Disney Plus's What If…? completed its first season last year but interest in the Marvel Studios streaming series may get revived with more new evidence it could be required viewing for May 6's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
It's certainly looking more and more like the MCU's first animated series is an extended trailer or even a full-on prequel to the Doctor Strange sequel.
With the stunning, pandemic-defying success of Spider-Man: No Way Home and with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness trailer featuring Ultron bots, multiple Wandas, and a certain line of dialogue from a certain very familiar voice, interest in the MCU Multiverse is at an all-time high. What If…? is not only a primer on the MCU Multiverse but it also planted seeds that feel like they could pay off in multiple future films and streaming series, including The Multiverse of Madness.
Newsarama has been making this case for a while now, and the latest tease is pretty conclusive.
Here's why you might want to stream What If…? before seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness:
What if... What If...? was always bigger than it seemed?
Marvel Studios can sometimes be playful with its fans, and What If…? seemed like it was designed to be an inconsequential detour. The series is based on a Marvel comic book concept that for most of its history was designed to not be part of ongoing Marvel Universe continuity.
The whole point of the original premise was to tell brief one-off stories that played with continuity rather than in it by turning it on its ear. But as the Uatu the Watcher, the series' omniscient narrator always reminded readers, the stories were just glimpses at possible alternative realities. However, back then, the idea that these Earths or universes existed side-by-side with the main reality wasn't a thing – when the comic book series debuted in 1977, the concept of a Marvel Multiverse wasn't fully formed.
But unlike the source material, the Disney Plus series now looks like it's an incubator for MCU concepts.
The conclusion of Disney Plus's Loki was the catalyst to a rapidly expanding Multiverse that might lead directly to the "Madness" in the Doctor Strange sequel's title, a term named-checked by Miss Minutes in the opening minutes of the 2021 Tom Hiddleston-starring series.
Add to that the last scene of WandaVision, which implies Wanda Maximoff's children Billy and Tommy continue to exist somewhere after the newly-crowned Scarlet Witch ended her elaborate illusionary takeover of the town of Westview, New Jersey. Then there was the introduction of the villain Kang (Marvel's preeminent time-traveling/multiversal villain) to the MCU in Loki and the now-established fact that December's Spider-Man: No Way Home was neck-deep in the Multiverse, roping in Sony's previous generations of Spider-Man movies and Netflix's Daredevil to the delight of moviegoers worldwide.
So What If…? landing smack dab between them all was too much to be a coincidence – or in other words, too great an opportunity for Kevin Feige and co. to pass up.
Given Marvel Studios' perfection of the connective tissue model of movies and now streaming TV shows, we probably should have concluded all along there was more to What If…? than met the eye, something fans may have been clued into right in the first episode.
Captain Carter ... and friend?
In episode 1 of What If... ?, Captain Carter - Peggy Carter who receives the Super-Solider serum instead of Steve Rogers - fights off a tentacled monster trying to invade Earth, which appeared to be long-time Doctor Strange villain Shuma-Gorath, although the creature's name has now been confirmed at Gargantos (and we explain why the name changed and anything you want to know about both Marvel monsters through the link).
The result of the battle was Captain Carter being transported from World War II 1940s to 2012 in a Variant reality, suggesting the monster could travel through time. But we'll get back to that.
There had been rumors Hayley Atwell (who plays Agent Peggy Carter in films and voiced the Captain Carter version) would bring the Captain Carter role to live-action in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and those rumors are seemingly now confirmed with a portion of the character's shield decorated in Union Jack iconography appearing near-hidden in the film's new poster and Captain Carter herself appearing in a new Multiverse of Madness TV ad.
You can't see Atwell's face, but it looks like her live-action debut as Captain Carter is in solid ground.
And what makes this even more interesting is that in the post-credits scene of the What If...? season 1 finale, it's hinted that Steve Rogers, who in that Multiverse was not transformed into Captain America but instead piloted a giant WWII era Iron Man armor (the Hydra-Stomper) built by Howard Stark, was somehow still alive in 2012.
Now that might be mere set-up for What If...? season 2, but it was there for a reason, and since we couldn't rule out Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Charlie Cox in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Professor X in Multiverse of Madness, can we completely rule out Chris Evans in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in a non-Captain America role?
Now we're not going to dive too deep into this one, but the most credible reports of Chris Evans striking a deal to return to the MCU surfaced in mid-January 2021.
The Multiverse of Madness began principal production in November 2020 and continued through late April 2021.
We're just sayin'...
Multiverse, madness, and monsters
And back to the tentacled monster, it appeared again in What If...? episode 4, again with its name and main body unrevealed, but the episode did add a few new wrinkles.
For one it establishes the same creature exists in or can travel between different multiple timelines/universes and that it is super-powerful (Doctor Strange Supreme amasses enough power to destroy his universe just by absorbing a few of its tentacles).
Marvel Studios does little without a purpose. Everything you see on-screen in an MCU production is calculated and the peek-a-boo way they revealed the monster has a purpose.
We know a one-eyed green-ish monster named Gargantos is present in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it now appears near certain it's the same one-eyed green-ish monster.
Marvel Zombies, a comic book franchise, made their MCU debut in What If...? episode 5, and Marvel Studios liked how it turned out so much it put a Marvel Zombies animated Disney Plus series into development.
And how it looks like we might get a glimpse of zombified Marvel characters in Multiverse of Madness, which was always likely given its horror elements.
Finally, there's the matter of What If...?'s Strange Supreme, a more powerful, darker, more corrupted version of Stephen Strange.
Although this one veers off the premise just a little.
It would be easy to assume the darker, evil version of Strange in The Multiverse of Madness' second trailer (dubbed "Sinister Strange" by its subtitles) is the same version of the character seen in What If...?. That would officially make What If...? a Multiverse of Madness prequel, telling the origin story of the dark Strange.
But Benedict Cumberbatch is throwing some water on that theory.
In an interview with our sister publication Total Film magazine, the actor says the two variants of Stephen Strange are not the same.
Cumberbatch confirms that his Sinister Steve in The Multiverse of Madness "is nothing that you've seen before," and that "...What If...? is a beautiful riff of a potential. And this is something different."
But either way, all of these factors may ultimately force MCU fans who overlooked What If...? the first time around to pay closer attention to the series before The Multiverse of Madness opens on May 6...
... which may have been Marvel's plan all along.
The MCU Multiverse and Marvel Comics Multiverse seem to be aligning with Multiversal Avengers.