwick Boseman T'Challa/Black Panther/Star-Lord
Karen Gillan Nebula Jeremy Renner Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Paul Rudd Scott Lang/Ant-Man Michael Douglas Hank Pym/Yellowjacket Neal McDonough Dum Dum Dugan Dominic Cooper Howard Stark Sean Gunn Kraglin Natalie Portman Jane Foster David Dastmalchian Kurt Stanley Tucci Abraham Erskine Taika Waititi Korg Toby Jones Arnim Zola Djimon Hounsou Korath Jeff Goldblum Grandmaster Michael Rooker Yondu Chris Sullivan Taserface Frank Grillo Brock Rumlow/Crossbones Seth Green Howard the Duck Andy Serkis Ulysses Klaue Angela Bassett Ramonda Benedict Cumberbatch Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange
Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange
Stephen Strange/Strange Supreme
Benedict Wong Wong Benicio Del Toro Collector Bradley Whitford John Flynn Carrie Coon Proxima Midnight Clancy Brown Surtur Clark Gregg Phil Coulson Cobie Smulders Maria Hill Danai Gurira Okoye
Don Cheadle James Rhodes/War Machine Emily VanCamp Sharon Carter Evangeline Lilly Hope van Dyne/Wasp
Hope van Dyne/Wasp
Georges St-Pierre Batroc Jaimie Alexander Sif John Kani T'Chaka
Jon Favreau Happy Hogan
Kat Dennings Darcy Lewis Kurt Russell Ego Leslie Bibb Christine Everheart
Ophelia Lovibond Carina Paul Bettany Vision
Rachel House Topaz Rachel McAdams Christine Palmer Tilda Swinton The Ancient One Tom Vaughan-Lawlor Ebony Maw
Lake Bell Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow Josh Keaton Steve Rogers/Captain America
Steve Rogers/Hydra Stomper
Steve Rogers/Captain America
Mick Wingert Tony Stark/Iron Man
Tony Stark/Iron Man
Ross Marquand Johann Schmidt/Red Skull Darrell Hammond Nazi General Isaac Robinson-Smith Brick Fred Tatasciore Drax
Maddix Robinson Young T'Challa Brian T. Delaney Peter Quill Tanya Wheelock Female Ravager Stephanie Panisello Betty Ross Mike McGill Thaddeus Ross
Alexandra Daniels Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel Ike Amadi O'Bengh Hudson Thames Peter Parker/Spider-Man Kiff Vandenheuvel Obadiah Stane Beth Hoyt Pepper Potts Ozioma Akagha Shuri Ashley Adler
Robin Atkin Downes
Matt Yang King
Additional Voices TBA Ultron
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
Most actors confirmed for the series are reprising their roles from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Atwell's Captain Britain will appear in every season of the series. Winderbaum said, "We realized, I think, early on in development as we were starting to get [A.C. Bradley's] scripts and starting to look at the arc of the series that there was going to be a character that bubbled up and became more important." He added, "We realized as we started developing the second season that Captain Carter was going to be the character we would revisit in every season, and continue that adventure. Obviously, we're telling a story on a giant, multiversal canvas. So you never really know who's going to pop up where, and when. It's very much an anthology, but there's always opportunity for fun connections to be made."
Sean Gunn has also provided the physical motion capture for Rocket Raccoon and Thanos, though it is unlikely he will for this series.
At the 2019 Disney D23, Marvel stated that almost the entire cast of the MCU will be playing on the series, though it did not confirm any more voices. The same panel confirmed a story that Steve Rogers would become Iron Man though did not confirm if Chris Evans was returning after he said he was done with the role.
Ashley Bradley said of casting Jeffrey Wright, "His voice is just so powerful and his presence, while charismatic, can address authority. He's also a friend. He has such a warm personality. It's a nice mixture... The Watcher shouldn't feel like a god. He should feel like almost another viewer."
