It’s a popular trope in stories when exploring alternative universes to introduce zombies into the world. It introduces new stakes and rules to the existing ones and feels like everyone is at risk. Even Marvel Comics and DC have dove into this with Marvel Zombies and DCeased. This week’s What If…? takes the basic premise of the comic and adds a huge dosage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to it. By jumping up the stakes and taking inspiration from zombie movies, What If…? succeeds once again this week.
Story: Zombie Movie
This episode takes place at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War with Hulk returning to Earth. Instead of finding Doctor Strange, Wong, and Tony Stark, he finds Manhattan eerily empty. It turns out that there’s been a zombie virus unleashed that infected most of the world. The cause of it came from when Hank Pym ventured into the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and the Wasp. I feel like there could have been a better explanation of why there are zombies now. It could have been from one of the Infinity Stones and caused havoc in the universe. Instead, we don’t get an explanation of why there’s a disease that turns people into the undead.
That being said, everything else turns into an excellent MCU zombie movie. We quickly established the rules of dealing with zombies via Peter Parker that feels like it’s ripped straight out of Zombieland. From then on, the episode feels like a classic zombie movie. We get our loveable gang of heroes taken out one by one, hopeful moments, tragic events, and all while on the search for a cure. The concept of this episode is so good that maybe Marvel Studios did it too quickly. With past episodes, the issue became that there wasn’t another time for the story, and it should have continued. With this, you could have done a whole series based on these events, including that ending. It ends up not being a negative for this episode, but just wishing that they would have fleshed out the idea even more.
Characters & Performances: Deadly Good
The advantage of having characters against the undead is the unlikely pairings you’re creating. The team consists of Spider-Man, Bruce Banner, Bucky Barnes, the Cloak of Levitation, Hope van Dyne, Okoye, Sharon Carter, Happy Hogan, and Kurt (from the Ant-Man series.) It’s such a weird but exciting group that they brought together, and you really do care about all of them. Even with little tiny moments, you want this team to succeed in their mission. Maybe it’s because we already know these characters from other films, but it does work.
I love that Okoye gets to be the leader of this team and show off her skills. Danai Gurira plays her with such strength and impressive leadership that it’s hard not to get invested in. She also possesses that sharp wit that’s in line with the MCU. Sebastian Stan returns as Bucky, and it’s a huge improvement over his performance in the first episode. He sounded stiff and didn’t feel that natural compared to his live-action performances. Now, it feels a lot more smooth, and his interactions with the squad were genuinely great moments.
The biggest surprise had to be Spider-Man, who Hudson Thames voiced. He captures the same energy as Tom Holland and sounds nearly identical. Surprisingly, Hudson isn’t a voice actor because he would be pretty good at it. This also feels like the closer we’ve gotten to the comics with the MCU Webhead. He’s got the quips, thoughtfulness, and a sense of hope. We even get the first mention of Uncle Ben in the MCU. Maybe because we don’t see the parental figures in his life like Tony Stark or Aunt May that helps this Spider-Man stands out.
Cinematography & Sound: Gut Bustin
If you’re going to do a zombie episode, you better nail the look of it. The landscape has the post-apocalypse feel to it without making it too ugly. We get something that shows the despair of things without making the world unappealing to see. There is also so much beauty in it, with the second act taking place on the train. We get a beautiful sunset during a pivotal moment that hits right in the feels. As the sun goes down, and so does their hope, it’s a small, powerful moment that sticks out.
Regarding the undead themselves, they’re pretty well designed. It feels like the classic George Romero type of creatures with a blue tint in their faces like Dawn of the Dead. Each person is in their own state of decay, with some even moving without arms or legs. It’s also a pretty brutal episode in terms of violence with guts and blood getting sprayed everywhere. It helps that since the color isn’t red, they can get away with the amount of gore present. The threat level is especially raised thanks to the sound design. It’s a small thing, but the way their jaw sounds when they try to bite is terrifying. Usually, it happens so close to the victim, and since everyone is fair game, no one is really safe.
Editing & Pacing: Fast-Paced Movie
Since this episode feels like a movie, the plot gets moving pretty quickly. The montage showing the rules of the apocalypse was a great way to introduce ourselves to the group. There are some cool editing tricks that also tell about the personality traits of each character. Like showing off Kurt’s strangeness with his willingness to help Peter out with his jokes. We do have some quiet moments of reflection that help us really root for this group to survive.
That’s how we get these great little bits of Spider-Man from these kinds of talks. Combine with the gorgeous amination and it’s beautiful to see. Although, there’s a couple of jokes that really do stop the episode in its track. You’ll see it coming a mile away, and it’s pretty groan-worthy. When you have too many wordplay jokes regarding the concept of hope and the character, don’t be surprised when you get some eye rolls.