Marvel Studios’ new animated series What If…? has returned this week with an episode that takes us back to the very beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 2008 film Iron Man.
Merging the plot from Black Panther as well, this episode ponders the question of what would have happened if Killmonger — Navy SEAL and son of the Wakandan Prince N’Jobu — had saved Tony Stark before he was kidnapped by the Ten Rings.
So how did this episode stack up against the rest thus far?
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Michael B. Jordan’s N’Jadaka was a fantastic villain in Black Panther, fuelled by his mission to use Wakanda’s vibranium to assist him in combating the oppression of his people worldwide. While some hoped to see redemption for him by the film’s end, he ultimately chose to decline T’Challa’s offer for a second chance and instead met his demise.
The teased return of Killmonger in What If…? was tempting, as it felt like perhaps this was finally a chance to see his tragic story flipped into a redemption arc where he could pursue his conquest to fight back against oppression side by side with T’Challa, or something to that effect. Instead, the story that played out was a sorely disappointing narrative decision.
The team up between Killmonger and Tony is intriguing upon first glance, if not slightly ominous as Pepper watches from afar. Although Tony doesn’t go on to become Iron Man after all, he ends up building a Gundam-esque machine called the Liberator Drone, which is based on Killmonger’s blueprints. However, things quickly begin to hit the fan after that.
The trajectory that Killmonger finds himself on in this alternate universe is even darker than the first, for he ends up killing T’Challa, James Rhodes, and Tony Stark. While it’s potentially understandable seeing Tony removed from equation given that he’s not a superhero here, the deaths of both T’Challa and Rhodes felt wholly unnecessary and in poor taste.
One bit that I did appreciate was T’Challa’s conversation with Killmonger in the ancestral plane, during which he calmly explains that power that is unearned can be a volatile force. Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa, a wise, composed, and determined man with a natural ability to lead (something that Boseman always echoed beautifully in his performances), will forever be missed in the MCU.
While ending of some of the other episodes felt dark in an inevitable way, the way this one closed out felt disconcerting, like dangling at the edge of a cliff without a purpose. However, it’s worth noting that there was a clip of Shuri, Pepper, and the Dora Milaje in the mid-season sneak peek trailer, which we didn’t see this week. While it could be a coincidence, it’s likely that this plot will tie into one of the remaining three episodes, so there’s still hope for a resolution of sorts.
Catch the next episode of What If…? exclusively on Disney+ next Wednesday, September 22. Stay tuned for our weekly reviews!