Michaela Coel Joins “Black Panther 2” In A Mystery Role

Michaela Coel is on a meteoric rise to stardom, and it’s been a beautiful thing to witness. Over roughly five years, the British-Ghanaian actress has gone from a fleeting appearance in The Last Jedi to starring in an episode of Black Mirror and in the TV series Chewing Gum, which she wrote and produced. But until last year, she was still relatively unknown – and then I May Destroy You came along, earning Coel three Emmy Award nominations for her work in front of and behind the camera as an actress, writer, director, and producer. I’m sure Marvel President Kevin Feige had his eye on her even before she joined WandaVision‘s Elizabeth Olsen in the Emmy’s Best Actress category, but just yesterday it became official: Coel is joining the MCU.

Michaela Coel
Michaela Coel | standard.co.uk

She’ll be showing up in the sequel to Black Panther, titled Wakanda Forever, and has apparently already joined director Ryan Coogler and her castmates in Atlanta to start filming. That’s really all we know for the time being, because her role is being kept under wraps, but speculation has been…intense, to say the least. Why? Because thanks to her extraordinary talent and the fact that she happens to possess the most sculptured cheekbones in all of England, she’s one of the top fan-casts for the character of Ororo Munroe, a.k.a. Storm.

Yeah, as in the Storm. The Storm whose been one of the most prominent members of the X-Men team in Marvel Comics since 1975. The Storm whose an Omega-Level Mutant with pretty much every atmokinetic ability under the sun (the light of which she can manipulate by altering levels of moisture in the air, by the way), including the power to generate wind, rain, lightning, thunder, snow, hurricanes, tornadoes, fog, etc. The Storm who appeared in six of Fox’s X-Men movies played by Halle Berry and Alexandra Shipp, and who got virtually nothing to do in all that time. It is long past time for Storm to get some of the spotlight that’s been reserved for her (white, male) teammates, and Michaela Coel in the role would ensure an unforgettable MCU debut for the character.

And unlike, say, Reed Richards or Blue Marvel appearing in WandaVision, Ororo Munroe showing up in a Black Panther story would make sense. The character’s connections to Wakanda date back to her first interaction with the African nation’s king, T’Challa, whom she met and rescued back when he was still a prince. The two formed a close (and semi-romantic) bond while journeying together, but separated before they could express their feelings for each other, with T’Challa going on to become king of Wakanda and Munroe settling down in her ancestral homeland on the Serengeti, where she was worshipped as a goddess. Since then, in the comics, she’s married T’Challa, served as the Queen of Wakanda for a time, left T’Challa to side with the X-Men, defended Wakanda from a number of threats including Skrull shapeshifters, and taken over as its Queen during T’Challa’s absence.

But in the MCU, T’Challa isn’t coming back following Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing last year. There’s been a lot of debate over whether it’s the right choice and how Marvel will incorporate Boseman’s death into the story of Wakanda Forever, but ultimately it seems a different character (or perhaps, characters) will take up the Black Panther mantle – one likely being Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, and another candidate being M’Baku of the Jabari Tribe. I don’t expect Storm to vie for the mantle, but I could envision a scenario where she’s introduced at the beginning of the movie as one of T’Challa’s friends from childhood, who never got the chance to say goodbye to him before what will presumably be an in-universe funeral for the character.

Michaela Coel
Storm | wallpaperflare.com

There would be pros and cons to this, of course. It could serve as a very touching opportunity to explore more of T’Challa’s youth, and I’m sure many audiences would see themselves in Storm’s grief and feelings of incompletion. But at the same time…it might be unfair to both the character of Storm and the legacy of Chadwick Boseman to use this movie as a means of introducing other major characters, if it distracts from giving Boseman the send-off he deserves. It could also be unfair to Michaela Coel, who never worked with Boseman and can’t draw on the same genuine feelings of heartbreak that his Black Panther castmates like Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and Winston Duke, can. If anyone could make this work, it’d be Ryan Coogler, but it’s going to be a tricky situation regardless.

But of course, we don’t actually know that Michaela Coel is playing Storm in Wakanda Forever, and there’s a good chance she’s not. My only hope is that she’s not in a one-off role, because Coel deserves to stick around in the MCU no matter who she’s playing.

