Martin Carr reviews the fifth episode of Marvel’s What If…?
This week’s episode plays like a greatest hits compilation with added zombies. It has a roll call of original cast members which will draw in the fan faithful, then follows that up with decent dialogue and genuine performances. Injecting the lightness from Spider-Man: Homecoming and tipping a hat to WandaVision, episode five of What If…? is maybe the best one to date.
By peppering the run time with superhero zombies and retrofitting moral boundaries for those with a little vision, this series delivers a huge curveball. A World War Z pastiche combined with quantum realm segues circumvents other MCU expectations, as natural selection takes over. This survival of the fittest mantra sees some mighty heroes turn into a running buffet, while those that remain seek out a cure.
For those who thought they had already witnessed Chadwick Boseman’s swansong as T’Challa, episode five also offers up another bite of the cherry. Alongside Sebastian Stan and Paul Bettany from the original cast, Boseman once again delivers a sterling performance. Unfortunately, Tom Holland is absent without leave as Spider-Man – a fact which thankfully never overtly distracts or impacts on proceedings.
There are nods to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, while Jon Favreau and Paul Rudd pop up to add their deft comic timing into an episode already bursting with invention. As the surviving MCU members battle infected colleagues and a ravenous populous, threads leading back to the Infinity Stones offer up an ominous bookend.
With a second season of this intriguing animated effort already announced, it makes perfect sense that they potentially leave an episode open ended. By tapping into the zombie sub-genre and leaving things in mid-air heading towards a possible resolution, What If…? finally feels like something of substance. As Wakanda stands in defiance against the zombie hordes that threaten its borders and the fate of Earth on a knife edge, this feels like a tangible tipping point for a future episode.