Let’s Talk about What If…? Episode 1-3
Marvel has kept its cards close to the vest with its latest series. Disney+ doesn’t even list titles until a new episode appears.
Ergo, the company kept one of its best ideas completely quiet. Let’s talk about What If…? episode 1-3, the one where the Avengers die.
NOT A Disney+ Zombie Episode
Okay, we do know that one of the final three episodes this season will involve zombies.
Still, don’t let the description fool you. This episode doesn’t involve the shuffling undead. No, it’s just about murder. Yay?
We learn this quickly as the show starts with three original Avengers: Black Widow, Iron Man, and Nick Fury.
The mastermind of this operation, Fury, drives Natasha Romanoff to meet with Tony Stark, who is currently sitting inside a giant donut billboard. Yes, he’s eating a donut.
Fury is ready to proceed with The Avengers Initiative. He wants Stark to participate and tries to offer a sweetener.
The team at S.H.I.E.L.D. has developed a shot that will make Stark’s current heavy metal poisoning condition more tolerable.
After Black Widow distributes the shot, Stark rolls over dead. To all appearances, Romanoff has just poisoned her old boss and killed him.
At this point, our narrator, The Watcher, explains what we’re watching. He provides a reminder that three Avengers arose in the span of a week.
The characters in question are Iron Man, Thor, and The Hulk. Alas, Uatu the Watcher points out that this happened in just one universe.
In others, events unfolded differently. So yes, it’s now canon that Tony Stark dies from poison in at least one part of the multiverse.
Remember: everything here is canon!
Avengers Don’t Quite Assemble
The episode cleverly advances the story by using the days of the week. Iron Man dies on Monday.
On Tuesday, Agent Phil Coulson heads to New Mexico to investigate an object that nobody in S.H.I.E.L.D. can lift, even the guy who does CrossFit.
Hawkeye, aka Clint Barton, joins him on this trip. Meanwhile, Romanoff must answer questions in New York, with the implication that Alexander Pierce is asking.
Brock Rumlow leads the caravan of espionage agents who escort Romanoff on the drive. He sits in the front.
Simultaneously, Romanoff escapes her handcuffs and beats the pudding out of everyone sitting in the back of the military van.
Even in alternate universes, Crossbones just can’t catch a break. At least he doesn’t get his scars in this one.
Speaking of which, Nick Fury DOES have his eyepatch here, which implies something interesting. He must have already met a Flerken by now. We’ll circle back to that.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, an intruder breaks into the secure military facility. Coulson reports that he has “really great hair.” Barton later confirms.
Yes, Thor is officially trying to retrieve Mjolnir.
Hawkeye takes his place in the nest and aims his crossbow at a kill angle.
Seconds later, Thor is dead from a crossbow bolt. I watched this in slow motion to confirm that the bolt does fire from Hawkeye’s weapon.
However, Barton denies that he intended to kill Thor…or fired the weapon. You can probably guess the killer at this point, but it’s still too early for the reveal.
So, that’s two dead Avengers, another in S.H.I.E.L.D. jail on suspicion of murder, and only two remaining people from the list for The Avengers Initiative.
Oh, and now Barton has died in jail. I’m noticing a trend here. Someone seems to be targeting Avengers.
Romanoff and her not-quite future boyfriend, Bruce Banner, are in a lot of trouble.
We’ve got ourselves a good, old-fashioned Avengers deadpool… no, not that one.
Black Widow asks noted biologist Betsy Ross for help. At this point, the three fans of The Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton will get a thrill.
Romanoff notices a pizza delivery outfit for Stanley’s Pizza. Get it? Stan. Lee.
Anyway, this joke is 13 years old and calls back to the random appearance of Amadeus Cho in that movie.
At the time, Norton disguised himself as a pizza delivery guy. I went back and watched the scene. It’s a remarkably well-animated version of the outfit.
Back on the show, Ross helps some, but Black Widow deduces that someone else is hiding in the room.
Yup, it’s Bruce Banner with his comic book girlfriend and his movie franchise “like-like but never dated” lady friend.
At this point, the episode raises the stakes. General Ross appears because he’s under some sort of wizard curse to raise an army whenever The Hulk is around.
Tanks and soldiers surround Banner and Romanoff, who are in a glass-enclosed walkway. A bullet shatters the glass and penetrates Banner’s shoulder.
Simultaneously, Fury negotiates with an Earthly invader. Loki has discovered that some Earthling killed his brother, something he can never manage to do.
So, Loki busts out the Tesseract and wrecks a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Their insurance premiums must be outrageous.
Elsewhere, Hulk explodes. It’s gross.
New Tactics and a Fascinating Outcome
Realizing he cannot win a fight, Fury negotiates with Loki. The head of S.H.I.E.L.D. points out that they’re both looking for the same killer.
Loki agrees, buying some time for the remaining Avengers. Romanoff does some research in a public library, only to get savaged by an unseen assailant.
We know the person must be badass, as we just watched Black Widow beat up an entire van of tough guys. Romanoff dies.
Her final words are, “Hope. It’s all about Hope.”
For his part, Fury has put two and two together. It’s either that or he read D.C.’s Identity Crisis. It’s basically the same premise.
Yes, the killer is [redacted], which makes sense because he once beat up his wife in the comics.
This individual is often a trash person, which hasn’t come up in the movies to date.
At a graveyard, this person tries to beat up Fury and kill the final living Avenger, at least that he knows about. This task proves impossible.
The Trickster God has taken on the shape of Fury as a surprise. He also uses many of the powers we’ve witnessed in the movies and Loki TV series.
Glorious Purpose Redux on Disney+
The killer doesn’t stand a chance. Humorously, neither does humanity. Loki gets the bright idea to rule our species, which is kinda his thing.
This episode ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, albeit one brimming with promise. Loki has claimed the planet, as the Avengers never existed to stop him.
Fury reminds Coulson that all hope isn’t lost yet. Two Avengers still remain. One is currently trapped in a block of ice.
Fury sweeps some of it away to reveal the Shield as he welcomes back Captain America.
Behind him, the glow-up queen, Captain Marvel, asks where the fight is.
In this part of the multiverse, the dead Avengers include Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.
So, the twin Captains, Marvel and America, will lead the charge to stop Loki.
I liked this episode the least of the three so far, probably because I guessed the murder mystery almost immediately.
The murder of Hulk did seem fittingly gratuitous, and I admired the rare amount of recognition for the 2008 film. Years later, Stanley’s Pizza is still funny to me (editor’s note: me too – RK).
Alas, something bothered me about the episode, and it stems from the awkward timing.
Scarlett Johansson and Disney have gone through an acrimonious divorce. She’s been the Unluckiest Avenger during her tenure in the MCU.
Now, Disney has used her in What If…? but hired a different voice actor to portray the role.
The person in question, Lake Bell, is terrific, as any fan of Harley Quinn would expect. Bell plays Poison Ivy on that and is BRILLIANT.
Still, this episode features voice work from Michael Douglas, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Frank Grillo.
The only three recognizable performers who didn’t provide voice work for their roles are Robert Downey Jr., Brie Larson, and Johansson.
R.D.J. is famously on a break from the MCU, possibly permanently. Captain Marvel only gets one line.
The absence of Johansson feels like the latest indication of casual indifference from Marvel/Disney to Johansson. That bothered me.
Finally, this “standalone” episode felt more like a setup for a sequel that probably won’t arrive until season two.
So, I guess my grade falls somewhere between B+ and…incomplete.