“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

Is The Mandalorian’s Midi-chlorian Plot Twist A Risk Worth Taking?

SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AHEAD!

Yesterday’s episode of The Mandalorian was…not my favorite, for several reasons. I’m over Gina Carano as Cara Dune, I’m growing tired of so many repetitive side-quests, and I’m ready for Baby Yoda to become something more than Din Djarin’s adorable accessory…but one thing that I did find genuinely fascinating and admirable about the episode was showrunner Jon Favreau’s borderline-reckless bravery and confidence, on full display for everyone to see. With a single, subtle reference, he has brought back midi-chlorians, one of the most controversial and universally hated elements of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, and managed to weave them so deeply into the story that they’re sure to be addressed more directly in the near future as they influence The Mandalorian‘s plot moving forward (if The Mandalorian‘s plot ever moves forward, that is): and now Favreau has to hope that the goodwill he’s built with fans will carry him unscathed through the inevitable firestorm. If he’s lucky, he’ll find the fandom more welcoming to his interpretation of midi-chlorians than they were to George Lucas’ introductory explanation of the concept twenty years ago.

The Mandalorian
forbes.com

Personally, I don’t expect Favreau to suffer any major consequences for bringing back midi-chlorians, though I do think he could risk damaging The Mandalorian‘s popularity with hardcore fans. Let’s just say, midi-chlorians aren’t something from the prequel trilogy that I think anyone was begging to be reminded of anytime soon, though they have popped up sporadically in Star Wars canon since their appearance in The Phantom Menace. They tend to lead to prolonged philosophical arguments about the nature of the Force: which you might think sounds like fun now, but trust me, you don’t want to be around when Star Wars fans start arguing about…well, anything really. Whether it’s a debate about midi-chlorians or the Skywalker surname, this is one fandom that has always had a massive and well-documented problem with toxic trolls, gatekeepers, bigots, and the like.

Before we go any further, though, I feel obligated to break down some midi-chlorian history and biology for you. Imagine for a moment that you’re Baby Yoda in school on Nevarro; grab a bright blue macaron cookie, and settle in for an explanation of one of Star Wars‘ most complicated, convoluted concepts.

Midi-chlorians, most in-universe scholars agree, are sentient microbes that concentrate inside the cells of every living creature in the Star Wars universe. Most people don’t have very high concentrations of midi-chlorians in their bodies: 2,500 or lower is agreed upon as the normal amount per cell for an average human being in Star Wars. But the more midi-chlorians you have living inside of you, the more attuned you are to the Force (Anakin Skywalker, for example, had over 25,000 midi-chlorians) and the more likely you are to be picked up by some random Jedi passing through town. In fact, during the reign of the Old Republic, that was one of the main objectives of the Jedi Order: taking blood samples from kids around the galaxy, and testing them for midi-chlorians. Now, something important to remember is that midi-chlorians aren’t actually the Force – rather, they act as a conduit between the Force and their host body, translating the will of the Force to their host. The host also has to put in work focusing their mind and looking inwards so as to be more attuned to their own midi-chlorians, and thus more open to the will of the Force. It’s unknown whether the midi-chlorians actually created the link between the Force and living creatures, or whether the Force created midi-chlorians to establish that link (if it’s the former, it leads to some disturbing questions about why the midi-chlorians have an agenda of their own that seems to overpower the free will of their host bodies; but if it’s the latter, why wouldn’t the Force have distributed midi-chlorians more fairly throughout the galaxy?). Midi-chlorians also have a wide range of other bizarre, and only vaguely defined, powers: such as the ability to create life. This has led to speculation that Anakin’s abnormally high midi-chlorian count was a result of him being conceived in his mother’s womb by the midi-chlorians, Immaculate Conception style – and again, we’re getting into troubling territory regarding free will and consent, since Shmi Skywalker doesn’t seem to have gotten any say in this matter.

The Mandalorian
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It’s this ability to create and potentially preserve life that caught the attention of the Sith and led to them manipulating midi-chlorians for a variety of evil purposes. Eternal life, for instance, was one of several goals that Emperor Palpatine lusted after – and almost achieved. In The Rise Of Skywalker we discovered that Palpatine was able to survive his death in the explosion of the Death Star II, and since it’s never been fully explained how he managed that (except that it had something to do with clones), it’s been speculated that midi-chlorian manipulation was involved. Now, it looks like The Mandalorian may be trying to retroactively provide more information on this issue – as well as the backstory of Palpatine’s mutant science project, Supreme Leader Snoke (whom I mistakenly referred to yesterday as a clone of Palpatine, when he is in fact a clone created in someone else’s image by Palpatine).

