Episode 5 of Marvel’s What If…? tells a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a number of heroes, but winds up being less terrifying than it could’ve been.
Judging by the buzz it attracted on Twitter once the episode’s posters were released, I think it is fair to call Episode 5 of What If…? one of the most anticipated episodes of the series thus far. Personally, I thought that it had the potential to be great, considering that last week’s episode was very dark. The end result is good: Episode 5 has a unique story, scary moments, and features some great characters/performances. However, for a story featuring zombies, it isn’t as terrifying as it could have been, and that’s part of what keeps it from being as great as Episodes 2 and 4.
This week, Uatu, also known as The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), takes audiences to the moment that Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) falls back to Earth in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). In the MCU, Banner warns Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong) of the impending arrival of Thanos (Josh Brolin). However, Episode 5 of What If…? shows us a timeline where Banner returns to find that much of the population has been infected by a zombie outbreak. After narrowly avoiding being infected, Bruce joins Hope van Dyne / Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and other survivors on a journey to a survivor camp that’s reportedly working on a cure.
There are plenty of MCU actors that return to voice their characters in this episode. That includes the aforementioned Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne / Wasp, who is the MVP of Episode 5. You certainly wouldn’t know that this wasn’t a movie, based on her passionate performance. The late Chadwick Boseman also returns as T’Challa/Black Panther in the second of four episodes that he was able to record prior to his passing in August of 2020. Hearing Boseman as the Black Panther will undoubtably make you emotional if you’re a fan of the actor and character. It’s something that I am thankful he was able to do prior to his tragic death, even if T’Challa isn’t really the main character of the episode. One actor that doesn’t return, despite his character’s key role in Episode 5, is Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. While that may disappoint some, Hudson Thames delivers a standout performance in the role and does a great job of capturing the essence of the character. This new version is filled with that charm and selflessness that has helped Tom Holland’s Spider-Man become a fan favorite in the MCU.
Episode 5’s story, while not entirely original (There is a Marvel Comics limited series called Marvel Zombies that features various heroes infected by a zombie outbreak), is unique. It continues a strong streak of What If…? episodes with mostly original stories that both MCU fans and newcomers can enjoy. The episode is fast paced and moves through like a breeze. I do feel as if it told a mostly complete and coherent story though, despite the fast pace causing a few bumps in the road along the way. One example of such a bump involves a decision made by a character, which I won’t spoil here, that doesn’t feel earned because of how quickly it occurs.
Even though the basic premise of the episode revolves around a zombie apocalypse, Episode 5 of What If…? features a surprising number of comedic moments. It might not exactly be the ideal setting or time for jokes, but the Marvel quips are there and they’re pretty funny. That really helps and hurts the episode, because while the comedic moments are great, they don’t help maintain that sense of terror. With zombies involved, I expected something terrifying and bleak on par with Episode 4. The jokes constantly erase the tension and, while the zombies are visually interesting, they aren’t what you would call frightening. Some of the visuals do manage to be disgusting, but there isn’t really the blood and gore that is present in the Marvel Zombies series. It seems like writer Matthew Chauncey attempted to make something that struck a balance between terrifying and funny, which creates a mixed bag. Certain moments are scary, but the constant jokes really rob the episode of its darkness.
Yes, Episode 5 of What If…? is good, but it had the potential to be great. The story is unique, it has scary moments, and great characters. However, the comedic moments, while funny, can constantly ruin the sense of terror that an episode like this should have. If the episode’s writer Matthew Chauncey had cut back on the jokes even a little bit, I think it would’ve helped make the episode more terrifying and as dark as you’d expect a zombie apocalypse story to be.
What If…?‘s Episode 5 is now available to watch on Disney Plus.
WATCH WHAT IF…?: EPISODE 5:
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