And if not Storm, what then? Well, there’s a few other options I’ve seen floated, all of which could potentially be interesting. For instance, Michaela Coel would make for a radiant Madam Slay, a minor villain from the comics who controls an army of leopards and is mostly content with hunting and killing poachers until she crosses paths with Erik Killmonger, becomes his lover, and tries to usurp the throne of Wakanda with him. In the MCU, Madam Slay could show up in Wakanda to avenge Killmonger’s death at the end of Black Panther, although that could turn into a retread of Killmonger’s own character arc.

A lesser-known but perhaps even more interesting character is Zenzi, a villainous empath who can force people to succumb to their darkest desires and worst impulses. In the comics, she’s not technically Wakandan but does become an ally of a Wakandan rebel movement who seek to overthrow T’Challa. In the MCU, her origin story could be tweaked a little: she could lead a rebellion against whoever is chosen to become the new Black Panther. Interestingly, Zenzi has a connection to Baron Zemo which the MCU might like to exploit – I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see Michaela Coel join the Thunderbolts.

Coel may not want to play a villain, however, in which case she’d also be a great choice to play Aneka, one of the Dora Milaje warriors from the comics who hasn’t appeared yet in live-action – but whose canonical girlfriend, Ayo, was prominently featured in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier just recently. Not only would it be great to have more LGBTQ+ representation (particularly queer Black women) in the MCU, but this is a role Michaela Coel could easily reprise in the upcoming Wakanda-centric Disney+ series. In fact, she could lead the Wakanda-centric Disney+ series, not to mention write and direct parts of it too.

As you can see, there’s a lot of great characters besides Storm whom Michaela Coel could play, and I’d be happy with any one of these choices because I really just want Coel to shine. But if she is playing Storm, and she is the very first Mutant introduced in the MCU, you definitely won’t see me complaining because I’ve wanted her in that role for a while now.

Michaela Coel
Dora Milaje | cbr.com

How about you? Do you want to see Michaela Coel don Ororo Munroe’s classic white hair and take to the skies, or would you prefer her in a different role? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Loki” Season 1 Ends With A (Big) Bang

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

The cost of free will in the Marvel Cinematic Universe(s) was high: so high we can’t even begin to comprehend the vast number of ramifications that will spin out of Loki‘s climactic finale…so high that I’m still not entirely sure what actually happened in this episode, except that notably no one died, leaving all our major players on the board heading into what will surely be an even stronger and stranger second season (and oh yes, season two is very much a go: Clark Gregg spoiled that over a year ago, in fact, but a mid-credits stinger at the end of today’s episode outright confirms it).

Loki
Sylvie and Loki | indianexpress.com

I do want to touch on that latter fact before we dive into the embarrassment of riches this finale has to offer in and of itself. Unlike WandaVision and (at least for now) The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki is not and was not planned to be a miniseries, which means its stories, thematic through-lines, and character arcs don’t all wrap up conclusively at the end of this first season. They each have satisfying payoffs for the time being, but…they’re a work in progress, which makes it more difficult to pass any kind of final judgment on them.

Take, for example, the romantic arc between our dual protagonists, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). Adored by some as a positive message of self-love, loathed by others as being just shy of incest, either way it’s been building towards something: and that something is a pretty powerful kiss in the final minutes of the episode, albeit one which Sylvie uses to her advantage so she can send Loki hurtling through a portal into another timeline while she deals with the series’ antagonist alone. That arc is by no means finished. Loki loves Sylvie deeply, and he makes that clear when he tells her he can’t bring himself to fight her. Sylvie loves Loki too, and it seems to physically hurt her because of how hard it is for her to trust anyone. That kiss is a great payoff to the journey these two have been on, and it can be a great building-block for future tension and conflict in their relationship.

Similarly, throughout the series we’ve seen Loki become capable of unprovoked acts of empathy, courage, and rational thinking for pretty much the first time in his life. That’s not to say he still doesn’t struggle: when Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) pops up in the Citadel at the End of Time like a horror-movie jumpscare to offer Loki and Sylvie the future of their dreams as a last-ditch effort to save the Sacred Timeline, the pained expression on Loki’s face and Natalie Holt’s gently wailing Asgardian theme (subtly reminding us of the pain and trauma Loki suffered on Asgard, the motivation for so many of his cruelest deeds) suggest that he’s strongly tempted to take what the animated clock is willing to give him – a timeline in which he prevails at the Battle of New York, survives his encounter with Thanos, and obtains the Infinity Gauntlet.

