Marvel’s What If…?: “What If…Zombies?!” (Episode 5) Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
Just as it comes off one of its strongest episodes yet, Marvel’s What If…? heads back into middling territory with a highly anticipated episode that doesn’t live up to the hype.
Since the start of this series, the episode where we see Earth’s Mightiest Heroes deal with a zombie apocalypse has been one of the ambitious looking episodes. Initially, it gets off on the right foot with it explaining how Hank Pym’s journey to the Quantum Realm to find his wife ends up bringing a virus back that slowly begins to infect the world and even some of the Avengers. It’s a great concept that leads to some incredibly striking and memorable visuals of seeing well-known Marvel heroes zombified. The zombie designs for each hero are amazing with how they still manage to resemble their personalities and powers and the dueling matchups are great.
The fights are incredible with the level of detail and tasteful gore that comes in seeing the Avengers decimate hordes of zombies. Some of the kills are absolutely jaw-dropping to watch and bring the MCU some very refreshing zombie horror. It’s also really interesting to see how certain heroes utilize their powers to take down these zombie threats. The Wasp (voiced by Evangeline Lily) using her wasp army to decimate zombies is awesome and super creepy and its cool to see Bucky (voiced by Sebastian Stan) use Cap’s shield to take down his zombified friend. It’s also interesting to see size perspective play a prevalent role with how a zombified Pym is a deadly infector and Hope’s eventual zombie turn creates a giant problem for the remaining survivors’ escape. Also, seeing Scott Lang (voiced by Paul Rudd) as a head in a jar full of dad jokes was great.
There’s a lot to like about the zombie visuals and elements of visual horror that paint the MCU in a different light, but this episode continues to be incredibly uneven across the board. It’s great that an episode like this can have a lot of the main MCU actors return to voice their respective characters, although it is noticeable that Tom Holland isn’t there to voice Spider-Man (voiced here by Hudson Thames), but script here is super weak. Sure, you get some good jokes here and there, like Spider-Man going over the rules of surviving a zombie apocalypse, and Scott and Bruce Banner (voiced by Mark Ruffalo) have some funny reactions to stuff. However, this episode is too focused on jokes that fall flat rather than a good emotional story.
Characters like Kurt (voiced by David Dastmalchian) and Happy Hogan (voiced by Jon Favreau) becoming main characters seems like it would be fun on paper, but their jokes and personalities overstay their welcome. They also take too much time away from really exploring the loss and trauma of these characters seeing their friends and fellow heroes become zombies. Outside of the interesting foil of what we saw in WandaVision of Vision (voiced by Paul Bettany) keeping a zombified Scarlet Witch captive to manage his grief, the character arcs and overall story is subpar. Even after losing members of the survivor squad or having to kill zombified friends, no one is ever given the opportunity to grieve or reflect on what’s happened because this episode moves at such a breakneck pace. After cutting a zombified Cap in half, Bucky just makes a somberly jokey remark and Spider-Man’s speech about who he’s lost is just really weak and unimpactful. It’s like no one really cares when someone is gone and the potential for a really emotional story is completely missed. Even watching it, aside from the visuals, it’s a story that’s tough to connect to and struggles to be memorable.
Marvel’s What If…? might deliver a zombie episode full of amazing horror visuals and contains some solid moments, but it continues to suffer from uneven writing and misses the mark in capitalizing on its story potential to create interesting arcs in the MCU multiverse.