By Janie Walenda
The last few years have been hard for Avengers fans, and “What If…?” hasn’t offered any reprieve. This week’s episode, eloquently entitled “What If…Zombies?!”, shows us a world where a zombie virus infects the earth’s mightiest heroes, leaving only a small group of superheroes behind.
The best part of this episode was our zombie-hunting crew. This ragtag group of heroes initially includes Peter Parker, Hope Pym, Bruce Banner, Bucky Barnes, Okoye, Sharon Carter, Happy Hogan, and Kurt (a friend of Ant-Man’s). After receiving a cryptic message about a potential cure for the virus, the team travels to New Jersey, losing as well as gaining teammates along the way. This alternate team had a great dynamic and allowed some supporting characters their chance in the spotlight.
Spider-Man is the standout hero in this episode. He steps up and becomes a leader while still being the goofy Peter Parker we all know and love. His vlog made me laugh harder than I have in a while and he was funny for the whole episode without being annoying. He builds a great sibling-like bond with Hope, and funnily enough, they have a genuinely touching conversation about hope. During this conversation, Peter directly mentions Uncle Ben for the first time in the MCU, quoting Aunt May’s words to him in the aftermath: “if we don’t keep smiling when they can’t, then we might as well just be gone, too.” This conversation, and the episode as a whole, captures the best of Peter Parker and why he’s such a beloved character.
The only issue I had with him in this episode was his character design. Since there are so many different versions of the character, this one needed to look a lot more like his live-action counterpart, but did not, which caused some confusion.
Wasp was another standout character in this episode. Not only is her story key to the origins of the zombie apocalypse, but this was also our first time seeing her not act opposite of Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. It was refreshing for her to have her moment in the spotlight, as she had some great heroic moments as well as the aforementioned moment with Peter.
Unfortunately, the storyline with Wanda and Vision was rushed, which is a shame because of how interesting and dark it was. It was fun to see a reversal of “WandaVision,” this time seeing Vision as a villain. Zombie Wanda is a terrifying prospect, and the episode uses her extremely well. Similar to the Doctor Strange episode, evil Wanda serves as a potential tease for her appearance in “Multiverse of Madness.”
After all the buildup for the Bucky vs. Zombie Cap fight, it lasts less than a minute. It’s a thrilling fight, with a great closing line, but the emotional impact was non-existent. This was one of the most heavily advertised moments of the whole series, and it’s over in a snap. This, unfortunately, applies to all the zombified Avengers, with Black Widow not even making an appearance.
For the most part, the rest of the supporting characters are great. It’s always great to see T’Challa onscreen, although bittersweet after Chadwick Boseman’s passing. As always, Okoye is the coolest character and has the killer combo of great action scenes and hilarious lines. Bruce is basically in a repeat of his storyline from Infinity War, admittedly with more interesting results. While it makes no sense for Kurt to be there, it was absolutely worth it for the Baba Yaga callback from “Antman and the Wasp.” Lastly, Scott Lang shows up with a well-stocked arsenal of dad jokes. A lot of them land, but many of them ruin some of the darker moments of the episode.
While a few emotional moments are undercut with cheesy jokes, for the most part, this episode balances its tones well. Despite lacking the gravitas and tragedy of last week’s story, the two episodes complement each other very well. Both have darker premises and storylines, but this episode will provide a nice transition back to some more light-hearted episodes. Unfortunately, this episode was too short to capitalize on all of the opportunities its premise opened up. Even just an extra five minutes would’ve done wonders to flesh out character motivations.
Despite occasional tonal mishaps and a few missed opportunities, the episode is ultimately a fun half-hour of top-notch zombie action and humor.
Episode five of “What If…?” is now streaming on Disney Plus.
Janie Walenda is a freshman Global Business major and an A&E writer for Cedars. She enjoys musicals, movies, and rereading the same books ten times