When Marvel's What If...? was first announced, it was treated as a non-canon romp through all the adventures and possibilities that could never happen within the tight storytelling of the MCU. The animated show was intended as just a bit of a laugh, showing us wacky scenarios like T’Challa and Tony Stark teaming up, Spider-Man using Doctor Strange’s Cloak of Levitation, and Black Panther as a Ravager. Recently though, Marvel has announced that everything that happens in What If…? is actually completely canon, thanks to the multiverse snafu pulled by Sylvie in Loki. This is a terrible idea.
The whole point of What If…? as a concept has now disappeared. It’s no longer an interesting journey through different possibilities, it’s yet more Marvel lore being piled on top of Marvel lore, yet more unmissable developments, yet more storylines that you absolutely, positively must-see or risk missing out on everything else. The title doesn’t even make sense anymore.
Loki, for example, was a spin-off for a character who had previously died. It seemed like a show you could duck out of and still ‘get’ the MCU as a whole. As it turns out, it introduced Kang the Conqueror and unleashed the Multiverse Saga, which will likely rival the Infinity Saga in terms of scale and consequence. Basically, missing Loki is like missing every movie with Thanos in it before Avengers: Infinity War. The MCU constantly demands your attention, and while I’m a huge fan of all the characters and can just about keep up, casual viewers are at risk of being left behind. What If…? was supposed to take the pressure off - instead, the show has just become more vital than ever.
If you miss WandaVision, you don’t know what’s going on with Wanda or Vision. If you miss What If…? though, you don’t know what’s happening with anyone. It might still essentially be non-canon - as in, those events we see may have ‘actually happened’ in the reality of the MCU multiverse, but they may not actually impact the MCU moving forward. With the late Chadwick Boseman starring in four episodes, it’s unlikely that those four specific realities will intertwine with the MCU moving forward, for example. But the others? They might. Peggy as Captain America is cool, if a little obvious. While Carter featured in several movies and had spin-off show Agent Carter, you could argue she always deserved more of a shot in the MCU - but at the same time, she has missed her window. The MCU needs to move beyond the Infinity Saga, and Peggy has a happy ending with Steve already. Bringing her back once is cool - bringing her back forever is tedious.
It’s just difficult to know what to make of it all. As an animated show, it’s already putting arms length between itself and the rest of the MCU, even if most of the main cast are reprising their voice roles. If it is going to remain standalone, why announce it as canon? If it’s not standalone, how does this all work? How do you bring these characters into the ‘main’ MCU story? Time travel made it hard enough to justify the ever evolving landscape, but at least that was established as a one-time thing. The Eternals not arriving when Thanos was busy snapping is going to be hard to explain, but you could argue the arrival of multiverses is an even bigger cosmic issue. Now though, there are just too many “why don’t you?” questions. “Why don’t you go to the multiverse where Vision is still alive?”, “Why don’t you go to the multiverse where Hela is a hero?”, “Why don’t you go to the multiverse where Thanos is a baker?” and so on. It’s bad enough that the heroes could solve most of their solo problems with a quick phone call to Captain Marvel, but What If…? is bringing in far too many variables.
It takes what should have been the MCU’s most relaxing show and turns it into the most serious. I’m excited to see the Marvel Zombies, but as a one-off thing. I don’t want them to be introduced in the MCU proper, at least not immediately after Kang and via a backdoor pilot in a cartoon. There might be some great stuff in What If…?, and Marvel is on a hot streak - Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s damp squib notwithstanding. But making it another must-see piece of the universe instead of a nice break from it all feels counterintuitive to what the whole show is about, and pulling a switcheroo right before it airs feels foolish. We've known multiverses were coming ever since the Doctor Strange sequel title emerged. Here’s an idea, what if not everything had to be an unmissable part of a decade and half-long superhero epic? What if some TV shows could just be for fun?
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