Shot by Shot with Marvel’s ‘What If…?’ Trailer

We plunge into Marvel's What If trailer and examine how its alternate realities might interact with the larger MCU. Don't ignore this cartoon.
Shot By Shot What If Trailer Drax Tchalla

Welcome to Shot by Shot, our ongoing series of movie and TV trailer breakdowns. We’re constantly scouring for perfect shots, and in this column, we share our favorites and discuss them. In this entry, we tumble into the multiverse and consider what answers lie within the What If…? trailer.

Friends, this is not one of those cartoons you can afford to ignore. Marvel Studios’ What If…? is very much part of Phase Four, and the more we learn from Loki, the more crucial this series becomes. The Multiverse is real. The one-true timeline is the lie, or at least no more (we eagerly await answers within next week’s Disney+ finale).

While the live-action Doctor Strange is expected to tackle this Multiverse of Madness in his sequel, next month, we’re going to get a proper peek beyond the looking glass. A myriad of alternate realities exist, and we’ll meet several throughout What…If?‘s ten episodes. Found within will be recognizable characters, slightly shifted, but voiced by our Marvel performers. Tom Hiddleston, Michael B. Jordan, Hayley Atwell, and a whole lot more, including Chadwick Boseman in his final T’Challa performance, are scheduled to return. And looming over them is reality’s most noncommital peeper, Jeffrey Wright as the Watcher.

The What If…? comic book series is a playground where writers and artists run amuck with Marvel’s characters, and they do so free from an exhausted continuity. These stories are thought experiments where we can imagine Peter Parker living happily ever after with Gwen Stacy instead of mourning her Green Goblin-snapped neck. It asks, what if Conan the Barbarian traveled to modern-day New York City? A What If…? fantasy that is currently a reality in the latest Savage Avengers ongoing series.

Now that there are twenty-four feature films and three television shows in our rearview, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is ripe for experimentation. And as you can see in the trailer above, Kevin Feige‘s crew, spearheaded by TrollhuntersA.C. Bradley, is chopping up the franchise we love and letting the bits mix and match in new, unique ways.

It’s easy to dismiss these aberrations as larks, but in Loki‘s wake, we must consider how a Captain Carter could eventually interact with our Captain America or how a zombie Iron Man might lumber into the upcoming AntMan and the Wasp movie. In this Shot by Shot, we’re pulling out a few key moments from the trailer and examining how they twist the thing we love. Can something better be achieved?

The trailer begins where the MCU begins: Tony Stark, on his way back from selling weapons in Afghanistan, is intercepted by the Ten Rings terrorist cell. Instead of shrapnel tearing into the billionaire’s heart, Black Panther‘s Erik Killmonger propels the deadly rocket with Stark’s name on it into the sky. Rescued, a friendship is formed, and a dastardly different realm is created. Imagine Killmonger’s Wakandan rage sharpened by Stark’s brains.

In another reality, T’Challa is lifted off Earth by Yondu’s Ravagers instead of Peter Quill. Neglecting Bast’s call, the Wakandan leader becomes Star-Lord and a bizarre Avengers forms around him. Intercut with the squad shot we know so well from Joss Whedon’s film, we meet a new arrangement of mighty heroes. Killmonger wears his Black Panther duds, Gamora wields Thanos’ Endgame double-edged sword, and a tattooed Thor twirls a familiar-looking Mjölnir.

Ever since his cameo in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Howard the Duck has slowly evolved beyond the cinematic lemon from the eighties (which is actually not as bad as you remember or believe). Here’s hoping that What If…? continues to massage our appreciation for the character. As we see him here, Howard still appears as a member of the Collector’s collection, but based on some shots later on down this list, he may get out quicker and happier than before.

Captain Carter is What If…?‘s star as far as I’m concerned. Having earned Dr. Erskine’s formula instead of skinny Steve Rogers, Peggy dons the Captain Britain mantle and terrorizes more than just nazis. We see her rip through German tanks and ride an Iron Monger-like suit built by Howard Stark. Based on previous glimpses, her chum Steve Rogers pilots the sky-tank. Armin Zola quivers in awe and fear of her, and Peggy gets chatty with Doctor Strange. Huh, that’s anachronistic. What’s the doc doin’ in World War II?

While Peggy Carter holds a significant place within the comic books, her niece Sharon Carter previously enjoyed more popularity. However, Hayley Atwell’s success in the movies and her Agent Carter television show forced the comic book side of the company to reconsider her role. Captain Carter made her first appearance as Captain America in Exiles volume 3, issue 3. Her What If…? iteration appears slightly different, embracing the Union Jack on her chest instead of the Stars and Stripes. There is also a Captain Britain in the comics, historically it’s Brian Braddock, but it’s currently Betsy Braddock in the X-Men spin-off book, Excalibur.

Marvel Zombies is one of the most popular what-if storylines that didn’t actually originate with the What If…? comic book. In 2007, just as Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead gained serious steam, Marvel Comics approached the writer to put his undead spin on their universe. With artist Sean Phillips, Kirkman infected all our favorite heroes with the zombie bug, and they took to their ravenous appetites with gleeful, disturbing enthusiasm. Except for poor Peter Parker. He didn’t want to eat Mary Jane and Aunt May, but they were just too, too tasty. The Marvel zombies we see in What If…? look ultra scary, choosing to embrace fear rather than Kirkman’s sadistic humor.

You can’t have a Star-Lord without an Ego. Still wearing Kurt Russell‘s face, the Living Planet has dropped down to Earth, and he’s invaded a restaurant after hours. The jerk, he’s got no respect for the retail worker. Who is on the receiving end of his glowing glare? T’Challa? I don’t think so. Without Yondu to kidnap him, Peter Quill probably went on to live a lowly existence as a waiter, but his DNA still holds a special place in his evil daddy’s plans.

Captain Carter wields what may be the legendary sword Excalibur against the squiddy Shuma-Gorath. This creature is typically a Doctor Strange villain, but judging by the dark circles under Strange’s eyes, the good doctor may have actually fallen to the dark side. As further evidence, Strange trades magical blows with the Ancient One. These two represent a semi-cantankerous teacher/student relationship in our universe, but they’re certainly rivals here.

Scott Lang’s severed head shouts an exuberant, “Hey!” The moment feels all kinds of wrong, but as long as he’s happy, we’re happy. Standing next to the jar-head is a much more solemn figure. Vision still carries an Infinity Stone in his forehead, but he wants it out. He digs his fingers into his skull and yanks the gem free. While we don’t witness the result in the trailer, we do see what Vision is constructing on the poster.

Vision stands gallantly as an Infinity Knight, the six stones held not in a gauntlet but a suit of armor. Thanos caused tremendous chaos when he snapped half the universe away. As long as Vision maintains some decency, he could be a titanic crusader for good. Do we trust Scott Lang’s head to steer Vision in the right direction? Uh…

T’Challa and Yondu bring the pain to the Collector, a Collector who’s cybernetically juiced. While the firsts and knees fly, the collection swirls in the background. It’s far larger than anything we’ve previously seen in the MCU. There are more treasures within than Howard the Duck. And if Yondu and T’Challa take the Collector out, what will become of the zoo? It could be quite the army for the Ravagers to lead.

The trailer climaxes with the Watcher flashing his eyes, leaving us with a giddy desire for more. The What If…? possibilities are endless. Recall how you felt after watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time. Remember how you giggled at the idea of Rocket Raccoon thirsting for Bucky’s Vibranium arm? And then we finally got that scene in Avengers: Infinity War. That’s all What If…? is! Tantalizing possibility born from infinite imagination. Anything can happen.

What If…? starts streaming on Disney + August 11th.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)