This review contains spoilers for Marvel’s What If…? episode 5.
Episode 5 of Marvel’s What If…?, entitled ‘What If…Zombies!?’, is a tremendously fun half hour of television, and is also likely to be a really good time for fans of the Marvel Zombies comics.
The installment is packed with laughs and shocking moments, using classic zombie tropes to keep some of the best and most underrated MCU characters on their toes while maintaining an enviable pace as it throws one wild scenario after another at them.
As you may know by now if you’ve been reading our weekly What If…? reviews, they’re adopting a slightly different format. More of a breakdown that we hope will satisfy die-hard Marvel fans but also help younger viewers and those less familiar with the MCU keep up.
Alright! Now, let’s dig into ‘What If…Zombies!?’, which ponders what would have happened if Janet van Dyne had contracted a terrible virus during her time in the Quantum Realm.
It helps to have seen all the MCU movies leading up to Avengers: Infinity War, but perhaps Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther and the first two Ant-Man films are the most essential watches. There are also a fair few gut punches for any WandaVision fans in the building, and whomst amongst us is not?
Our Watcher Uatu is of course Jeffrey Wright, Chadwick Boseman is T’Challa/Black Panther, Paul Rudd is Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Mark Ruffalo is Bruce Banner/Hulk, Evangeline Lily is Hope van Dyne/Wasp, Sebastian Stan is Bucky Barnes, Paul Bettany is Vision, Jon Favreau is Happy Hogan, Danai Gurira is Okoye, Emily VanCamp is Sharon Carter, David Dastmalchian is Kurt, and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is Ebony Maw.
The missing voice here is Tom Holland. Musician and Mad Men actor Hudson Thames fills in as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in episode 5.
Bruce Banner in Hulk form returns to Earth via the Bifröst just as he did at the start of Avengers: Infinity War, but this time when he crashes down into the Sanctum Sanctorum he finds Iron Man, Wong and Doctor Strange already turned into flesh-eating zombies.
Bruce is thankfully saved by Hope van Dyne and her swarm of ants, and Peter Parker whisks him off while we get some helpful exposition.
In this universe, Hank Pym’s Ant-Man and the Wasp journey to the Quantum Realm to retrieve his long-lost wife Janet went badly wrong when he found her infected by a quantum zombie brain virus upon his arrival. When she returned, Janet started gnawing on everything within reach and the virus spread like wildfire, quickly infecting millions. Cap, Widow, Hawkeye, Iron Man and Black Panther apparently set out with arguably the worst Cap plan ever to turn back the tide, and disappeared under a pile of hungry zombies.
Banner finds himself among the last of the still-human holdouts. Bucky Barnes, Okoye and Sharon Carter are tracking a signal from Camp Lehigh that may or may not provide a solution to the zombie problem. Along with Happy Hogan and Kurt (who I still don’t think has a last name), the gang forge a loose, Train to Busan-y mission to try and reach Camp Lehigh.
Unfortunately, they are attacked by numerous familiar faces before they set out, and Happy is turned into a zombie, further dampening Peter’s hopes for a W. They eventually get aboard a train, but Zombie Cap climbs on and Bucky has to fight him, which leads to a small sliver of time with Bucky as Cap when he nabs his shield.
Hope gets infected, but helps the rest of the gang get to Camp Lehigh, where they find Vision experimenting with the Mind Stone, and Scott and T’Challa still alive (to varying degrees). Okoye realizes they can use Vision’s research to cure the zombie population, but only from Wakanda where the tech they need could be easily constructed.
Vision’s base turns out to be a bit of a trap. He’s been luring people there to feed a contained – and admittedly extremely cool-looking – Zombie Wanda, as he couldn’t bear to lose her (gulp). His guilt gets the better of him when his friends are attacked by Wanda, and T’Challa, Peter and Scott Lang’s head escape Camp Lehigh and fly to Wakanda while Banner Hulks out and attacks the hoard.
How does it work out?
Oof, not good. Earth seems utterly screwed. Scott is still a head in a jar being supportively cuddled by The Cloak of Levitation, T’Challa is missing a leg, Peter is clinging on to his last shred of hope, and the safe haven of Wakanda plays host to an Infinity Gauntlet-wielding zombie Thanos. Yikes.
There were so many fantastic moments in episode 5 that it will probably require a rewatch or two to catch them all!
First, I’ve gotta give a shout-out to the The Cloak of Levitation. It really is the gift that keeps on giving – kind of like the MCU’s version of a silent movie star. That thing has surely saved the day as many times as the Avengers by now, and it asks for nothing in return. The Cloak of Levitation always knows the assignment, and always delivers.
You’ll be unsurprised to learn that I also loved Peter’s glorious zombie training video, which started off with a distinct Mutant Enemy-esque ident. What a smorgasbord of joy! Kurt’s ketchup-squirting special effects, Bucky listed as “silent but deadly”, Happy forced to wear a custom Thor shirt of questionable origin. This instructional clip had everything, didn’t it?
Peter’s struggle to keep hope alive in the zombie apocalypse is an arc that has almost certainly been pulled from Philip Kennedy Johnson’s spectacular Marvel Zombies: Resurrection run, and it’s just as affecting in this episode as it was in the pages of Marvel Comics. Peter can always be relied upon to maintain his earnest spirit until the bitter end.
Both Kurt and Happy were terrific additions in this episode. Happy’s insistence on yelling “blam!” every time he used the repulsor glove reminded me of Ewan McGregor’s behind the scenes Star Wars: The Phantom Menace story, where he admitted that he made lightsaber noises out loud when he was filming. Apparently, McGregor did it so much that the post-production crew ended up having to edit in louder lightsaber sounds to cover it all up.
Of course, the continuing heartbreak of Vision and Wanda’s relationship was once again ready to twist the emotional knife. In WandaVision, Wanda couldn’t help but use her Chaos Magic to keep Vision around after his death, but here we see that Vision arguably went to more disturbing lengths to contain a zombified Wanda. It was even hard to cope with the monstrous Wanda finding Vision’s lifeless body, and yet Marvel still refuses to pay for my therapy.
See you again next week!
Marvel’s What If…? is now streaming on Disney+.