When Din Djarin and his team infiltrated the ex-Imperial fortress in yesterday’s episode of The Mandalorian, they stumbled upon a top-secret cloning facility being operated by Dr. Pershing, a character last seen in season one, whose backstory is largely clouded in secrecy but involves the Kaminoan cloners. Pershing was a minor character, whose agenda in season one was being hindered by having to work alongside “The Client”, an Imperial bureaucrat who didn’t seem to have a very high regard for the doctor’s work, and was mostly concerned with finding Baby Yoda and killing him as quickly as possible. But it seems that ever since the season one finale, with The Client now dead, Pershing has found a more receptive audience in ex-Imperial killing machine Moff Gideon. Unfortunately for Din Djarin, both Pershing and Gideon are working towards a common goal: getting their hands on Baby Yoda, and using him – somehow – to bring about the return of the Empire.

Dr. Pershing isn’t at the fortress when Djarin and his team stage their attack, but they do find a hologram message from Pershing to Gideon’s headquarters, where the doctor gives a progress report on his work, and seems to confirm that, with just a single blood sample he was able to obtain from Baby Yoda back in season one, he’s been trying (so far unsuccessfully) to transfer the child’s midi-chlorians to other beings: all of whom now resemble deformed vegetables lined up in tanks. Pershing never utters the word “midi-chlorian”, but he specifically states that recapturing Baby Yoda is essential because the Empire is unlikely to find any other test subject with a higher “M-count” – a subtle, but unmistakable, reference to the midi-chlorian count. Pershing doesn’t state an exact number that we could compare to other notable Jedi (if Baby Yoda has a higher M-count than Anakin Skywalker, he’s by default the most powerful Force-user on record), but it seems that the child is extremely valuable to the Empire.

But why? What are they doing with all these experiments? Well, we don’t know just yet: but from the context, it certainly looks like Pershing and Gideon are trying to create a small clone army of Force-users, with a small assist from Baby Yoda’s midi-chlorians. The logistics of how a Force-user’s midi-chlorians can be transferred from one person to another is a subject of debate in the fandom – but as I mentioned, we have seen Palpatine successfully clone himself (or something) with his Force powers intact, and we know he created multiple clones of Snoke, a Force user. In The Mandalorian, we possibly even see the very first proto-Snoke in development on Nevarro: according to musically-minded Star Wars fans, his theme plays over a scene in the cloning facility where the camera zooms in on a distorted specimen who has a facial scar very similar to the one sported by Snoke. I have mixed feelings about the revelation that Snoke might have been created using Baby Yoda’s blood, but it’s a twist, alright. What’s more concerning about all this is the implication that this experiment on Baby Yoda was the Empire’s first step towards doing…whatever they did to bring Palpatine back in physical form…and that Baby Yoda’s blood might have been part of that process.

The Mandalorian
starwars.com

If all goes well, this might also be the first step towards making midi-chlorians popular with fans. When George Lucas introduced the complicated idea in The Phantom Menace, audiences were justifiably confused about why the Force – which, until that point, had seemed like an intangible, spiritual construct – suddenly had a nonsensical scientific explanation: one which seemed to contradict the guiding principle of the original trilogy by suggesting that the Force isn’t something that anybody can wield with the right training, but instead requires you to have a specific number of symbiotic microbes in your blood before you can even take the next step towards becoming a Jedi. It ruins the magic, in a way. And it’s so complex that nobody can figure out exactly what the midi-chlorians are or what they’re capable of, because nobody behind the scenes has ever conclusively answered either of those questions. If The Mandalorian is going to bring back midi-chlorians, it’s going to need to put in the work to explain what they are, what they do, and why we shouldn’t hate them.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea, or a bad one? Are you still trying to figure out the difference between a midi-chlorian and a Mandalorian? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

A Live-Action “Hercules” Is In Development At Disney!

A lot of people complain about the recent deluge of Disney live-action remakes, and, despite the fact that I personally have liked almost all of said remakes (with the glaring exception of The Lion King), I can understand the reasoning behind these complaints. More often than not, Disney has rigidly insisted on remaking all of their most beloved classics – films like Aladdin, Cinderella, Beauty And The Beast, The Jungle Book…films that are already so good or at least iconic, that it’s hard to add anything new to the story. That’s why I’m so happy that, at long last, the studio is looking to remake a couple of its more niche or less popular films. Films like Hercules (oh, and also Robin Hood).

