“What If…?” Episode 5 Gives Us The Wasp We Always Deserved

SPOILERS FOR WHAT IF…? AHEAD!

If any consistent throughline has emerged in Marvel’s What If…?, it’s that the Ant-Man films are more important than you think. The animated anthology series hasn’t always been kind to the franchise, necessarily – Hank Pym turning into a serial killer and Janet Van Dyne unleashing a zombie virus on the earth could both be considered character regressions – but ironically, these dark twists on what has always been considered the most lighthearted subdivision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe might finally get people to go back and rewatch the Ant-Man films.

What If...?
Hope Van Dyne and Bruce Banner | thedigitalfix.com

And with Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania shaping up to be an Avengers-level crossover event, that’s a perfectly reasonable ulterior motive for What If…? to have. Now we just have to hope that under Peyton Reed’s usually lackluster direction, Quantumania can handle its core cast of characters as well as What If…? does in only thirty minutes. For me, as a fan of Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) especially, I’m gonna be honest: What If…?, more so than either of the Ant-Man films or Endgame, finally gave us the Hope Van Dyne we were promised when she first suited up as the Wasp, and the Hope Van Dyne we deserved.

Being a fan of Hope Van Dyne isn’t easy. Even with so much comics history to draw from in her case, the MCU has never really had a clear idea of what to do with her character or how to realize her full potential – something which the Civil War debacle made very clear. In case you missed it, the Russo Brothers were initially going to work the Wasp reveal into their script for Civil War, including her alongside Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in the iconic airport battle. And it probably would have been awesome.

But Peyton Reed wasn’t too keen on that idea, because he wanted to introduce the Wasp and define the tone of her action sequences. He got his way, the Russo Brothers relented, and Wasp waited until Ant-Man And The Wasp for her next appearance…which was massively underwhelming, because – surprise, surprise – Peyton Reed is kind of terrible at directing action. And by the time the Russo Brothers finally did get to work with Wasp, they had too many characters on their plate to do anything substantial with her, so she got relegated to a background role in Endgame.

Basically, it’s a mess. But here, in What If…?, Hope Van Dyne is given pride of place in a story that revolves around her, and Lilly proves herself thoroughly up to the task of carrying the episode on her vocal performance. The Nexus Event of this week’s alternate timeline spins out of Ant-Man And The Wasp, with Hope’s mother Janet becoming the host body for a zombie virus that Hope accidentally unleashes upon the world when she brings Janet back from the Quantum Realm (don’t even get me started on Janet’s characterization – or lack thereof – in the MCU thus far). Hope’s grief and guilt drive her to lead the search for a cure, and it’s her brave self-sacrifice that ensures the survival of…well, hope.

This episode is filled with sacrifices, some a little more necessary than others. I was genuinely moved when Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) charged into the zombie horde, going head-to-head with the zombie version of Wanda Maximoff in a fight that actually seemed pretty evenly matched…at least long enough for the remnants of the Avengers to escape Camp Lehigh with a cure for the zombie virus. It was one of the few moments since the very first Avengers movie where Banner’s dignity and heroism have been fully visible. And then on the other hand you have Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) running at Wanda with a tiny pistol and getting catapulted into the stratosphere. The confidence, the total lack of braincells…an all-around himbo, even in death. We stan.

What If...?
Zombie Wanda | distractify.com

And that’s a big part of what makes What If…? so fun. The stakes are high, and characters die! They also die pretty horribly most of the time, especially in this episode, which is a nice change from how Marvel superheroes usually go, with a few aesthetically-pleasing facial scars and a bruise or two. This adds another layer to the suspense because nobody wants to see their favorite superhero devoured by zombies or worse, transformed into one – although Wanda fans will support her no matter what, and I appreciate that energy (she does cut quite a striking figure as she levitates above the battlefield, her telekinetic abilities still intact but fused with insatiable hunger).

And there’s just something so precious and romantic and not-at-all terrifying about the fact that Vision (Paul Bettany) has been keeping zombie Wanda alive this whole time by feeding her human captives to preserve her strength while working on a cure for her using the Mind Stone embedded in his head. Couple goals, am I right? But of course, there’s no timeline in the Multiverse where Vision doesn’t die tragically, so here he rips the Mind Stone out of his own skull and hands it over to the Avengers as atonement for his actions: which, to be fair, are probably the most villainous that we’ve ever seen from a Marvel hero. Wanda cradles his lifeless body, raising the question of whether zombies can feel emotion, and more importantly, what would a zombie WandaVision look like?

