From Star’challa to Zombies! What If…? Mid-Season Recap

Wayne Rock, Comic to Screen Head Writer

Greetings from the Multiverse fellow comic book fans. It seems I have a knack for getting lost in alternate realities and not being able to get my reviews done. No worries though, I’m here to catch you up on all the goings-on in the MCU Multiverse before you check out the latest episode of Marvel’s What If…? today (probably).

I already reviewed the premiere episode (I’ll link that below) so this recap will focus on episodes 2-5. Now proceed with caution because in this reality, SPOILERS exist! With that said, let’s jump into this portal and revisit the Multiverse!

What If…T’Challa Became a Star Lord?

Hey! I know you! (T’Challa/Star-Lord in Marvel Studios’ WHAT IF…? exclusively on Disney+. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved).

I remember expressing some fears in my review of the Captain Carter episode about Marvel playing it too safe with these episodes when the Multiverse was so ripe with potential for crazy storylines, but episode two immediately assuaged all of my fears. In this reality by Yondu simply outsourcing the collection of Peter Quill to his subordinates they accidentally abduct the first earth child they saw, which just happened to be Prince T’Challa of Wakanda. The episode really has a very flimsy rationale for why they never just carried him back in exchange for the real Quill, but understanding that this is literally the Multiverse where every decision is a possibility helps a lot.

The episode really does a lot with such a simple character swap and serves as an examination of the nature vs nurture debate, but more importantly is a loving tribute to honour the amazing Chadwick Boseman whose bravery inspired and changed those around him. Not only is this Star-Lord well-known throughout the galaxy but the ripple effects from T’Challa’s leadership, integrity and natural people skills results in some huge changes in the status quo. The Ravagers function as an intergalactic version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, robbing the rich and giving to the less fortunate. T’Challa’s influence reaches even the Mad Titan, Thanos, transforming him into a hero instead of a genocidal warlord. We even see the drip-down effect reaching Nebula, who instead of a tortured, part-machine, traumatised daughter seeking her father’s love, is now a beautiful, blonde bombshell, full of life and soul (as well as T’Challa’s on again, off again love interest.)

#squadgoals

Much like 2015’s Ant-Man, much of the plot is structured as a classic heist film, although because of its shorter run time and more focused direction, the heist portion of the narrative is much more prevalent. The Ravagers intend to steal the Embers of Genesis, an artifact with the power to end galactic hunger from a much buffer Taneleer Tivan. But of course things go awry which leads to a showdown with the interstellar Collector.

The episode managed to compensate for everything I felt was lacking in episode one—more variety in locations, a much more engaging and different story worthy of the What If…? name, new and interesting character designs and fresh re-imaginings of familiar characters. Nothing dipped in quality either. The storytelling was still brisk and evenly-paced. Most of the original actors came back to voice their animated counterparts, with one notable exception being Dave Bautista as Drax (Fred Tatasciore manages to deliver a very close imitation, however). The animation itself continues to impress with fluid, expressive facial animations and fight scenes.

Conclusion and Rating: Episode two manages to fully deliver on the premise of the What If…? franchise and for that I give it an 8 out of 10.

What If…the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?

Dead in a donut shop. How ignominious

What’s that you said? An invisible assassin is taking out the would-be Avengers members before they could be recruited by Nick Fury, leading to him and Black Widow trying to hunt down the killer before it’s too late? Sign me up!

The promos for this episode had me really excited when I first saw them and I was really excited to see where they went with the story. After actually seeing the episode and having a chance to marinate, all I can really say is…”Eh.” Don’t get me wrong; the setup is fantastic. This is the first taste of the What If…? franchise’s ability to get dark and it works really well. We get our first visit to an earlier Marvel film when we open with Fury and Widow confronting Tony about his reckless behaviour in the donut shop in Iron Man 2. However, when Widow injects Tony with the serum that should have alleviated his symptoms he keels over, dead. This is followed by Widow being blamed for his death, and almost immediately escaping in true Widow fashion (can Brock Rumlow and his cronies ever catch a break in any reality?), to help Fury with his investigation.

Ed is that you?