But the thing is, Loki wants to be a better person than what the Sacred Timeline has planned for him. He’s seen the best of what people – including his own Variants – are capable of, and he wants that, both for himself, and for the people whom he’s grown to love. He wants Sylvie to live the life of her choice, without the Time Variance Authority hounding her for whatever reason. He wants Mobius (Owen Wilson) to be able to live the life that was taken from him by the TVA, maybe even get a jet-ski along the way. He wants to be good, and the only way to do that is to free the timeline…which he does. And if Loki was a miniseries, this would have allowed for a triumphant conclusion to his arc. But it’s not, so this is merely the beginning of what can potentially be a fascinating internal struggle for him as he grapples with doubt, guilt, and perhaps an acknowledgment of the fact that he no longer has an excuse to not be good.

Oh yeah, no biggie, but Loki and Sylvie opened the Multiverse…for real, this time. We all kind of jumped the shark after episode two, thinking Sylvie bombing the Sacred Timeline was equivalent to creating a Multiverse (it wasn’t, and that was something the show nearly adequately clarified), and before that during the WandaVision era we all assumed Wanda would open the Multiverse even though, ironically, she ultimately progressed enough as a character to stop herself from doing that (different strokes for different folks), but this time there can be no doubt. The MCU has officially crossed what Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) refers to as “the threshold”, a Nexus Event from which there can be no turning back: the Sacred Timeline he’s worked so hard to design and cultivate is finally unraveling piece-by-piece, shedding billions of new branch timelines every moment, and making Multiversal war a matter of “when”, not “if”.

Speaking of which, this event clearly provides the launchpad for Marvel’s fourth Disney+ show and their first animated project, What If…?, which we can now surmise will kick off with this chronological equivalent to the Big Bang, exploring timelines diverging from the events of the MCU films. Spider-Man: No Way Home will also continue the Multiverse saga (suddenly, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are in the movie), and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness will either end it or further exacerbate the situation. Given that Kang is still officially set to make an appearance in Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, and the version of Kang we met in this episode is already dead, I’m inclined to guess the latter. Loki is also now reported to appear in Multiverse Of Madness, so let’s just say the MCU is getting weird.

Loki
Kang The Conqueror | leisurebyte.com

I mean, I already suspected that when the Loki finale opened with the disembodied voices of our beloved Marvel heroes playing over the title cards, mixing with audio of real-life figures including Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Greta Thunberg, and Malala Yousafzai – all meant to convey the disorienting effect of crossing over from the Sacred Timeline, which takes shape as a ring encircling Kang’s Citadel, into an alien region outside of time and space. The Timeline’s circular shape is interesting to me: for one thing, it once again brings to mind images of the Midgard Serpent from Norse mythology, Loki’s monstrous offspring which wraps around the world and bites its own tail. But it also explains the strange nature of time in the TVA, how everything past, present, and future, seems to be happening simultaneously even though the TVA’s own diagrams misleadingly represented the Timeline as a straight line. Circles are potent symbols, as they can have both positive and negative connotations, representing everything from perfection, wholeness, and eternity (i.e. Sacred Timeline) to a sense of meandering and endless repetition. From Crystal Clear Intuition, “A circle protects against chaos and unpredictability, and invites an element of “trusting the universe””, which perhaps helps to explain why Kang chose it: it’s foolproof against Loki’s.

Before I start rambling about the symbolism of circles (and oh boy, am I tempted), let’s move on to my next point: which is that Kang actually wants the Loki’s to succeed, as long as they do it on his terms. It’s never explained exactly why (and that is something I wish we’d learned in this season), but he’s been guiding Loki and Sylvie to his Citadel specifically so they can take over as new heads of the TVA, continuing his life’s work (did I mention that circles also represent transition?) with the same set of authoritarian instructions for how to pick and choose which timelines get inducted into the Sacred Timeline, and which get pruned; sacrificing free will for the promise of stability across all of time. The other option, which Kang wearily admits will end up with him back in the Citadel in a couple of eons starting over again, is to kill Kang and free the timeline, thereby starting a Multiversal war and unleashing the infinitely more dangerous and evil Variants of Kang who also started the first Multiversal war.