Whether or not Vision’s sacrifice was worth it is left a mystery. The Avengers – or rather, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Peter Parker (voiced by Hudson Thames), Scott Lang’s disembodied head in a glass jar, and Doctor Strange’s levitating cloak – fly off to Wakanda with the Mind Stone and a new sense of purpose, but just before the credits roll it’s revealed that Thanos himself has become a victim of the zombies. Missing only the Mind Stone to complete his Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos sets his sights on Wakanda…and of course, the episode ends there.

What If...?
Zombie Thanos | cnet.com

What If…? has utilized this type of ending several times now, and assuming the series doesn’t have plans to return to these storylines at some point, I like the idea of offering fans a chance to write their own endings. Every week, this series hands the fanfic authors of the world another opportunity to expand upon the Marvel Multiverse in their own way, and that’s genius. This episode was already full of fanfic tropes, from unexpectedly wonderful crossovers (the payoff to that Baba Yaga gag in Ant-Man And The Wasp…*chef’s kiss*) to a scene of Bucky Barnes showering (although let’s be honest, most fanfics would leave out the Disney-mandated strategically-placed steam).

As of this writing, I am still waiting for that zombie WandaVision AU. Do not make me write this myself.

Episode Rating: 8.9/10

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” SPOILER Review!

If you haven’t seen Spider-man: Far From Home yet, make sure you get out of here and into a theater now, because you don’t want to miss it, and you definitely don’t want to get spoiled!

I have a feeling that the spoilers are, in large part, what make Far From Home such a fun movie: as I wrote in my nonspoiler review, it’s virtually impossible to talk about the film without giving anything away, because there are dozens of little shocks and surprises, not to mention a couple of huge, mind-blowing plot twists. And we can talk about them all now! We’ll discuss them in order of importance.

Surprisingly, one of the smallest, most insignificant surprises in the movie has to do with the consequences of Avengers: Endgame – or, rather, the lack thereof. The film opens with an emotional tribute to fallen heroes of previous movies, set to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, which then gives way to some exposition about what happened after Endgame: namely, the moment at which half of the human population suddenly reappeared. Unfortunately, this is all covered in a matter of seconds, with just one quick shot of dusted highschool students suddenly reappearing on the basketball court where they had been dusted five years earlier by Thanos’ infamous Snap. Thanos would be outraged to hear that people have begun calling this moment…the Blip. It’s a dumb name, and it does kind of undermine the huge drama of Endgame, but it is exactly what people these days would call such an event – a blip, a minor nuisance for those who were dusted.

But let’s talk about that, actually. In Far From Home, we mostly see things from the perspective of those who were Dusted, and have since Blipped back into existence, five years later, but still the same age. Peter Parker (Tom Holland), and all but one of his classmates were victims of the Snap, as was Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Leaving aside the fact that this is highly implausible considering that the Dusting was random and indiscriminate, these characters all have something in common, something I couldn’t quite place a finger on while watching the film: entitlement. The Dusted make up the vast majority of this film’s cast, and almost all of them have the same attitude of nonchalance and, dare I say, arrogance. They died and came back to life, but for them, the entire span of time between the Snap and the Blip was a matter of minutes: meanwhile, in the world around them, people have gotten married, had kids, died. One Dusted character comments on “how weird” it is that his younger brother is now older than him, but why don’t we stop to think about how it must feel for that younger/older brother, who has probably been dealing with emotional trauma, possibly even living as an only child, but now has to re-adapt to life with a sibling? The film only focuses on one character who survived the Dusting and has grown up in the intervening five years – Brad Davis (Remy Hii), who is treated throughout the film as a threat to Peter’s relationship with MJ (Zendaya), and something of an antagonist. But it’s the Dusted who actually come off as ungrateful and selfish, willfully endangering their lives time and time again. A lot of people wondered why, if Peter had just been Dusted, Aunt May would immediately thereafter let him go on a field-trip to Europe. Well, because Aunt May was just as dismissive of the Snap as any of the Dusted: sure, she had a funny experience where she reappeared in her old apartment only to discover that a new family had moved in – but she still got the apartment back, didn’t she?