It isn’t too long after that we get to see both Thor and Hawkeye killed during the events of the first Thor film. Then we take a trip to the oft-forgotten Incredible Hulk movie (establishing the canon that this Hulk, now played by Mark Ruffalo, is the same as the Edward Norton version) just in time to watch Hulk literally blow up into a giant green fart cloud. So far so good. The point where Loki shows up to avenge his brother’s death and then forms an alliance with S.H.I.E.L.D. is where things get messy.

I’m not sure if it was how rushed the conclusion felt, the reveal that it was a jaded Hank Pym (who is Yellowjacket in this reality) seeking revenge for Hope’s death on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, or the ending where Loki takes over the world, but I just felt that something was missing in this episode. Once again the voice acting was on point, except that Lake Bell clearly isn’t doing a Scarlett Johansson impression but she makes it her own. They even got Michael Douglas to return as Hank Pym, which is an amazing feat in my opinion.

Conclusion and Rating: The episode is totally watchable if not a little flat at the end. I give it a 6 out of 10.

What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?

Did you wash that hand?

I’m just going to say it up front but this is hands down (see what I did there?) the best episode of What If..? so far. It’s the episode that feels the most like a fully realised execution of the concept— change one small thing to cause a totally unique experience. This is also the episode that feels the most like a full-length movie and not Marvel trying to rush through plot points to get to the ending. In this reality, Stephen Strange and Christine Palmer did not have an estranged romance; no their romance was very “stranged” indeed. So much so that Christine accompanies Stephen on the car trip that saw the main MCU timeline’s Dr Strange lose his hands but this time he loses her, the aforementioned “heart” in the title.

In this reality, Stephen doesn’t become obsessed with finding a way to restore his hands but to bring Christine back from the dead. This still leads him to Kamar-Taj, becomes a Master of the Mystic Arts and defeats Dormammu, but he is unable to let go of his obsession. The rest of the episode is a meaningful examination of the dark side of obsession, loss and the consequences of getting what we want at any cost. We are also introduced to the concept of the “absolute point in time”, a moment in any reality’s history that is so important that changing it would result in the collapse of the reality itself. Christine’s death on this world serves as the catalyst for Stephen becoming Dr Strange and if he were to reverse it he would never experience the loss necessary to set him on his journey, resulting in a grandfather paradox. All of the actors returned to their MCU roles this time, with no replacements but one addition, Ike Amadi as O-Bengh, the keeper of the books of Cagliostro.

#strangeception

The montage of scenes where Strange desperately uses the Eye of Agamotto to stop Christine’s death is beautifully-animated, wonderfully-scored and exceedingly haunting to watch. The episode title is exceptionally significant as well, showing us that the thing that tempered Strange’s hubris in the main MCU timeline was his heart. If he lost that, he would have no qualms summoning the darkest demons from other realities, absorbing them into his body and harnessing their powers for his own gain. Ultimately not even a last ditch effort by the Ancient One pitting a “good” Dr Strange against a decades-long corrupted Dr Strange Supreme ends well, and Strange Supreme prevails, resurrecting Christine and sealing the fate of that reality.

The culmination of the episode is extremely poignant as we watch Strange Supreme beg Uatu the Watcher to intervene and save this reality as he finally realises the consequences of his actions. Ultimately no one wins this episode (except the fans) as the entire reality is destroyed, Strange loses Christine yet again and Dr Strange Supreme remains trapped in the mirror dimension.

Conclusion and Rating: Episode 4 is simply amazing and I highly recommend it. 9 out of 10.

What If…Zombies!?

That’s America’s snarl!

Here we have it folks, the selling point of this entire concept. Since the reveal of the What If…? Disney+ series the zombies have been a part of the marketing, and as a huge fan of the Marvel Zombies comics I was highly anticipating this episode. The comic features some really dark imagery and themes and explores what inherently good characters would do if they were self-aware zombies with a hunger for human flesh that could not be satiated. How would Marvel go about adapting material like Peter Parker eating Mary Jane and Aunt May and dealing with the resulting guilt and shame? Would they find a way to adapt Reed Richards intentionally infecting the Fantastic Four with the virus but use other characters? How would they incorporate Hank Pym’s macabre suggestion to the other Avengers that they create a human breeding farm for an unlimited source of food? The answer to these questions are “They wouldn’t”, “No” and “They definitely wouldn’t” in that order.