Essentially, it’s like a dark and epic twist on Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, if Wonka was a maniacal Time Lord hellbent on controlling all of existence, and the Chocolate Factory and its workforce of Oompa-Loompas were the TVA and its army of cheerfully brainwashed Variants.

Now, it’s not quite perfect. The finale, despite being a lean forty-five minutes long with credits (and no post-credits scene), drags at points, and the bulk of the episode being Kang sitting behind a desk expositing in slow loop-dee-loops about the Multiverse while Loki and Sylvie sit stone-faced across from him and do little to engage with the information or react to it is neither compelling in theory nor heightened in execution by any outstanding narrative trick from the writers (even punctuating the conversation with more frequent action beats or slight changes in location would have helped to keep the episode running more smoothly), unique cinematography, or mesmerizing acting choices.

Jonathan Majors’ Kang is an interesting conundrum: simultaneously eccentric in a bold purple and green outfit with flamboyant, theatrical mannerisms, and muted, with slow and disjointed line deliveries just grating enough to provoke a sigh of relief when Kang finally drops the act, so to speak; revealing an exhausted, weather-beaten noble figure behind all the self-gratifying affectations of a character whom I was beginning to worry was looking mighty two-dimensional for a villain Marvel intends to keep around. But of course, he’s only the first of many Kang Variants to come, and this version of the character has long since dropped the Kang from his name and scoffs at the title of “Conqueror”: he prefers the honorific He Who Remains, an acknowledgment of his permanence, and an opportunity for an interesting conversation about how his name and even his identity matter less than his place and purpose in the timeline, which helps to make this Mystery Box reveal a success. With He Who Remains dead by the end of the episode, one can reasonably hope that when our next Kang Variant appears, he’ll embody more of that dignity which we only get to glimpse in this threadbare version.

And while it’s hard to imagine Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Kang’s love-interest in the comics, ever falling for He Who Remains, it’ll be interesting to see if the series pursues a romance between her and one of Kang’s Variants. Renslayer is one of those characters who’s really grown on me over the last few episodes, as Mbatha-Raw has gotten a chance to dig into what makes the villainous bureaucrat tick. She genuinely wants to know who’s behind the TVA, and she’s angry at being lied to, but not for quite the same reasons as Mobius or Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku): rather than being upset about having her past life stolen and erased by the TVA, she’s simply annoyed that something is preventing her from doing her job to the fullest and hurting the maximum amount of people that she could be hurting if she knew the will of the TVA’s founder. Near the episode’s end, she departs on a search for Kang that will inevitably lead her to one of his Variants – a far cry from her past life as an elementary school teacher in Ohio, but a way to keep the character deeply intertwined with Loki‘s story.

Loki
Ravonna Renslayer | radiotimes.com

As for Loki and Sylvie themselves, the finale separates them in time for the cliffhanger ending that leaves Loki in an alternate timeline where the TVA is ruled over by a Kang Variant who makes his presence known with giant statues replacing those of the Time-Keepers, and Sylvie in the Citadel, watching with horror as the Sacred Timeline disintegrates before her eyes. A lifeless Kang with Sylvie’s sword plunged into his chest offers no guidance or words of advice for how to deal with the catastrophe. I guess it’s time to get Doctor Strange on the phone! And maybe Wanda Maximoff too, while we’re at it. We are totally going to see Marvel’s holy trinity of magic-users onscreen together in Multiverse Of Madness before we even get around to Loki season two, and I am HYPED.

Episode Rating: 8/10

“Black Widow” Review!

Black Widow’s story has always been one of regret: both in-universe and on a meta level, because all I felt after watching Black Widow fling herself off a cliff in Avengers: Endgame for the sake of the Soul Stone was regret that this amazing character, one whose incredible empowering backstory and dark potential had only ever been touched on in passing throughout seven Marvel films, was dead and gone before she got the chance to take center stage in a solo film of her own. Black Widow’s self-sacrifice, if it had to happen at all, should have been a triumphant moment. Instead, it plays out like numb resignation to a fate that might have felt more earned if the films had actually given her a consistent character arc.