Anyway…while we’re on the subject of Aunt May, let me move on from my angry tirade – May is not an important character in the film, but she does have a very adorable flirtatious relationship with Tony Stark’s aide, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). And at the end of the movie, when Peter confronts them and asks for the truth, May breaks Happy’s heart by revealing that it wasn’t meant to be a serious relationship – just a fling. Hopefully May rethinks that, because these two made one cute couple (honestly, when you think about it, it’s another example of how ungrateful the Dusted are).

Happy isn’t the only constant reminder of Tony Stark in Far From Home: aside from a brief mention of Tony’s wife Pepper Potts, there’s also some new surprises. We learn early on in the film that, before his death, Tony built a pair of glasses which control the hugely dangerous E.D.I.T.H (Even Dead, I’m The Hero) technology: this includes an almost infinite supply of killer drones and some really scary satellites orbiting the planet. Naturally, he also entrusted these glasses to Peter Parker, a scared and overwhelmed teenage boy. Just like any of Tony’s creations, these E.D.I.T.H glasses can be used for good or bad purposes – Peter makes this clear when he accidentally uses them to call a drone-strike on his rival, Brad Davis: even worse, he then gives the glasses to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man he’s known for a couple of days – even though he does eventually get them back, the E.D.I.T.H drones also capture him on camera, killing Beck. We’ll get to that later, though.

First, let’s talk about Beck himself. This one honestly shouldn’t have come as a surprise: we learn about halfway through the movie that Beck, who seems really nice and friendly, is actually a mentally unstable con-man trying to get revenge on his former boss, Tony Stark, who he believes stole his life-work and gave him no credit. With a team of disgruntled former Stark Industries employees, Beck has created an elaborate smoke-and-mirrors ruse – he pretends to be from another world in the Marvel multiverse, a warrior hunting huge creatures called Elementals, which wreak havoc across Europe. In reality, the Elementals are all special effects, and Beck is hunting Peter Parker, trying to win him over with kindness and get the E.D.I.T.H glasses from him. Jake Gyllenhaal brings a lot of charisma to the role – and his abrupt transformation from sweet, gentle Quentin Beck, to the over-the-top theatrical villainy of “Mysterio”, as he calls himself, is handled with ease. Granted, the actual scene in which his evil plans are revealed is…not quite as great. Gyllenhaal has to dump a lot of exposition and backstory while monologuing to his henchmen, and the dialogue itself is a bit wooden – but the delivery is as good as it can be, and Gyllenhaal was clearly having the time of his life while filming. He reminded me a great deal of Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events in that one scene. And he was detestable: from his snarky smile to his outfit, I wanted to punch him in the face. I didn’t think he could get worse.

He got worse.

I mentioned in my nonspoiler review that fans of Peter Parker will be traumatized by this movie: I stand by that. After getting the E.D.I.T.H glasses, Mysterio learns that Peter and MJ have uncovered his secret identity and are trying to reach Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at a S.H.I.E.L.D office in Berlin. Mysterio lures Peter into a trap, using special effects and illusions to fool him into an abandoned warehouse where he tries to murder him. What follows is some of the most nightmarish and imaginative stuff I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie: a sequence reminiscent of the “A Friend Like Me” musical number in Aladdin – but with disorienting green fog, spiders, and hundreds of Mysterio clones instead of singing genies and magic carpets. There are moments of dead silence, where we follow Peter as he tries to find a way out of the CGI darkness, only to run into a graveyard where he is confronted by a zombie apparition of Tony Stark. There’s a scene where Peter is surrounded by mirror images of himself, which suddenly come to life and try to strangle him. It goes on for an excruciatingly long time, with no end in sight – there’s one point at which you think the illusion is over, when Nick Fury shoots Mysterio in the back…but that’s a deception too. And then Peter Parker gets hit by a train.