Instead, Marvel chose the safe route, giving us a rote, generic zombie tale set in the MCU that is more akin to Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead than anything close to the horror found in the comic books. It’s not that the episode itself is bad, per se. There is a lot to like, which I will be getting into. It’s just that when compared to the depths the comics went to tell such a mature story it falls short. It isn’t even clear if the zombies in the episode are sentient or retain any memories of their former lives. They somehow just have access to all their powers, skills and abilities even when in zombie form, but the proficiency and accuracy when using those said abilities can flip flop depending on who the story wants to survive at which point.

I eat you 3000!

For example, a zombified Iron Man, Dr Strange and Wong are able to beat and eat Cull Obsidian and Ebony Maw in a matter of moments, but then, seconds later, struggle against a human Bruce Banner and the Cloak of Levitation. Similarly, Hawkeye can still use his bow and arrows, but misses Happy Hogan several times, just…because. It’s little moments like this throughout the episode that irritated me, especially with the knowledge of what this story could be. And why is this Hank Pym’s fault again? It’s starting to feel like Marvel has a vendetta against this guy. At least we got a very good adaptation of Black Panther being kept alive to be used as a living snack for another character that is almost directly from the comics.

But enough with the comparisons, like I said, I did enjoy some things about the episode. I think the format and presentation was an effective choice from the lighting to the actual plot of trying to find a potential cure to even Peter’s little Zombieland-styled undead survival tutorial video. Spider-Man himself is a standout in the episode and functions as the heart of both the team and the story as a whole. The episode made it a point to show that Peter is the most hopeful and optimistic member of the dysfunctional, post-apocalyptic Avengers despite all of his losses. Hudson Thames delivers a take on the webslinger that is reminiscent of Tom Holland’s portrayal without being a direct imitation, though there were some line deliveries that sounded exactly like Holland. With the exception of Holland and Chris Evans (Josh Keaton returns to grunt as zombie Captain America) the other MCU actors return to their respective roles in this episode and do a fantastic job, particularly Paul Rudd as a disembodied, exceedingly quippy Ant-Man head.

You think they will make Ant-Man the new head of the Avengers? Dad jokes. Gotta love ’em!

The story of Wanda and Vision’s reality-defying love makes it into this episode and it really was terrific to finally see those two again, even in the depressing context of the story. In fact, their parts in the episode is the only thing I would classify as “dark”, with Vision basically feeding Wanda his friends and fellow Avengers simply because he didn’t have the heart to kill her. This episode in particular really drove home how a concept like the Multiverse removes any emotional weight, real stakes and tension from these kinds of stories. I really didn’t feel anything as any of these characters died or made huge sacrifices, because next week we’re just going to hop to another reality and have a grand old time there anyway. So while Peter mourning the loss of his friends was an emotional performance, it lacked any real significance in the grand scheme of things.

Even the zombie designs, barring a few outliers like Wanda or a giant zombified Wasp, were way too similar and generic. And can we talk about how stupid it was for Hope to stay in her giant form when her entire sacrifice was about protecting the team? That one decision alone, just so they could raise the stakes later in the episode, ruined any emotional impact on me and I really wondered what the writers were doing.

Conclusion and Rating: All in all, this episode was a disappointment for me, despite having some elements I enjoyed. 5 out of 10.

Final Thoughts

And with that, you’re all caught up and ready for today’s episode where Killmonger saves Tony in the events of Iron Man 1. I hope you enjoyed this trip into the Multiverse with me and feel free to share your thoughts about which episodes you enjoyed (or didn’t) in the comments. I’ll catch you in the next one! Wayne, out.

And you can check out more great Disney+ MCU content below:

WHAT IF…? CAPTAIN CARTER PREMIERE IS SOLID BUT A LITTLE TOO SAFE
WANDAVISION’S ‘DISAPPOINTING’ SERIES FINALE BREAKS THE SPELL

Wayne loves to complain, and that was an unintentional rhyme. When I’m not watching movies, TV, anime or trophy hunting on PS4, you can usually find me deep in my thoughts preparing my next scathing review of a bad movie. I think Zack Snyder’s take on superheroes is terrible and that The Quick and the Dead is actually a decent movie. I re-watch Death Note every year. Unlike the other fine writers on this site, I’m not a critic, but I can definitely Rock a review…(Read More)

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