Black Widow
Black Widow | vox.com

And now, two years after Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) gave her life in service of the Avengers and received a moment’s worth of mourning from the coworkers who had the audacity to call themselves her only family, we finally have a Black Widow prequel – a kind of consolation prize for sticking with the character even as one director after another, from Favreau to Whedon to the Russo Brothers, reduced her to hypersexualized eye-candy for the male gaze. But unfortunately, Black Widow doesn’t help to make Natasha’s death more bearable or more understandable in hindsight: if anything, in trying to right one of the MCU’s greatest wrongs, it introduces elements that seem to contradict Natasha’s motivation for killing herself in Endgame (which is fine by me), yet does nothing to offer a convincing counterargument for why she’s no longer around to continue her own story, all while halfheartedly rushing to fling together explanations for the mysteries she left in her wake; explanations that are underwhelming at best.

Black Widow‘s screenwriter Eric Pearson recently revealed that the first draft of the film’s script was completed in just eleven days…and by the end of the movie when things start to come irreparably unglued, it shows. I’ll be honest, the first and second acts are mostly quite good, and achieve a perfect balance between strong character development and the kind of visceral action we expect from a movie about elite assassins: we get to learn more about Natasha’s childhood (with Ever Anderson playing a young, blue-haired Natasha), and the film plays with some potentially intriguing concepts and themes there, but when the film jumps back to the present (well, 2016, so nearer the present at any rate), it deftly ratchets up the tension by explaining that while Natasha worked under the aegis of the Avengers, her enemies in the Red Room feared that going after her would expose their position – but now, with the Avengers broken up in a post-Civil War world and Natasha on the run, she’s got no protection.

There’s a weird and unnecessary MacGuffin in the form of a mind-control device, and a general lack of direction at points, but all of this stuff is genuinely entertaining – and the first act provides a strong jumping-off point for what could have been a more grounded, intrigue-heavy, mind-bending psychological thriller like the one promised in Black Widow‘s dark and disturbing opening credits sequence. Scarlett Johansson does some excellent work on her own, imbuing her performance as Natasha with the kind of dignity, respect, and disregard for the male gaze that one can sense is freeing for her: and when Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) enters the picture, the two women share an electric connection that carries the film through some of its weaker patches. Pugh is a revelation in this role, and one of the only upsides I can see for Black Widow taking as long to make as it did is that Pugh arrived on the scene at just the right moment to embody this character with equal parts humor and heart.

During the second act, we’re also introduced to Natasha and Yelena’s adoptive parents, Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz): the Soviet Union’s first and only Super-Soldier, and the Red Room program’s most ingenious and terrifying chemist, respectively. Neither character is actually all that important to the story, but I was surprisingly invested in their subplots, and impressed by the level of detail that Marvel put into their backstories and personalities. I had been worried about Harbour, whose “Red Guardian” was mostly used as a punchline in the marketing, but I’m pleased to report that many of his cringiest line-readings in the trailers appear to have been alternate takes, and even the controversial joke where Melina tells him that he got fat is followed up in the movie itself by a far more effective line where she comments that his body looks good.

Black Widow
Natasha, Alexei, and Yelena | radiotimes.com

But the vivid characterizations of Natasha and her found family inadvertently highlight one of the film’s glaring errors – the blank slate that is its villain, Taskmaster. Going into the movie, I felt certain Taskmaster’s unique and formidable ability to mirror their opponent’s movements and fighting techniques would be crucial to the plot. It’s not. We’ve already seen most of Taskmaster’s fight scenes, and all but one or two of their surprise attacks (the Black Panther-style retractable claws, for example), in the trailers. But beyond that, there’s really nothing to this character except a twist that is meant to hit the audience in the feels – except it doesn’t, because we literally don’t know Taskmaster from a hole in the wall. You never told me who I was supposed to think they were in the first place, so finding out who they really are means nothing.

