So there I was, idly scrying through the multiverse. (If you've never done it, it's a lot like scrolling through Twitter, except it makes you less angry. Something about the possibility of an infinite amount of Cate Blanchetts or something, I'm not a scientist.) As I lay scrying, what should cross my cosmic inbox but something straight out of What If…?: the Marvel Cinematic Universe of Earth-7939.
Like most of the multiverse, Earth-7939 is stunningly similar to ours, carbon-based lifeforms and everything, up until about the mid-aughts. See, the moment that forks the timeline between our universe and their universe isn't an election or a natural disaster or a prophecy. I traced it to a specific meeting at Marvel Studios headquarters in 2005, where everyone was huddled around a laptop watching the trailer for A Scanner Darkly on iTunes.
In our universe, someone pointed at Robert Downey Jr. in that movie and said, "Iron Man." On Earth-7939, that same someone pointed at Winona Ryder and said, "I give you… the Wasp!" (That someone is more dramatic on Earth-7939. Mostly identical, I said.)
I began researching immediately, but my connection started to get spotty a few hours in. Apparently connections from our Earth to Earth-7939 have "bummer vibes," but, again, I'm not a scientist. What I am is in love with the vision of the all-lady Marvel Cinematic Universe of Earth-7939, and wanted to share the notes I took with you.
Janet Van Dyne might seem like a strange choice for the first installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but keep in mind that the Marvel Studios of Earth-7939 were trying to capitalize on the characters they haven't already licensed out to other studios and bake in the Avengers. Janet fits the bill neatly.
Just like Robert Downey Jr., Ryder is treated as an off-beat piece of casting, but the director goes to bat for her, fronting the insurance money. Her role in Alien: Resurrection gets brought up a lot on the press tour as justification for why she's starring in an action movie (which is such a rude thing to ask anyway). But The Wasp is much more of an action-comedy, reimagining Janet as a socialite slash scientist trying to solve her father's murder with the help of his protégé, Dr. Hank Pym. The moment it really earns its stripes (...do wasps have stripes?) is when Janet, having just learned that aliens killed her father, voluntarily injects experimental Pym particles into herself while monologuing about the absolute day she has had… and then smirking as her powers kick in.
During the after-credits scene in The Wasp, it's Janet that approaches S.H.I.E.L.D. — occasionally mentioned in the film as an obstacle to the elder Van Dyne's work — with the proposal to form the Avengers. Samuel L. Jackson is still Nick Fury on Earth-7939; as far as I can tell, he's Nick Fury in every multiverse.
Weirdly, the Thor branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Yggdrasil is pretty much the same on Earth-7939. I know, I know, I said this was a vision of an all-lady Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in every multiverse I checked, Thor is a major hit with women. I think Chris Hemsworth might be a universal anchor or something.
Patty Jenkins does direct Thor: The Dark World on Earth-7939, largely getting to make her original pitch exactly the way she wanted to (Romeo & Juliet meets a searing indictment of Odin's disinterest for anything outside of his kingdom). Jane and the Lady Sif immediately hit it off as "sword sisters" (yeah, the fandom has a field day with that one) and each receives their own thrilling action set piece.
Oh, and Loki is played by Eva Green through half of The Dark World, due to Marvel Studios resolving a scheduling issue (Tom Hiddleston's latest Shakespeare production gets picked up for a film adaptation) with a truly inspired choice. Don't worry about Tom; that film adaptation won, like, so many Oscars, and he's always welcome to drop in cameos and appearances. The response to the unapologetic Lady Loki is so good that Green reprises the role in Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok. Thor: Ragnarok is otherwise identical because it is perfect.
This is when I had to take a step back and swap over to Earth-7939's Marvel Wiki. If you think untangling comics canon in our universe is difficult, try doing it in a different one and trying to keep everything straight.
The fan response to the Captain Marvel seen in House of M is so overwhelming that Carol got rebranded as Captain Marvel a few years ahead of our universe's schedule. Eager to capitalize on the voracious fanbase, Marvel has the bright idea of cementing the rebrand with a movie, starring Katee Sackhoff, fresh off of Battlestar Galactica.
Whereas the Wasp movies are more chatty and screwball and the Thor movies are more fantastical and wacky, the Captain Marvel movies are more traditional action movies.
In the first Captain Marvel film, hotshot Air Force pilot Carol Danvers is recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to be the military liaison for the budding Avengers. This straightforward assignment gets complicated very quickly, as Carol is kidnapped by aliens and, during the Avengers' botched rescue mission (thanks, Odin), receives her powers from Mar-Vell. On the run from her erstwhile teammates, Carol figures out what the alien forces are really plotting with the help of her best friend Maria Rambeau (Nicole Beharie).
Just like in our universe, Carol and Maria are raising Monica together: accordingly, Carol/Maria is the Steve/Bucky of Earth-7939. The scene where Maria refuses to let Carol take off and play the hero because they made a commitment together and Maria wants to fight some aliens in space is particularly iconic as a .gif. Just… the smirk and that look! It's… incredible.
Gina Torres' She-Hulk walks into The Avengers carrying a limo and almost walks away with the whole dang movie. While fans rightfully clamor for a She-Hulk movie, Marvel Studios stalls for a few years trying to find the right vehicle for She-Hulk. It's only when reports of DC courting Torres for Big Barda break that Marvel goes with the obvious choice of a legal comedy TV series, a superheroic blend of Ally McBeal and Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.
She-Hulk takes its time finding its feet, trying to decide how funny it wants to be and how comfortable it is with pulling deep lore. But the second season hits the ground running, introducing the now-iconic Venture Brothers meets Kevin Wada credit sequence, and She-Hulk becomes a sensation. The crossover arc featuring Jane Foster's Science Scoobies is a particular highlight, as is the arc where Jennifer just wants to go on a nice, relaxing cruise and gets swept up into Hercules' drama.
Ever since Kamala Khan made her debut in 2013, fans have been dying for her to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While we have to wait until her series on Disney+ drops, Earth-7939 has already made the pleasure of her cinematic acquaintance. It probably helps that her inspiration and mentor is a key pillar of the franchise, making the handoff really easy.
Kamala makes her first appearance in the second Avengers movie as a little kid, watching Captain Marvel in awe and excitedly tugging on her mother's hand. When we meet her in her own film, played by a charismatic up-and-coming actress we haven't even discovered yet here (soon, though, soon!) she's a high schooler with plenty of fanfiction and Captain Marvel's greatest hits cued up on her phone.
Ms. Marvel follows her origin story pretty faithfully, actually, but the direction and comedy are both particularly inspired. It's fun, accessible, and upbeat, and the soundtrack? Absolutely incredible.