Hercules has a huge cult following, to no one’s surprise. The film is a lot of fun, it’s got some pretty good songs, and the characters are hilarious and endearing – especially the villainous Hades, and the snarky princess Megara. But thanks to a poor box-office performance, Hercules is often neglected by both the studio that made it and general audiences: not quite as much as, say, Atlantis: The Lost Empire or Treasure Planet, but enough that neither Hercules nor Megara are considered official Disney royalty, despite being the prince and princess of Olympus and its huge pantheon of gods. Incredibly unfair, if you ask me. But thankfully, the film will now get a second chance to prove its worth, in the form of an upcoming live-action remake (special shout-out to the folks at The DisInsider for obtaining this awesome new scoop).

Hercules image
people.com

Along with the news that the film is being remade for a theatrical debut and a hint that it will be a musical like the original (unless, I suppose, the non-musical Mulan remake does so well that Disney rethinks that strategy), there’s also several rumors of possible directors for the coveted project. Jon Favreau is probably the most obvious choice on the shortlist thanks to his work on the massively successful The Jungle Book and The Lion King remakes, but, from a creative standpoint, he seems like a weak option: perhaps The Lion King was just a fluke, but it’s also indicative of a mentality I personally don’t want to be applied to Hercules – adapting one of Disney’s more niche properties should be an opportunity for a more unique, creative vision, and Favreau’s has…not been that. And look, I’m not going to sit here and say that Bill Condon brought anything revolutionary to Beauty And The Beast, or that Guy Ritchie was able to leave his own distinct mark on Aladdin, but at least they added new material to the plot and expanded on some things, however small: The Lion King really didn’t do anything to widen the world or broaden the scope of the story. Then again, Favreau has proved to be a great producer on The Mandalorian, so I wouldn’t be averse to him having a role behind the scenes – but I don’t think he’d be the best choice for director.

The other names currently being floated are Gore Verbinski and the Russo Brothers. The former you will recognize as the director of Disney’s original Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy (which, incidentally, I just watched a few days ago, and have been meaning to review), and the latter as the directing duo behind Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Now, I really like the Russo Brothers – despite some gripes I have with Endgame, I think the Russo’s are both extremely talented directors. But Verbinski…he’s the one I want helming the Hercules remake. His skill with action scenes and his eye for detail would help to make the film visually stunning, atmospheric, and appropriately epic for an adaptation of an ancient Greek myth.

Hercules Disney image
insidethemagic.net

As with any remake, there’s an opportunity for Disney to both honor the animated classic while updating the story with more modern sensibilities: due to the fact that Hercules has a smaller fanbase than the studio’s big hits, there’s probably an even greater likelihood that this remake could feature a number of changes – if I had to guess, I’d imagine that Megara will get a larger role, and probably won’t be subjected to the satyr Philoctetes’ unwanted advances, which, in the original film, quickly crossed a line into what would be considered harassment. And I’d love to see the remake draw more heavily from actual Greek mythology – the animated film was not very faithful to the Hercules myths, which means there’s a lot of room to improve on that front: though I’m 99% certain we still won’t see the actual Hercules origin story onscreen, as it involves Zeus cheating on his wife by disguising himself as the husband of a mortal woman.

There’s no word yet on who will be cast in the remake, though the internet is already abuzz with theories – the general consensus is that the Muses should be played by some of pop culture’s most talented black performing artists, from Beyonc√© to Lizzo to Janelle Mona√©, while singer Ariana Grande, coming off a strong and well-received recent performance of Megara’s ballad “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” appears to be the top choice to play the princess. As for Hades, I still maintain that Jeff Goldblum would be the ideal candidate for the zany, campy role, but I’m open to suggestions.

So what do you think of a Hercules remake? Who would you like to see come onboard as director? Who should star? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“The Mandalorian: Chapter 3” Review!

It’s impossible to talk about this episode of The Mandalorian without making reference to some spoilers, in contrast to last week’s episode, which saw Pedro Pascal’s armored bounty hunter and internet sensation Baby Yoda team up to take down a rhino and do basically nothing else for half an hour. At the end of that episode, titled The Child, the Mandalorian was last seen boarding his spaceship with Baby Yoda in tow, presumably escorting the adorable little green puppet back to his client, the mysterious mastermind played by Werner Herzog. So where does the story pick up this week?

