Marvel Studios is thoroughly enjoying its long-awaited return to theaters, which is thriving with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and will continue in November with Chloé Zhao's Eternals. Thankfully, this is taking nothing away from the MCU's new venture into storytelling on Disney+, which has delivered four vastly different tales thus far in 2021.
Currently making its run in the streaming realm is What If...?, Marvel Studios' first dip into animation, which has told five unique stories based on events in the Infinity Saga that played out differently in a new reality. Showing off everything from Peggy Carter becoming Captain Carter to a world overrun by zombies, this series has the opportunity to push the limits of storytelling in numerous ways.
The biggest challenge behind this animated series was the time it took to develop, initial plans for the show first going public more than two years ago at San Diego Comic-Con 2019. This forced the team into making many of their own decisions for plot points, one of which differed slightly from a series that premiered earlier in 2021.
Nexus Point Vs. Absolute Point
In an interview with The GOAT Movie Podcast on YouTube, What If...? head writer A.C. Bradley gave insight on the development process for the show, specifically as it pertained to connecting with the rest of the MCU.
With how long it took to come up with the concept for the plot and develop the animation, Bradley explained that she and her team were "writing so far into the future" that it was hard to think of the MCU years down the road.
Specifically touching on Episode 4 featuring Doctor Strange, the writer revealed that she wrote the script over two and a half years ago. Bradley also commented on how the "Absolute Point" in the show should have been called a "Nexus Point" as it was in Loki, but the scripts and plot for Loki hadn't been developed when she was working on her own project:
"When you’re writing animation, you’re writing so far into the future that you can’t think four years down the line. That Doctor Strange episode, I wrote in February of 2019. I think I should’ve called it a Nexus Point instead of an Absolute Point. The Loki scripts weren’t even written yet, so that animatic locked before Loki even finished their scripts because you’re always writing about two years ahead of animation. It’s kind of intense and insane."
Tilda Swinton's The Ancient One referenced this concept in the episode itself when talking about the ramifications of Doctor Strange Supreme accomplishing his goal of changing the absolute point in his universe:
"If the other Strange succeeds in reversing an absolute point in our universe... the resulting temporal paradox will destroy this universe."
Bradley Developing The MCU On The Fly
With the MCU diving into time travel and the multiverse in 2021's Loki, fans learned about the concept of Nexus Events from the Time Variance Authority. These were the points in time that caused variances in the Sacred Timeline that had the potential to send the multiverse into chaos, even though they all took place under Kang the Conqueror's watch.
This came as early as Episode 1 thanks to the Miss Minutes-led expositional video that Loki saw upon entering the TVA's headquarters, which gave a brief explanation of how the organization did its job.
Later episodes showed quick glimpses at the TVA's Sacred Timeline chart, which the Minutemen and higher authorities used to track Nexus Events, especially if they posed a real threat to the timeline.
With Episode 4 of What If...? having been written more than a year before Loki even began filming, it was nearly impossible to get that same level of consistency with how close Marvel keeps plot details close to the vest.
However, the idea of this series happening in an alternate reality likely helped Bradley in the development process. After all, this universe could use a different name for the same concept, considering how much else was already changed from the core timeline.
Not having access to the MCU's future plot details, Bradley found a way to deliver a concept that had already been introduced in a way that didn't confuse fans keeping up with this story after Loki. The coming weeks could potentially bring more similarities like this one, although everything is expectedly unpredictable in "these vast, new realities."
The first five episodes of What If...? are currently streaming on Disney+.