The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding, and 2021 will forever be remembered as the year when the next era of the MCU was introduced.
Disney+ brought an entirely new x-factor to the world's largest cinematic story. With 29 entries into the universe, the MCU is full of all kinds of stories, big and small, that all weave together to create one extravagant narrative. The series additions of the MCU that live on Disney+ have so far acted as supplemental side stories that elevate supporting characters to top-tier names while also pushing the ball down the field.
WandaVision was a surprising character story that brought a true supporting character from the Infinity Saga and elevated her to leading status. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier did the same thing for Sam Wilson, elevating him to Captain America. And Loki took a slightly different approach by turning the entire MCU on its head.
Each entry into the Disney+ section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought something unique to the overall story while remaining relatively personal. And then Marvel Studios brought in the animation factor.
Marvel Studios' What If...? is the first animated venture for the storied movie universe. Not only did this bring cartoons into the world of live-action heroes, but it also brought one of the most far-fetched concepts to the table.
What If...? is an alternate universe telling stories that feature Variants of the biggest names in the MCU. With the Multiverse opening more and more with every project, this was the fan's best look at how different, or similar, these universes could be.
Many fans went into WandaVision wondering if it was essential to watch it for the rest of the MCU. The answer ended up being a resounding "yes." But What If...? may not offer such a black and white response. Here are the five essential episodes of What If...? fans need to watch for MCU awareness.
Episode 1: What If... Captain Carter Was The First Avenger?
This episode, more than others, is a product of the fans wanting more. Ever since the idea of Peggy Carter taking the Super Soldier Serum was presented, the MCU faithful have been calling for Hayley Atwell to return in a much more superhero role. The pilot episode of What If...? gave a taste of what that would look and feel like. And the rest was glorious history.
The finale of Season 1 brought all of that hype back into the fold with the opening scene being Peggy recreating the Captain America: The Winter Soldier opening in a Captain Britain-esque stealth suit. And in the finale, the post-credits scene teased Captain Carter's appearance in Season 2.
Many believe that this story is the most live-action adaptable one of the season, Hayley Atwell has been playing Peggy Carter since 2012 and is a fan-favorite across the board. From where Steve and Peggy left in Avengers: Endgame with a beautiful bow to a beautiful story, fans will be looking to the Multiverse to see Atwell join the superhero ranks once again.
Because the MCU has proven how much they care about its fans and community, audiences should watch this episode to get a taste of the vibe and jump aboard the Captain Carter bandwagon.
Episode 4: What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands?
This episode is the perfect representation of what many believed to be the overall purpose of What If...?. With the Multiverse ever-present in the MCU, there is bound to be an assortment of rules, regulations, and moving pieces. Loki got this ball rolling with the TVA, time, and Variants living in alternative timelines and multiverses. However, some feel like instead of pushing audiences toward an understanding, it created more cloudiness and confusion.
But fear not true believers. If there is anything Marvel Studios has proven in the past, it is that there will be an explanation for everything. The Multiverse is a confusing and intricate process of introducing things like absolute points and pocket dimensions in What If...?, allowing them to utilize these concepts in other projects with a basic level of familiarity.
This is arguably the most valuable episode of What If...?: predicting the stories to come in the Multiverse saga. Another wrinkle this episode introduces is Strange Supreme. Seeing what would happen to Doctor Strange if he decided to embrace the darkness of sorcery is a terrifying thing that What If...? presents well.
With such a large role in Spider-Man: No Way Home and a mysterious presence in the trailer, this could be a sign of things to come.
Episodes 8 & 9: What If... Ultron Won/The Watcher Broke His Oath?
Episode 8 gives fans their best look at The Watcher in action and the actual location between the Multiverse in which he resides. This alone should be enough reason for any die-hard MCU fan to watch this entire season and particularly these two episodes. The Watcher is one of the most powerful and omnipotent characters in the Marvel Universe. Fans have already seen these great observers in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
With so much to explore within the alternative universes in the MCU, the rules will likely be set and broken over and over again. The Watcher interfering with what he is watching is breaking the first (and only) rule of his character. What do those repercussions mean?
This will most likely be explored in Season 2 of What If...?. But if the No Way Home trailer is any indication, this is also something that could come into theaters. There are way more questions than answers, and these episodes work together to make those questions all the more exciting.
These episodes are combined because they act as a part one and part two story that really puts The Watcher in the spotlight, doing everything he can both as a warrior and a project manager to protect the Multiverse.
Episode 5: What If...Zombies!?
This entry almost acts as a bonus addition to this list. While the first four episodes have different aspects and elements that could be re-introduced into the main MCU timeline, zombies is a whole separate ball game.
The rumors for a live-action zombie project from Marvel Studios are buzzing. A movie, series, or special featuring Marvel Zombies in live-action would be an amazing feat of CGI and budget. But this episode proves it is something fans want and something Marvel Studios can do pretty well.
The logistics make this rumor tough to swallow. It is likely that Marvel would want to play with the zombie card on some of the biggest names in the MCU. Getting a Downey or an Evans back for a zombie run would be a tall task and possibly a waste of their return potential. This is why this episode plays so well in animation.
But never say never. Marvel Studios has done crazier things in the past, and Disney+ opens the door to a world of options.
The Answer Is Everything
The reality is if you want to ensure you don't miss out on any potential depth that What If...? will provide to the future of the MCU, then watching this entire series is key.
It is impossible to predict what seeds were planted here that could be explored later. The Multiverse opens Pandora's Box of possibilities, and Marvel is doing everything it can to capitalize on that. Knowing the rules will be important. Understanding the concepts will be pivotal. These are tough tasks to covey to the common fan.
It is a pretty amazing thing that Marvel Studios is able to do that through some fun and beautiful animation.
All episodes of Season 1 of What If...? are streaming now on Disney+.