As you can probably guess, hardcore Taskmaster fans are going to be let down – because this version of the character has virtually no relation to the one from the comics, which is actually a problem with a bunch of characters in Black Widow. If Melina Vostokoff is supposed to be anything like the Melina Vostokoff who goes by the alias of “Iron Maiden” in the comics, then there’s really nothing to indicate that beyond what looks like a metal face-mask on a shelf in her armory – which she never picks up, much less wears. Yelena never obtains her own iconic face-mask, which in the comics is modeled after a spider’s with a bunch of glowing eyes. And most egregiously, the character of Ursa Major (Olivier Richters), a giant humanoid Soviet bear who we’d all been excited to see, is literally just a tall hairy guy. These all feel like disappointing callbacks to the days when Marvel was afraid of its source material’s most outlandish aspects.

Blasts from the past aren’t always unwelcome, however. Black Widow‘s fight scenes – in the first two acts, mind you – borrow heavily from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, still the MCU’s best action movie, although they feel less inventive and a bit less visceral, perhaps because of a certain plot device that feels purposefully contrived to prevent characters from dying. But director Cate Shortland gave us what could be my favorite shot of Natasha Romanoff in any of her Marvel appearances, as the heroine, clad in her all-white uniform, suspends from a helicopter during a Siberian gulag ambush and soars ahead of an avalanche like some kind of avenging angel.

Black Widow
Taskmaster | denofgeek.com

But unfortunately, Shortland makes no effort to try and save a third act that’s written with about as much finesse as the Incredible Hulk rampaging through New York. Any waning hope for a redemptive final action sequence is crushed when the movie suddenly disintegrates into a sprawling CGI showdown that feels completely inauthentic to Natasha’s character and devoid of any real narrative purpose. Something needed to explode, I guess, so it might as well be an entire flying fortress so that we can watch a descending battle through the falling rubble that’s over as abruptly as it begins, giving the audience no time to enjoy what could at least have been a cool set-piece if not an emotionally satisfying conclusion to a story that feels like it’s been mangled to fit the old Marvel Movie formula.

It’s incredible that Black Widow was originally intended to kick off Marvel’s Phase Four instead of the more zany, imaginative WandaVision. Although I once worried that the rearranged release calendar would disrupt all of Marvel’s carefully-laid plans, I have to admit Kevin Feige made the right decision by giving us a taste of what’s really in store for the MCU before showing us…this. It’s not that Black Widow isn’t good, because to be honest it probably still lands on the top half of my MCU rankings regardless of its faults, but it’s more of what we’re used to from Marvel: the sloppy CGI third act battles, the in-name-only cameos from fan-favorite comic characters, the wasted villains. I can only hope that the success of Marvel’s Disney+ shows convinces the studio to apply the storytelling techniques that make their shows so popular to their future films, because I feel strongly that there’s a sweet spot somewhere between the creativity of the shows and the bigger budgets of the films that Marvel just hasn’t found yet.

And so we circle back around to the same place where we started: that inescapable feeling of regret. I’m not unhappy I watched Black Widow, but I am sad that Natasha Romanoff’s story doesn’t get to end on the resounding high note I and many others think she deserved. Because this is it. The film doesn’t provide an out for her to cheat death and return somewhere down the line – although the Multiverse could conceivably bring back any deceased character in the MCU, and we know Scarlett Johansson will return to voice Natasha in What If…?.

Black Widow
Natasha and Yelena | nerdist.com

But this whole prequel is basically just a What If…? scenario anyway: what if Marvel had given Natasha an actual storyline outside of her irregular appearances in Avengers movies and crossover events? What if they’d done literally anything to flesh out her personal life? What if she had led her own trilogy like other Marvel heroes, and this was just the beginning of her story, an effective launchpad for something that could have been great? Well, I guess we’ll never know!

Rating: 7.5/10

“What If…?” 2nd Trailer Review!

In a franchise that has historically been very strict about what is and what is not canon (nobody knows that better than Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans), the medium of animation provides Marvel an incredible opportunity to expand upon the potential of Loki‘s Multiverse shenanigans and explore alternate universes branching off from the so-called Sacred Timeline – in an anthology series named What If…? that will remain (at least as far as we know) entirely separate from the live-action MCU. But although you might think that would narrow its appeal with hardcore fans who tend to get obsessive over the canon debate too, the broad variety of stories being explored in What If…? will likely make this a must-see event.