Wright's Watcher is patterned after Rod Serling's performance on The Twilight Zone. Wright was only partially familiar with the What If...? comics but after being cast began reading the issues. He had difficulty finding the right voice for the character, being that he is an otherworldly being. It wasn't until he saw some of the early animation with the dense and edgy design that he came up with the voice.
Wright said of the Watcher, "A lot of times, we hear a character like this that's very powerful and wise and dramatic, if you look at some of the old films of Greek mythology and even Egyptian mythology and things like this or history, we find that the characters have a British accent. And I have never really figured out why that is. Why does every wise man in the history of cinema or wise woman or sage need to be British? So the first time we encounter The Watcher in the comics on the moon, I figured it was wide open where we could go with the voice and how can we craft together an idea and music to his voice that's resonant today. So I just went for it and put it down."
Recording began during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wright had to record in his closet in Brooklyn. "So the preparation was setting up the little mini recording studio and closing the closet door, and banging it out next to my underwear drawer. But it worked out! Good acoustics in there."
On November 15th, 2019, Jeff Goldblum stated that Robert Downey, Jr. would be returning as Iron Man. However, a report on November 15th, 2019 cast doubt when an anonymous source claimed that Downey wasn't going to appear. Ultimately, the latter report was revealed to be correct.
Chadwick Boseman died August 28th, 2020 leaving many questioning whether he had recorded anything for the series before his unexpected death. Kevin Feige later confirmed that Boseman had recorded his lines for the series, marking his final appearance. Boseman was one of the first actors to sign onto the series.
Andrews said of Boseman's performance, "He was excited to play this particular version of T'Challa because it was different. Because it was a version of him playing the King, but the King without the mantel, the royalty and everything else that goes along with it. He could lighten it up and get more jokey with it. He was excited to bring back that flavor to T'Challa."
Wright met Boseman at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con while he was promoting Westworld and Boseman was promoting Black Panther. Wright said of Boseman, "It was a lovely surprise to find out that we'd be in the same space with What If...?; this being the last performance we'll get from him. The thing that strikes me the most about what he has done here and what he has done with these films is that obviously these are films about heroisms and all the complications of that, and what we all discovered is the kind of mythic quality that he brought to these performances kind-of paled to the mythic quality that was his life in terms of the way that he was going about doing this work; the grace, the dignity, the power."
Though they appear together, Michael Rooker did not actually work with Boseman. He did talk about how honored he was to be part Boseman's final performance. "Oh my goodness, their relationship is beautiful. This is an absolutely wonderful piece. This one, in particular, is beautiful. I think people are going to not just enjoy it, but also it's going to be meaningful in a lot of different levels." He added, "We never got to hang out or speak together and work together on the project really. A lot of stuff is already shot and it's already recorded usually, and at the end of the day, it's all put together and where did all the time go? You do your part, and he does his part, and it's really quick. It took us several sessions but it was really a blast. I had no idea that it ended up being his last performance. Boy oh boy, what a shame. What a loss. It was terrible. But the work, the legacy of the work is there for everyone to see."
Had Boseman not passed away, his performance in the series would have changed the character for the second Black Panther film. Kevin Feige said, "We didn't know it would be his final performance, obviously. He came in numerous times, I think three or four times, was so gung-ho about it, was so excited about it. Somebody has probably spoken about this already, but he came in and he read the episode that airs... whenever it is, twenty-four hours from now, and then came back and said, 'I really love this version of T'Challa.' And we had a conversation after that with Ryan [Coogler] about how do we get some of this voice -- none of the storyline -- but just some of that voice into Panther 2?"
Tom Hiddleston said of the series, "I am intrigued because I haven't seen the whole thing. And I know they've got everybody from the Marvel universe to voice their characters... And then it sets up a whole bunch of stuff in the MCU, which I know nothing about."
On July 7th, 2021, Variety revealed that the series would be recasting the voices of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Collector, Stephen Strange, and Carol Danvers. The characters had been played by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Benicio del Toro, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Brie Larson respectively. No reason was stated for the change and no actors were announced at the time.
