This is the MCU’s first real foray into horror before Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. The What If…? episode manages to bring a lot of horror elements that one expects from the zombie movie genre while still keeping the classic MCU comedy and hope. The episode begins with Bruce Banner returning to Earth as he does at the start of Avengers: Infinity War, but instead of gathering allies and warning the world about Thanos, Bruce has returned to an unrecognizable Earth.
The What If…? writers incorporate the zombie virus into the MCU cannon with the mysterious virus originating in the Quantum Realm. The Nexus Point that changes everything and causes the apocalypse is the rescue of Janet Van Dyne. Although, unlike Ant-Man and the Wasp, Janet was infected with a Quantum Virus that corrupted the brain and once reunited with Hank she infected him. When they returned the infection spread taking out the Pacific Northwest in the span of 24 hours.
The Avengers responded to the outbreak, but The Watcher reveals this was what sealed the fate of the world. As they exit the jet, Captain America is instantly infected by a shrunken down Hank Pym. And a moment later chaos breaks out and the Avengers are overrun.
WHAT IF…? EXPLORES HORROR LIKE NEVER BEFORE IN THE MCU
The zombie outbreak in What If…? has led to an unlikely motley crew of survivors from the MCU. Bruce is saved by Hope Van Dyne aka Wasp and Spider-Man before they bring him to meet the rest of their group. The survivors also include Okoye, Bucky Barnes, Happy Hogan, Kurt (Ant-Man franchise) and Sharon Carter. This unexpected group leads to fun new dynamics between characters that fans likely never expected to see.
What If…? manages to breeze through an entire zombie film in the course of thirty minutes in a way that works surprisingly well. What If…? smartly chooses to allow zombified heroes and villains alike to keep their powers and abilities after being turned. This allows for some fun action notably at the start of the episode with Wong, Strange, and Stark and later in the train station, with Hawkeye and Falcon.
The showdown between Bucky and Captain America is fantastic with close ups of the shield and Cap as Bucky must face off against his once closest friend. What If…? cleverly uses classic zombie tropes with the zombies clearly stalking their victims in the shadows or hiding within the getaway vehicle after the survivors seem to escape.
The survivors are slowly picked off and often have to face off against those who were once their friends. By turning the Avengers into zombies, they instantly become villains who audiences are comfortable with characters killing. This led to some of the most gruesome deaths in the MCU including the decapitation of Wong and Iron Man, insects stripping flesh from bones, Captain America and Falcon being cleaved in half, and Wasp literally exploding out of Sharon Carter. Although when the humans are infected it is off screen or obscured by darkness or smoke.
And what would a zombie movie be, especially one featuring literal superheroes, without a hero’s sacrifice. Hope, Bucky, and Bruce all choose to help their friends, sacrificing their own lives. Hope’s is the classic moment where an infected individual is slowly succumbing to the virus before deciding to help those they have come to care about. One of the most poignant moments in the episode comes from Peter Parker’s speech about hope and continuing to find happiness in order to honor those lost. This heartfelt moment helps ground the episode and make the relationship between Peter and Hope deeper than expected.
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