CAST: Jeffrey Wright, Michael B. Jordan, Jon Favreau, Chadwick Boseman, Angela Bassett, Dania Gurira, Andy Serkis, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Leslie Bibb, John Kani, Mick Wingert, Kiff Vandenheuvel, Beth Hoyt, Mike McGill, Ozioma Akagha
RUNNING TIME: 33 mins
BASICALLY…: The Watcher (Wright) observes alternate versions of events throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
IN THIS EPISODE: Erik Killmonger (Jordan) rescues Tony Stark (Wingert) from capture in Afghanistan…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
It’s the scene that not only kick-started the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also introduced us to one of its most beloved characters: Tony Stark, the cocky weapons manufacturer, riding in an Army Humvee in the Afghan desert, which is suddenly ambushed with Stark’s own technology, leading to his capture and eventual journey towards becoming Iron Man. But, in typical What If…? fashion, we now get to see how things could have gone very differently, if Stark happened to have some help from a familiar face (to us, at least).
What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark? opens with that scene playing out exactly how it did in the original Iron Man film, except a certain Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) shows up right as Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) is about to be captured by the Ten Rings. Grateful for his swift rescue, Stark – who, because he is saved, remains the arrogant blowhard he began his journey as – anoints Killmonger a top position at Stark Industries, and begins working with him on a new weapons project using some of Erik’s spare vibranium. However, unbeknownst to Stark, Killmonger plots to use the tech to infiltrate his native Wakanda as sweet justice after the death of his father, and it’s not until he’s too powerful to be stopped that people start connecting the dots, least of all Stark himself.
Combining the grounded, tech-heavy tone of Iron Man and the powerful, epic scope of Black Panther, this episode of What If…? is a neat standalone showing the vast technological differences between both Stark’s world and Killmonger’s birth home of Wakanda, and also how dangerous such tech can be in the wrong hands. It’s interesting seeing more of the brash and cocky personality that Stark displayed before his ultimate redemption (which, again, never happened in this timeline), because now that he’s learned no lessons from his trip to Afghanistan, he comes across as much more of a dangerous warmonger who’s always one schoolyard insult away from nuking a third-world country, which makes him a more viable threat than he’s ever come across as being in the MCU. On the other end of the spectrum, Killmonger has the same motivations as he did in Black Panther – he wants retribution not just for his father’s death, but also for the several worldwide injustices he feels that Wakanda as a whole failed to stop – but while he obviously has villainous ways of carrying out his plan, including lots of back-stabbings and cunning manipulation, he still comes off as a more noble and focused anti-hero than Stark, because unlike his wealthier co-star Killmonger actually seems to have everything under control when it comes to bringing some level of chaos.
It is cool seeing these two characters, who obviously never shared screen-time in the main MCU timeline, together in scenes where they are sharing their own ideas for tech dominance, and impressing one another with their own contributions to the field. Slightly less cool, though, is some of the voice acting; while Michael B. Jordan does fine behind the booth (though you can tell he doesn’t have the same energy as his live-action performance), it’s Mick Wingert who’s stuck trying to do his best Robert Downey Jr. impression but doesn’t quite capture the actor’s natural swagger, instead sounding like a nasally take on Edward G. Robinson. Beth Hoyt, filling in for Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, doesn’t even attempt to make the character sound like the actress, which like Wingert’s turn is more distracting than it is truly immersive. At least there are vocal cameos by the likes of Jon Favreau, Andy Serkis and Chadwick Boseman (now making his third posthumous appearance in What If…? – not that I’m complaining, because any time the late actor turns up in this series it’s automatically endearing) to offset some of the more awkward turns.
The animation continues to be quite stellar, with some shots in this episode really embracing the traditional framing and structure of a comic book, while others take cues from the cinematography of the live-action movies, including some scenes which are shot-for-shot how they were in the original films. Some of the action in this episode is especially well-rendered, as characters move briskly amidst explosive scenes where you can just about make out every little detail with near-pinpoint accuracy. We also see a little more of The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), the series’ Rod Sterling counterpart, and his oddly pouty lips overseeing the events from the skyline above – seriously, comics fans, is this how the character was originally designed? Cos if so, his lips are surprisingly pursed for an all-knowing and presumably all-powerful being.
One of the things I’m noticing throughout What If…? is how the episodes, despite supposedly being standalone anthology entries, always seem to leave a number of things open-ended. Most entries, including last week’s zombie-heavy episode and even the series’ debut of Captain Carter, tend to imply that there’s more to come with these alternate versions of the characters, and the same can definitely be said about this episode as well, which on the one hand is good because it means that (hopefully) we’ll see plenty more adventures in these interesting and creative universes, but it does defeat the series’ overall appeal as an anthology show where we simply are given glimpses of these different realities before moving on each week. Knowing that some of them seem destined to continue at certain points in the future makes the individual episodes carry a little less weight as standalones, which is what the overall vibe of the show seemed to be from the moment it was first announced.
Still, the episodes themselves are entertaining to long-time Marvel fans, and although it’s losing the ability to call itself an anthology series, What If…? does well to answer that titular question every single time.
SO, TO SUM UP…
What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark? offers viewers the chance to see two classic Marvel characters share the screen together, in mostly satisfying manners despite the occasionally awkward vocal performance and the series’ continuing reliance on future instalments over self-contained anthology structures.