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Inventive, fun, and moving are just some of the appropriate words that can be used to describe the first 2 episodes of What If. But with its third chapter – titled ‘What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?’ – the MCU’s latest Disney+ series tells a darker story that bodes well for more big swings we may see in the series’ future.
The specific moment this universe begins to differ from our own is not something we get to see this time round (more on this later), and the episode is all the better for it. Instead, we’re along for the ride as Nick Fury (a returning Samuel L. Jackson) and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Lake Bell, stepping into Scarlett Johansson’s vocal shoes with aplomb) try to figure out who’s bumping off the Avengers before they’ve had a chance to avenge anything.
It’s genuinely shocking to see the characters we’ve come to know and love get killed — Hulk’s death is especially brutal — and the answers as to who or what is responsible is never obvious.
Making matters more difficult is Loki (a returning Tom Hiddleston), who Bifrost’s to Earth with Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), The Warriors Three, and an Asgardian army in tow once Thor is killed. His mission of vengeance is presumably Odin-sanctioned here, and Hiddleston has a ball playing up the more villainous side of the God of Mischief once again.
He is also a big part of the show’s best action sequence, which sees us go back and forth between Loki using The Casket of Ancient Winters to attack S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Hulk decimating General Ross’ forces at Culver University. Elsewhere, Black Widow taking out soldiers in the back of a truck gives off the same vibe as seeing Captain Carter in action for the first time, the animated canvas allowing director Bryan Andrews to really accentuate both heroes’ agility and skill.
But it’s the answer to the question of who’s killing the Avengers that makes this episode bold and memorable. Turns out it’s none other than Hank Pym (a returning Michael Douglas): In this universe, his daughter Hope became an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the death of her mother.
That’s a big change from the MCU we know, and is the big difference that led to Hope’s death on a mission, which in turn leads to Pym’s vengeance on Fury. Given how protective Hank is when it comes to Hope at the outset of the first Ant-Man, this is less a giant leap and more a clever, dark twist. It’s also confirmation of how lethal Ant-Man can be when he’s pushed, and putting him in the Yellowjacket suit here — deemed too dangerous by Pym in the MCU we’ve been following — is a nice bit of visual storytelling.
The final few minutes of this chapter are intriguing. In an Avengers-less world, Loki is free to subjugate mankind with no resistance. But, as this episode often repeats, the Avengers are more than just the six or so members we’ve grown accustomed to over the past decade. They’re an idea that heroes will rise when the occasion calls for them. In this universe, which I hope we get to return to somewhere down the line, that means an iced but found Steve Rogers, and Captain Marvel.
It’s a good thing to keep in mind for the MCU we’re following on the big screen too. With no base of operations and no leaders (Black Widow and Iron Man made the ultimate sacrifice, Thor is off planet, and Steve Rogers is enjoying retirement) the status of the Avengers is very much in flux. It’s just a matter of time before the MCU has to deal with another world-ending threat. I’m excited to see which heroes – both familiar and new – rise to meet the challenge. Because, to quote a very wise one-eyed man, “we’ll need them to.”
Not only does Thor get many fun nicknames in this episode – including “Chippendales Dancer”, “Muscle Beach”, and “Goldilocks” – we now know that his hair remains glorious in any universe.
Coolest callback of the episode goes to Natasha saying “I’ll get you out of this, I swear on my life” to Bruce mid-transformation, just as she did in 2012’s Avengers.
I will never tire of Coulson’s fanboying over Cap. Bonus: #SteveSteveSteveIheartSteve0704 would be a genuinely hard password to crack.
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Watch: The cast of What If... talk to Yahoo about the show