You can argue that Tony Stark is the most pivotal character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only did his first movie kicked off a whole universe of films, but he’s also essential to the main events. Right down to his death in Avengers: Endgame that closed out the Infinity Sage. Despite the marketing making it seem that this episode will focus on Tony Stark, it’s centered around one of the best MCU villains, Killmonger. We get to see the inner workings of this character and how far he’s willing to go in his plans.
Marvel’s What If…? is available to stream on Disney+. If you missed it last week, you could read about the fifth episode.
Story: A Shakespearean Plan
The first couple of minutes plays out like the beginning of Iron Man except with Killmonger saving Tony. Instead of the significant change in view, he remains the same playboy, a billionaire who profits from weapon trafficking. What’s interesting is the way the episode subverts your expectations by kind of leading a false narrative. When the Watcher narrates how a hero is lost (in this case, Mr. Stark) and a villain is redeemed. You think that this could be, in some form, a redemption story for Erik. However, The Watcher develops a little into a false narrator. Either that or he doesn’t know what’ll come up next which could be for some interesting character development.
It’s not that Erik is bad; he’s just the protagonist we’re following with bad intentions. You’ll have to remember the character from Black Panther and his intentions. This episode should have been what if Killmonger had a more creative plan. How he operates is pretty Shakespearean in nature, and the twist and turns along the way. The arrangement of events doesn’t feel complicated, and connecting the dots along the way is a part of the fun. It shows why he’s not just one of the best villains but the best character in the MCU.
Characters & Performances: An Unlikely Partnership
The early friendship of Tony and Killmonger is pretty interesting to watch on two levels. Two levels are going on when you watch it on a second viewing. There’s the one on the surface with the chemistry that these characters have. They joke, think of each other, and have an understanding of who they are. Then you dig in deeper and realize what game Killmonger is playing. These minor moves you might not notice later have enormous implications later on in the story.
Michael B. Jordan is absolutely unique in voicing this iconic character in this episode. He possesses this charm that makes you root for him despite how morally grey his views are. It doesn’t matter what he does; you’ll gladly follow him on the journey. His interactions with Tony, who Mick Wingert voices, are a highlight in this episode. Mick captures the cockiness of someone who has the world around his fingers but doesn’t go overboard to the point that we hate him. He does sound a little higher pitch than Rodney Downey Jr but still pulls it off.
Cinematography & Sound: Beats by Wakanda
It’s good to see Wakanda have a significant presence in this episode. Anytime it gets used in the MCU shows new elements to one of the best locations we’ve seen. We get to know a lot of scenes during the nighttime, which is stunning. A pivotal scene shows a battle happening right near the city, and it’s fantastic. Elements from Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther come into play with the rhino mounts, and the battle cry makes a triumphant return. Also, the fights featured here are spectacular and show how much Killmonger is a threat. The way he maneuvers with his skills and his confidence is truly a sight to see.
That feeling is enhanced with Killmonger’s theme that’s featured throughout. They use the track “Killmonger” from Black Panther by Ludwig Göransson, and it’s a great addition. It’s the perfect music motif to accompany our character’s rise to power. There are also little touches to the general overall score of Blank Panther added in that intensives when he gets to Wakanda. Laura Karpman does a great job of weaving in it and adds to the atmosphere of the episode.
Unfortunately, this episode has its fair share of bad animation sprinkled throughout, saying something because What If…? usually brings their top-tier talent to each episode. During the party scene early in the episode, Pepper Potts is walking away to talk to Rhodey outside. While she’s walking, the background dancers look like a computer glitch. It’s so awkward and jarring that it distracts you for a brief moment. There are also moments where the animations look a little unfinished. Some backgrounds seem more sketchy and incomplete compared to other scenes.
Editing & Pacing: Sudden Ending
The structure of this story is part of the fun with the unraveling of our main character’s plan. There are little hints and foreshadowing that are sprinkled throughout, which makes it fun for a second viewing. When each reveals happens, it’s carefully placed and helps move the story forward. Yet, the ending feels pretty abrupt on two levels, and the intention of the tone isn’t clear.
Without going into the details, we see him achieve one of his goals, but not the main one. You expect to see what we’ve heard about since his movie, and then nothing happens. It’s like they suddenly cut away before we see everything work out. Unless they’re showing more of his story later on in the season, it feels incomplete. Or even a tease of his achievement would have been nice to witness. There’s also a tag-on conclusion that feels like they wanted a hopeful ending. We’ve seen the show goes dark with its end before, so it’s not uncharted territory. If they had gotten rid of that, then this episode would have been memorable in the long run.