Well, that’s where the spoilers come into play, so if you haven’t seen the episode, you should definitely do so – I know! I’m actually recommending this show now! That’s because director Deborah Chow has actually managed to revitalize my interest in the Mandalorian’s character arc, and his interactions with Baby Yoda, which are the emotional heartbeat of this story so far.

"The Mandalorian: Chapter 3" Review! 1
denofgeek.com

When the episode begins, however, the Mandalorian is forced to make a very tough choice about Baby Yoda’s future: face-to-face with Herzog’s nameless (but unmistakably evil) Imperial client, the Mandalorian – even in-universe, every other character has taken to calling him Mando, so I’m going to do the same, despite my concerns that the name is instead in a disparaging, rather than respectful, way – ends up handing over the adorable little green baby in exchange for a handful of metal slabs that he turns into more armor (and another shoulder-pad to match his current one) with a little help from Emily Swallow’s character, The Armorer. Just as before, Mando gets flashback visions while the Armorer is busy making his new suit of armor; visions which, as before, show a child (presumably him?) being rushed through a war-zone by frightened parents and placed into a bunker. Now, though, we get a tantalizing new glimpse of what happened – barely moments after being carried to safety, an explosion rocks the underground chamber and baby Mando looks up to see the bunker doors thrown open to reveal an intimidating killer robot – one of the B2 super battle droids from the Star Wars prequels, if I’m not mistaken.

We still don’t know why the Mandalorian gets these flashbacks when he’s at the armory, but we do get some insight about the workings of Mandalor culture – emphasis on cult, as the small group of secretive warriors seem to be. With their semi-religious reverence for weaponry and their deference to the weapons-maker, it looks like the way of Mandalor lies in battle and the glory of warfare. Our protagonist, the Mandalorian, is up for a promotion, it seems, for killing the big rhino in the last episode, and the Armorer asks him if he’d like to choose a signet engraved with said rhino’s image – an honor he respectfully refuses, as he had help in killing the creature “from an enemy”, i.e. Baby Yoda.

But the Mandalorian has a heart of gold, or at least something other than Beskar steel, which everybody else in the galaxy is willing to sell their souls for: rather than move on with his life and go hunt down other innocent people for money, he decides to turn around and save Baby Yoda. Helped along by his new, impenetrable armor and his highly-advanced weapons (such as “singing birds”, which is basically a volley of poison darts hidden in one’s glove), the Mandalorian is successful in his mission, and breaks an unconscious Baby Yoda free of creepy Doctor Pershing’s nefarious operating table. Pershing swears up and down he was trying to keep Baby Yoda alive, but the Mandalorian ignores him and goes looking for Herzog’s character – instead, he finds a whole bunch of stormtroopers, whom he dispatches (thanks to those singing birds and a couple of flamethrowers), before making his escape. As of right now, we still have no idea where Herzog’s character has gone, and we’re still no closer to learning his true identity.

So the episode’s titular Sin has been repented for, but the Mandalorian isn’t quite out of the woods yet – or should I say, out of the grungy city full of hundreds of other bounty hunters whose tracking fobs all light up and start pointing the way towards the fleeing Mandalorian. That little predicament (undoubtedly sparked by Herzog, wherever he is) leads to a confrontation at the spaceport between Mando and a crowd of angry killers, assassins and mercenaries led by Mando’s…friend?…Greef Karga, played by Carl Weathers. While it seems at first like little Yoda might use the Force to get them out of trouble, it turns out to be Mando’s other Mandalorian friends who arrive with jetpacks and laser-machine guns to save the day – well, night. And after briefly confronting Karga and throwing him out of his spaceship, Mando and Baby Yoda take off once again to destinations unknown.

And I, as the skeptical audience-member unimpressed with the series’ previous installments, am left feeling very pleased with what I just watched. It was complete, but gave us enough hints and unsolved mysteries to keep us guessing. It was more compellingly acted, though Pedro Pascal is still fighting a losing battle with his helmet (which, according to his character, he has never removed in all his life: he did hesitate slightly when asked if he had ever had it removed for him, though – why, pray tell, is that even a question one asks of someone?).

Next week, we should find out where the Mandalorian and his infant quarry are headed, and what Herzog plans to do about them. I hope we also finally get to see Ming-Na Wen in next week’s episode, since the show is still conspicuously Ming-less.

What did you think of the episode, and what theories do you have about the series in general? Share your own thoughts in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 7/10

 

Greef Karga (Carl Weathers)