All the way back during Phase 1, the seeds of the Avengers were forming. It turned out revolutionary as we got introduced to the members via their own movie and supporting appearances. The plan of having Nick Fury appear and move the initiative forward is a stroke of genius. With this episode of Marvel’s What If…?, a major wrinkle appears when the planned members are killed off. This installment shows that not only can this show bend around the canon but also dip its toes into some uncharted genres.
Story: MCU Murder Mystery
The episode starts with The Watcher narrating how Nick Fury had a crucial week developing the Avengers Initiative. This is how canonically, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor happened in a couple of days. We see Natasha and Fury approaching Tony Stark and its word for word from Iron Man 2. It takes a dark turn as Tony Stark dies seemingly from an injection given by Natasha. It turns this whole episode into a fantastic murder mystery. While the episode ponders what if the world lost its mightiest heroes, it’s something more. It turns into an Avengers-centered “whodunnit.”
Just like a classic mystery, there’s a lot of good twists and turns that’ll keep you guessing. All of the surprises don’t feel like it’s far-reached in terms of what we know from the established canon. There’s also an added time element with Loki and his army showing up because of the early death of Thor. It adds all the more suspense that’s built-in because we’re trying to figure out the killer and to stop Loki. The reveal of the murderer, which I won’t spoil, is a great reveal. For the huge fans of the MCU, it’s a satisfying explanation that makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Viewers that aren’t familiar will still get some good exposition that’ll help fill in the gaps.
Characters & Performance: Sam the Man
You can never go wrong with having more Samuel L. Jackson in your project. Throughout the MCU, he appears in cameos and supporting roles to great effect. It feels like this is the first time we’re seeing him in a starring role with this episode. While some actors who don’t usually do animated roles feel little, it’s not a problem for Jackson. He has the same inflection for this episode that he usually provides for Nick Fury. The motivation of trying to find the killer is compelling, and he does a great job of keeping his faith in the now-in-danger Avengers Initiative. Not only that, but Nick Fury has some amazingly funny lines that’ll crack you up even after the episode ends.
Seeing Jackson in a starring role makes the anticipation for Marvel’s Secret Invasion even bigger. A nice surprise that we got in this episode is the addition of Agent Coulson. He was a big factor in Phase 1, and to see him return is a welcome inclusion. His banter with Nick Fury is a nice highlight, and the praise he gives Thor is a great running gag.
We not only get a lot of SHIELD spotlight but significant attention to The Incredible Hulk, a film that barely gets referenced in the MCU. We get to see a major retcon with Mark Ruffalo appearing as Bruce Banner instead of Edward Norton. For the limited time he has, Ruffalo does a nice job, as usual, balancing the Banner/Hulk side of him. That would be a whole different “What If?” if Ruffalo appear in that movie instead of Norton.
Cinematography & Sound: Warm & Cold
There’s a fascinating color contrast that we see between the warm and cold. The primarily warm New Mexico setting provides those orange, yellow, and red hues. It’s contrasted when Loki appears as his frost giant roots appear with icy cold blue. When these get mixed in, it’s a beautiful sight to see, especially with shots of the landscape and how everything gets blended in. Add in the fantastic score from Laura Karpman, and it’s a sight for sore eyes and ears.
We also get some great action scenes like the Black Widow escape. It’s very similar to the elevator scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the idea of fighting in a confined space. Black Widow gets arrested after the death of Tony Stark and gets in a truck with a lot of guards. As expected, she trounces them and in the best fashion. It’s a shame that this wasn’t live-action because Scarlet Jonahsson would have nailed this stunt. The end fight is also a standout moment and uses Loki to a significant effect that features some great quips.
Editing & Pacing: Just a Few More Minutes
It’s a delicate line that mysteries have to follow in terms of twisting up the story. You want to keep the audience guessing without them rolling their eyes at every plot point. Marvel’s What If…? does a great job of keeping up the pace and making you try to figure out the killer. With the time frame of one week to find out who’s taking out the Avengers, it adds to the suspense. The editing does show a little bit of who the assassin is, but it doesn’t take away from it. Unfortunately, the ending gets rushed, and it feels like the episode would benefit a couple of more minutes to properly wrap up.
It’s unclear if some episodes will be only standalone or continue on. Last week’s episode heavily teases that we’ll see a continuation of the Ego and Peter Quill scene from the end scene. Now if this episode continues on into the season then some extra time would benefit the upcoming story. If not that’s the case, then still add the extra time, but make it help not rush the ending.