He survives this, of course. How, I don’t know, but at least he manages to finally break free from Mysterio’s illusions – watching Peter be tortured both physically and mentally, not knowing who he could trust or what he could do to escape: it was heartbreaking. I nearly cried when Peter climbed, bloodied and bruised, up onto the side of the speeding bullet-train. I nearly cried again when he was wandering, lost and confused, through a picturesque Dutch village. I did cry when he finally met up with Happy Hogan again: he was crying, I was crying.

Then Led Zeppelin started playing. That dried my tears pretty quickly.

One more thing about Mysterio before we move to the third act surprises: the whole concept of the Multiverse, teased in the first few trailers for the film – it’s all a lie, concocted by Quentin Beck’s professional scriptwriters. There is no rift between dimensions, no Earth 616 – as of right now, there is still only one reality in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is honestly fine by me. It does mean we can probably dismiss all those rumors about the X-Men or the Fantastic Four coming from an alternate world in the Multiverse.

Now, for the big battle at the end. This happens in London, on the Tower Bridge, where Mysterio uses the E.D.I.T.H drones to create one “Avengers-level threat” for him to single-handedly defeat. Things get a little messy when Peter Parker disables the drones and exposes the illusion, leading to an epic battle where Peter has to go through Mysterio’s nightmare world again in order to get to him. Meanwhile, his friends, such as MJ and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are trapped in a museum, using medieval weapons to take on the killer-bots: this is what I called a Disney-Channel moment in my nonspoiler review – it’s silly, but fun. In the end, though, no amount of plot armor was going to save those kids from being horribly murdered – it’s only when Mysterio shuts down E.D.I.T.H by himself, while trying to fool Peter into thinking that he’s surrendered, that the teens are able to escape. But here’s where things get really cool – and, again, traumatic. Mysterio falls back, seemingly humbled, telling Peter that he regrets everything. For a few moments, the audience is fooled – and then, suddenly, Peter spins around and grabs a gun from the real Mysterio, who has been standing nearby, invisible. There’s a single gunshot in the dead silence, and Mysterio slumps to the ground, dead – all¬†thanks to Peter’s “spidey-sense” (though, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a running joke in the movie where everybody refers to “spidey-sense” as the “Peter-tingle”, something that Peter loudly objects to on multiple occasions).

But Mysterio’s legacy lives on, just as he wanted it to: turns out, he was filming the whole battle, and his henchmen edited the preserved footage to make it look like Mysterio was murdered. This is revealed in a shocking mid-credits scene, in which the footage is broadcast on national television by conspiracy network, The Daily Bugle, along with Peter Parker’s name and image: in a horrifying parallel to Tony Stark’s own declaration “I am Iron Man” at the end of the first Iron Man movie, Peter’s own identity has now been unintentionally revealed to the world. It’s likely that the third Spider-man movie will see the young web-slinger, armed with E.D.I.T.H, on the run from a host of villains who will be coming after him, not to mention his family and friends.

And, finally, one more surprise is revealed at the very end of the movie, but it’s so big that I think it warrants its own post, so I’ll only cover it a little here: basically, in the post-credits scene, Nick Fury and his partner Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are revealed to have been Skrulls – specifically, Talos and Soren, who we already know from the Captain Marvel solo movie. We overhear their conversation with the real Nick Fury, as they inform him that they’ve successfully delivered Tony’s glasses to Peter. Nick Fury himself is shown to be lounging on a tropical beach, which itself is merely a hologram: turns out, Fury is in space, on a vast starship manned by Skrulls, commanding what looks to be an army of soldiers or workers in a sort of cosmic version of S.H.I.E.L.D., again paralleling the end of the first Iron Man, in which Nick Fury first appeared onscreen and recruited Tony Stark into the Avengers Initiative. Eleven years later, Fury is assembling some sort of new team for Phase 4. I have a few guesses as to what might be going on there, but we’ll discuss that another time.

With the end of that post-credits scene, the Infinity Saga is officially over. The story of Tony Stark has been concluded, but there are dozens of new stories we can’t wait to see unfold on the big screen. We even have a bunch of new questions: is Spider-man going to be the next face of the MCU? Will he be forced to hide, or will he confront his enemies head-on? Is Mysterio really dead? What is Nick Fury doing up in space? Can all the Skrulls be trusted? How long have Skrulls been impersonating people on earth? Will the E.D.I.T.H tech play a large part going forward?

Will Aunt May and Happy end up together?