What If...?
What If…? | etonline.com

The format of the series is simple yet unique. One episode for each Marvel movie released thus far, but putting a twist on the version of events we know from our canon, and following the consequences of that twist down a winding rabbit-hole of endless possibilities. Until today, the marketing for What If…? had largely focused on just two or three storylines: one in which Peggy Carter took the Super-Soldier Serum during World War II instead of Steve Rogers and became Captain Carter (not Captain Britain, although the Union Jack is emblazoned on her vibranium shield); one in which a young Prince T’Challa was abducted from Earth by aliens and became a Ravager in place of Peter Quill; and one in which Bucky Barnes fights a zombie version of Captain America, in what I think might be the series’ Captain America: Civil War episode.

Everything beyond that had been just quick glimpses and unconfirmed rumors until today’s new trailer, which starts out in the back of an armored vehicle moving through the Middle East – yep, the same one where Tony Stark was ambushed in the opening of Iron Man and nearly got blown to bits by one of his own Stark Industries missiles, commencing his journey to becoming Iron Man. But this time around, something unexpected happens. Killmonger – as in Black Panther‘s Killmonger – leaps in to save Tony Stark’s life, effortlessly lifting the missile and tossing it into the sky. And from there, the trailer only gets weirder.

We see an armored Natasha Romanoff zipping through the battle-damaged streets of a city on her motorcycle, having been the only member of the Avengers to survive Ultron’s extinction-level apocalypse in Age Of Ultron. Pepper Potts, wielding some kind of high-tech gun, fights alongside Shuri and the Dora Milaje. Loki invades Earth, not with hordes of Chitauri aliens, but with Asgardian troops; while a tattooed frat boy Variant of Thor parties it up on the planet’s surface. Okoye hurls a spear at a levitating Wanda Maximoff. T’Challa and Yondu fight a muscular, cybernetically-enhanced Variant of The Collector from Guardians Of The Galaxy. Doctor Strange duels Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One. Howard the Duck is just…there, for whatever reason.

What If...?
Captain Carter | buzzfeed.com

Before Loki, I was intrigued but bewildered by the concept of What If…?, but now we know so much more about the mechanics of the Multiverse in the MCU that we can kind of get a sense of what’s going on, and perhaps even why. These are all timelines that branched but never got pruned, Nexus Events allowed to spiral further and further out of control, leading to chaotic crossovers with other alternate timelines, and what Miss Minutes described as “multiversal war”. We can see some of that going on in this trailer: Variants like Captain Carter and T’Challa as Star Lord won’t be confined to single episodes, but will also join forces across time and space – leading to a clever recreation of the iconic Avengers group shot in the first Avengers movie that also includes frat boy Thor, a Gamora Variant who’s dressed in golden armor like her adoptive father Thanos and is even wielding the Mad Titan’s sword, and a character who is possibly Killmonger, wearing the Black Panther suit.

Of course, if the Time Variance Authority isn’t around to prune these timelines and prevent a Multiverse, it raises the question of why. My guess is that at the end of Loki, the God of Mischief’s efforts to burn the TVA to the ground are successful, finally freeing the universe from authoritarian control and allowing time to do whatever the hell it wants. Whether the characters in What If…? will discover that and try to hop over into the MCU’s reality remains to be seen, but that could precipitate the Multiverse Of Madness which we know Doctor Strange will be dealing in with his hotly-anticipated sequel.

The only person who seems to have any answers is an ethereal cosmic being known as Uatu the Watcher, who will narrate the series and preside over events, hopefully cluing in audiences as to what’s really going on. Will he always remain on the sidelines, watching but never interfering with time? Will he be mentioned in the MCU at any point? Where does he even come from? As Darcy would say, “don’t know, don’t know, and…don’t know.”

What If...?
T’Challa and Yondu | nerdist.com

What I do know is that the animation on this series looks brilliant: crisp, clean, and richly detailed, allowing for the kind of spectacle sometimes unattainable in live-action except through extensive use of CGI. With the exception of Robert Downey Jr., the voice-acting is provided by the same actors who originated these roles in live-action, including Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, in what will be his final posthumous performance. And my expectations for the next wave of Marvel Disney+ shows are at an all-time high after the resounding success of Loki. I was always excited for What If…? because I’m a big fan of animation, but I’m sold on the concepts at play here too after this amazing trailer.

Trailer Rating: 8.9/10