As a creator of a new series based on the 13-year legacy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), how can you tell if you’re on the right track?
Well, what if… one of the ideas that you’ve had was actually something similar to what someone else was doing?
That’s the predicament Disney+’s What If…? anthology series writer A.C. Bradley and director Bryan Andrews found themselves, while developing the show that borrows from the comic book series of the same name.
“I pitched an entire episode. It took me a couple of days to break it. I was very excited by it. I went to Bryan, I’m like ‘Here we go, this is what happens. Do you think Kevin (Feige) would approve?’,” she recalled.
“He went ‘Oh yeah. Kevin will love that, it’s half the plot of Guardians 3!,” laughed Bradley.
“That was a day where you go home, you crack open a beer and you go ‘Okay, I’ll go back to the board tomorrow’. So that’s an episode I can’t do because the amazing James Gunn is already going to do it!”
It also indicated to the team that they were on the right track, which meant the past two years spent developing the MCU’s first animated series wouldn’t be wasted. An anthology series, What If…? presents beloved Marvel superheroes in scenarios and possibilities that are different from what fans are familiar with.
As seen at the season one finale of Loki, variants and alternate timelines and realities are now a part of the MCU, which parks this series neatly into Phase 4 of the mega-franchise. Each episode of What If… ? stands to give viewers something different and exciting, and according to the makers of the series, each episode is like a Marvel movie.
It’s the fourth TV series on Disney+, following WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki but is also the first animated series to be made by Marvel Studios, and it has the privilege of having the most participants from the franchise, as a majority of original actors returned to voice their character in the series.
“In each story, we wanted to play with genre and tone. As a writer, it was such a gift to be able to stretch my talents and abilities to make every episode stand-alone. We wanted everything to feel visually different, we want people to drop in on each of these episodes and feel like they’re watching one short Marvel movie,” said writer A.C. Bradley in a roundtable interview with Geek Culture.
“We have a spy thriller, a party episode, there’s comedy, there’s heart, there’s a mystery. You guys got to see one of my favourite episodes, which is basically a heist episode so it was a real treat to play around with different genres and tones and styles.”
A 10-episode series, it’s no secret that the team had actually come up with over 30 possible episodes when developing What If…?, which means the team has enough material for a second season, even if one hasn’t officially been announced yet.
Just as how writing a standalone mini Marvel movie in every episode is important for writer Bradley, director Bryan Andrews wants to create a series that continues the legacy of Marvel and will cultivate a stronger love for the superhero genre. Especially seeing how it has a large impact on younger kids – and even adults – who require someone to look up to.
“We all need a hero or someone to look up to, to help us be better people or live vicariously through. Since ancient times, every culture has their epic, legendary beings and in this day and age, Marvel seems to be that thing regardless of culture,” shared Andrews.
“My daughter is five and she hasn’t seen these movies but she sees the illustration, she sees a character and goes ‘Is that a superhero? What’s their power? Who are they?’. It’s a great tool to teach about being good and better and help others to aspire higher. The world needs that always.”
Though, that’s not to say that What If…? incessantly glorifies heroes. In one of the earlier episodes, a beloved hero is seen taking a turn towards the dark side. Whilst completely unexpected, it wasn’t entirely out of character. Striking that balance and making things make sense in the multiverse world that is What If…? has been a challenging and fun experience for Bradley.
“We all have our demons, we all have the things that would drive us to a darker side, a darker force. One of the rules that we created in the writers’ room was, the character always has to stay true to who they are at heart so if the character goes darker it has to be coming from a place that makes sense, and usually, it’s a place of love or friendship or necessity and that’s all things as humans, we can understand. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of because we were driven by a greater need,” shared Bradley.
Despite bringing the first Marvel Studios animated series to life, Andrews doesn’t feel nervous or pressured at all. In fact, Andrews believes that a concept like What If…? where one imagines or wonders how things might unfold if a certain character behaves in a different way is innate in the fan culture.
“It’s funny because like in Comic-Con, there’s cosplay and you see people put their own riff on a particular character a little bit so I think the fanbase is already for it. When a movie is over, we’re like ‘what if this? What if that?’ so people are ready for it. [What If…?] gives fans a different way to love the same character. It’s a different version, a variation [of the character],” explained Andrews.
“It’s like jazz! It’s just a different riff on that song that we all love. I’m actually quite excited about it, I can’t wait to see people’s reactions.”
And just like how fans have favourite characters, films, choices of music, the makers themselves have their own favourite episodes. For Bradley, it was the Doctor Strange episode where the hero struggles with grief and loss.
“The Doctor Strange episode was a very special one to me for writing. Going into it, I was actually quite scared because it has very heavy themes. It deals with loss, it’s a tragedy, but once I sat down, started working on it, it was actually a very rewarding experience because I got to play around with ‘Why does loss hurt so much?’ and it’s because it all comes down to love,” said a vulnerable Bradley.
“The things we love can hurt us. This is the most human episode of the lot. But it also has some beautiful imagery, some amazing action, and hopefully a good few twists.”
Andrews’ favourite, on the other hand, is the pilot episode where Peggy Carter becomes Captain Carter.
“I still love Peggy Carter – good old-fashioned pulpy action with the message of feminism behind it! Punching villains, hitting Nazis in the face! Who knew that it would be so relevant today still. It’s crazy. There’s a lot of favourites and I think the fans are gonna have a hard time choosing a favourite because I think they’re all very strong in their own merits.”
As fans gear up for the official premiere of What If…?, Andrew hopes that fans would love the series and that he and Bradley will get the opportunity to share more ideas that they have been keeping up their sleeves.
“We have a lot of great ideas in the wings that are ready for their moment to shine if we get an opportunity so if the fans clamour for it enough, we’ll get to bring those to you. Make your voices heard and say you want more!”
What If…? premieres on Disney+ on 11 August 2021.