This week’s episode of What If…? posits the question “What if Killmonger saved Tony Stark?” It’s an interesting question to be sure. What would have happened had Tony Stark not been kidnapped at the beginning of Iron Man? And what possible reasons would a villain like Killmonger have for saving Tony Stark, who would have eventually become Iron Man?
What If…? has been a wild ride since the series kicked off last month. Each episode has given fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe a glimpse into what could have been in several very unlikely scenarios. Some episodes like the fifth, What If…Zombies?!, have been lifted straight from the comics. Others like episode four What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands? take a story to a new and dark place without feeling predictable. This week was certainly no different as the question asked what it would mean if the MCU never came to pass.
“The difference between us is you can’t see the difference between us.”
Tony Stark’s capture in Afghanistan during the opening of 2008’s Iron Man is what kicks off the world’s most successful franchise of all time, so when we see Killmonger come in suddenly to rescue Tony, the MCU is open to all sorts of possibilities. Now, just because these are alternate realities doesn’t change much about the characters themselves. In fact, each episode this season shows that the characters are the same until this one pivotal point spins off into a new reality. What this means is that while Tony Stark is still very smart, he doesn’t have the same drivers as Tony that became Iron Man. And this Killmonger is just as duplicitous and deceiving as his MCU counterpart.
Pardon my pun, but there are stark contrasts between the Tony Stark that becomes Iron Man and the Tony of this universe. This Tony is still very much the billionaire playboy. Sure, he had a wake-up call in Afghanistan and is vowing to do right. But his partnership with Killmonger never really allows it to blossom into anything like what the MCU Iron Man becomes. I understand there are limits to the amount of story-telling in a 27-minute episode when compared to the 9? MCU movies Tony Stark was in. As such, it’s a little frustrating to know what this man can do, and ultimately never see it happen.
Killmonger, on the other hand, is a near carbon-copy of his Black Panther counterpart. All of his schemes and machinations remain entirely the same. So while he’s playing the same game, he’s now playing it against other players. This allows the writers to mix things up. While things are shuffled around to make for the new settings and players, it all falls into place a bit too easily for Killmonger. It’s frustrating to be sure, but it’s part of the appeal of Killmonger as a villain. He’s incredibly smart and even better at making plans.
“I’ll say this about the new guy. He certainly makes for good TV!”
What continues to astound me is the way that Marvel and Disney have found a way to keep some of their biggest stars engaged. Despite not being a big-budget film, we still have many stars voicing their characters. Michael B. Jordan comes back as Killmonger, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, Chadwick Bosman as T’Challa, Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue, Don Cheadle as Rhodey, Paul Bettany as Jarvis, John Kani as T’Chaka, and even Leslie Bibb as Christine Everhart. It’s so typical to see studios opt for talented voice actors like Mick Wingert who plays Tony Stark here. So, when these actors keep the acting and voicework consistent across mediums, it is truly something else.
The animation continues to be top-notch. But, it can be hit or miss. Some characters, like Killmonger, look exactly like their real-life counterpart. Others like Happy Hogan and Tony Stark leave a little something to be desired. Sure, you can tell who they’re supposed to be, but with the strides that Marvel is making to have voices line up with faces, it’s a little weird when they miss the mark. Aside from that, the artistic choices made really fit the comic book and movie roots that these stories are lifted from.
If there is one gripe I have with this episode though, is that Killmonger almost always has two grenades strapped to his belt. It’s clear they’re using the same asset as his combat gear, but didn’t tweak it completely. So, it would drive me absolutely nuts to see Killmonger walking around Tony Stark’s garage with two grenades on the front of his pants.
“Heroes are never really gone. They live forever. As do the ones they inspire to carry on the fight.”
This episode was entertaining to be sure, but it felt weaker when compared to the others. For me, the biggest factor behind this was predictability. Once it becomes clear what Killmonger’s motivations are, it feels like Black Panther’s plot took over Iron Man. It’s still fun to watch, but it’s not as exciting as it could have been. That being said, what it sets up could be phenomenal because it is truly untrod ground. That’s where What If…? truly shines. The writers are happy to experiment when given the freedom of multiple universes to do so.
There are only three episodes left in this nine-episode season. It will be interesting to see what else is in the pipeline. What has me particularly curious is if any of the episodes will be continued in this season or another. Agent Carter’s storyline episode and this one don’t have a clear ending and set up sequels. It’s fun food for thought, but would be interesting to see Marvel push further. The mid-season sneak peek showed teasers of Gamora wearing armor very similar to Thanos’. It also looks like we’ll be getting a Captain Marvel episode as there were several shots of the heroine. Finally, and this is the big piece for me, it looks like we’ll be getting some sort of Avengers team-up. If for some crazy reason, we see a universal crossover, it will probably be saved for the last episode.