'What If... Ultron' won offers action on a cosmic scale

·4-min read
What If... Ultron Won? (Disney+)
What If... Ultron Won? (Disney+)

If last week’s Thor-centric fun was the calm before the storm, then the penultimate episode of What If…? sees it return to its regularly scheduled all-our-faves-must-die-bad-endings-only storytelling. The author of this chapter’s pain is a particularly scary variant of Ultron, first glimpsed at the end of last week’s instalment. The fact that there’s seemingly no carryover between that moment and the events that transpire this week is just one example of the sloppy storytelling that at times threatens to upend this episode.

Simply titled ‘What If… Ultron won?’, after a superbly animated battle between Hawkeye (a returning Jeremy Renner), Black Widow, and a slew of Ultron bots, we learn how this reality came to be. Instead of the Avengers kidnapping the cradle that would become Vision and turning him into an ally, in this world Ultron is able to put his mind inside our favourite synthezoid and utilise the power of the Mind Stone. Cue the Avengers defeat, and a nuclear holocaust. So far, so logical.

Where this episode jumps the gun is how Ultron acquires the Infinity Stones. I have a hard time believing the superbot could one shot Thanos, much less a Mad Titan who was wielding an Infinity Gauntlet with five of the six stones. Sacrificing story and character to serve your needs is a dangerous game in a show that moves this quickly. It means that certain narrative beats like this one are nowhere near as impactful as they should be.

What If... Ultron Won? (Disney+)
What If... Ultron Won? (Disney+)

Anyway, once Ultron integrates the power of the Infinity Stones into his skillset, he quickly goes about applying his create-peace-via-extinction programming to some well-known MCU locations. Asgard, The Sovereign, Sakaar, Ego, and Xandar are all eradicated in short order. Not even the Captain Marvel of this universe is able to stop him. This all catches the interest of Uatu the Watcher, who can’t help but narrate all that he sees as he’s done countless times before. But this time, Ultron hears him.

It’s a great, unexpected moment that rightfully freaks Uatu out – if Ultron’s hunger is allowed to infect the multiverse, it could mean the end of everything. What If…? has played a smart game with Uatu: he started off in the background but has slowly been moving into the fore, even interacting with the odd character. It feels like he’s on the verge of doing just that when he follows Clint and Natasha to a Russian warehouse where they hope to find an answer to stopping Ultron, and it’s lightly funny to see him despair over Hawkeye’s defeatist attitude when the answers are so close.

What If... Ultron Won? (Disney+)
What If... Ultron Won? (Disney+)

Speaking of Hawkeye, I really dug the repartee between Clint and Natasha here. Focusing on the two most human Avengers is a smart move in this wasteland of a world, and some of the best stuff in this half hour is their back and forth banter. The duo eventually encounter a computerised version of Arnim Zola first glimpsed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and together they team up and form a plan to take Ultron down. The execution of said plan requires a sacrifice that Clint is all too happy to give, and the stunning visuals in this moment feel like they’re ripped right out of a comic.

Ultimately, however, the plan doesn’t work because Ultron is no longer in their dimension. Instead, he’s fighting Uatu through the multiverse in What If…?’s best action sequence yet, as these two powerful cosmic beings trade blows all the while arguing the merits and perils of inflicting their will on others. It’s a thrill to see Uatu finally get to fight himself after spending so long on the sidelines, but he is eventually forced to flee when it becomes clear he can’t overpower Ultron.

Where he flees to is almost as exciting, as we return to the evil Doctor Strange of the fourth (and best) episode, whom Uatu asks for help. This will no doubt lead to the team-up of multiverse heroes we glimpsed in the mid-season trailer. Here’s hoping the inevitable battle to come will have a happy ending.

More observations

  • One of the universes Ultron and Uatu’s fight crashes into sees Steve Rogers being sworn in as President of the United States. All I have to say to that is… MAKE IT SO.

  • Though it’s negated a bit by him getting his ass whooped immediately afterwards, Uatu’s “You cannot compute the power of my will” is an awesome line, and Wright nails the delivery.

  • Robot arm Hawkeye might be even more lethal with a bow than regular Hawkeye. Eat your heart out, Legolas.