On replacing Chris Evans as Steve Rogers director Bryan Andrews said, "The thing is, it's trying not to bump the audience too much and have it be as much of the person they remember from the show, but having the actor bring a little something to themselves. I'm not just doing an impression. It's not about impressions, right? They have to actually act the moments and deliver some of the emotional intent."
On August 1st, 2021, Collider revealed more actors returning. This included del Toro and Cumberbatch contradicting the earlier report from Variety.
Michael Rooker had no idea what the project was when he signed on, but was excited once he understood. "I really love voiceover too, so to be involved with this was very special for me. And to bring back Yondu was a really beautiful thing." Yondu had died in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Despite his character appearing in the series, Drax actor Dave Bautista revealed that he was never asked to reprise the role for the series. Even Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn seemed surprised. Addressing the issue, producer Brad Winderbaum said, "It's my understanding that everybody was asked in some way, shape or form, either through their agents or directly. I don't know really what happened behind the scenes there, but certainly, we would have loved for [Bautista] to be in the show. So there's probably some miscommunication somewhere."
Job People Showrunner Ashley Bradley Executive Producers Brad Winderbaum
Producers Carrie Wassenaar Director Bryan Andrews Composer Laura Karpman
This is the first animation project for Winderbaum. "I was a real novice when the process started and it seems like I've grown to really passionately feel like it's an incredible art form to tell stories and I'm very much looking forward to making more animated projects for the studio." He also noted how animation had to lock in the story early on while in live-action the story can continue evolving even on set.
- What If...? Season One
- What If...? Season Two
There are currently twenty-three episodes announced, which is the same number of movies in the MCU at the time of the announcement. On May 21st, 2021, Entertainment Weekly revealed that the series would premiere in August of that year.
The first season only has nine episodes. One episode was pushed back to the second season, which will also have nine episodes. This was done because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similar to other Disney+ Marvel series, each episode will have varying runtimes according to each story. Winderbaum said, "We targeted a half an hour for each episode. Some of them come in a little longer, some of them come in a little shorter. We wanted to tell as many stories as we could and we had a certain budget we had to work with so it felt like that ten-episode -- now nine-episode run -- was the right quantity."
The series debuted to Disney+ on August 11th, 2021.
According to Kevin Feige, the second season will explore episodes from Phase Four. "That's the fun thing about having the What If...? series now; we can explore questions just like that. And I will say, just as season one is tapping into films and storylines from the MCU that you’ve seen up to this point, season two will definitely incorporate movies from Phase Four."
The first season debuted to 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus stated, "What If...? may not add much to the larger MCU narrative, but surprising takes on beloved characters and some of the best action sequences in the entire franchise make for engaging viewing." It debuted to 67 on Metacritic.
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times praised the series with three out of four stars. He said the humor was hit and miss but more often landed. He also said it was a little strange to hear sound alikes next to the live actors, but he got past it quickly. Ben Travis of Empire Magazine also praised the series with three out of five stars. He praised the concept for exploring stories that would never be seen in the films or other live series. He lauded the animation and voice cast, though noted that the sound alikes were noticeable. He felt it was geared towards younger audiences than the films typically were. He did criticize that each episode was a "playful, imaginative flight of fancy" that never fully realized its potential. Angie Han of The Hollywood Reporter gave it a negative review saying it had big potential but small ambition. She said that there was only so far the series was willing to go in its alternate possibilities. She noted that some episodes were more compelling than others. She criticized the animation saying that it too often crossed into the Uncanny Valley. She noted how several of the live actors sounded robotic and that they often need to be seen to be charming. She felt the series was just a set up for future films, as the Infinity Stones were for the previous films, rather than a series on its own.
The series will be the first by Marvel Studios to feature an animated work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Victoria Alonso revealed they are developing a "mini-studio" to produce more animation projects. "We're going to have our animation branch and mini studio, and there will be more to come from that as well. We're super excited about animation, which is my first love."
The producers have discussed the possibility that the versions of characters in the series will appear in future live-action projects. Winderbaum said, "If you go back and look at the history of the What If...? comics, you'll see that a lot of them found their way into the main continuity. We're going into this eyes open and knowing that in the MCU, things ricochet, they bounce around, they tend to hit each other often."
- Why The Watcher in Marvel's What If...? Isn't 'An Old White Man' at Comic Book Resources
- Marvel Studios - Disney+ What If...? Art at Newsarama
- Marvel's What If...? Crew Explains Why They Went 3D Over 2D & A Scrapped Episode That Was Too Close To GOTG 3 at Kakuchopurei
- Pondering the Possibilities of Marvel Studios' What If...? at D23
- Exclusive: Marvel Studios Producing ‘What If’ TV Series For Disney+ at /Film
- SDCC 2019: Marvel Studios' 'What If...?' on Disney+ Details Revealed at Marvel
- What If: First Look at Peggy Carter's Captain Britain, Revealed at Comic Book Resources
- Marvel Studios' What If Teaser Confirms Marvel Zombies at Comic Book Resources
- What If...? Is Officially MCU Canon at IGN
- Exclusive: Marvel’s What If…? will feature a "tragic love story" and an "Agatha Christie episode" at Games Radar
- What If...?'s Marvel Zombies Draws More From the Comics Than Any Other Episode at Comic Book Resources
- 'What If...?' Interviews, 'The Suicide Squad' Review, 'Free Guy' Review Post-Credit Podcast at Apple Podcasts
- What If...? Creators Tried to Make a Marvel/Star Wars Crossover Happen at Comic Book Resources
- MCU Direct at Twitter
- Peggy Carter, AKA Captain Britain, will appear in every season of What If? at Games Radar
- DisneyD23 at Twitter
- Michael Douglas Talks 'The Kominsky Method' Season 2 and When He Shoots 'Ant-Man 3' at Collider
- Marvel's What If...? star Jeffrey Wright talks charting a new path with the all-knowing Watcher at Entertainment Weekly
- ROBERT DOWNEY JR. Back as IRON MAN for Disney+'s WHAT IF...?, According to Co-Star at Newsarama
- Robert Downey Jr to Return as Iron Man in Disney+ Animated Series 'What If?,' Jeff Goldblum Says at The Wra
- Chadwick Boseman Recorded Several What If...? Episodes at Comic Book Resources
- 'What If…?' Actor Jeffrey Wright On Chadwick Boseman's Final "Mythic" Turn As T'Challa In MCU at Deadline
- Chadwick Boseman's What If...? Roles Affected Black Panther 2 Plans at Comic Book Resources
- Exclusive: Frank Grillo Returning to MCU as Crossbones in 'What If...?' at Collider
- Tom Hiddleston hints that Marvel's What If...? is very important to the MCU at Games Radar
- Marvel’s ‘What If?’ Series Coming to Disney Plus in August, Drops New Trailer at Variety
- Seth Green at Instagram
- What If...? director talks replacing Chris Evans' Steve Rogers in the premiere at Gamesradar
- Here Are All the Marvel Actors Doing Voices in 'What If...?' at Collider
- Michael Rooker opens up about 'beautiful' What If...? episode with Chadwick Boseman at Entertainment Weekly
- Dave Bautista at Twitter
- James Gunn at Twitter
- Marvel Studios Planning 'Multiple' New Animated Series Following Debut of 'What If...?' at Variety
- Discussing Film at Twitter
- An exclusive look at 26 of summer 2021's must-watch TV shows at Entertainment Weekly
- What If...? Episodes May Lead to Future Live-Action Spinoffs at Comic Book Resources
- Marvel's What If Season 2 Confirmed To Include Phase 4 Movies at Screenrant
- 'What If...?' has some fun imagining a parallel Marvel universe at Chicago Sun-Times
- What If...? Review at Empire
- Disney+'s 'What If...': TV Review at The Hollywood Reporter
- Marvel's Victoria Alonso Teases 'Mini Studio' for Animation and Discusses Representation in Superhero Stories at NALIP Summit at Variety