“What If…?” Episode 6 Proves Why Nakia Is Crucial To Black Panther

SPOILERS FOR WHAT IF…? AHEAD!

For the past few weeks, with Marvel’s What If…? on a hot streak, I had begun to hope that the series’ worst episode was well behind us. As disappointing as it was to see Captain Carter’s potential wasted in a shallow and unimaginative recap of The First Avenger, I genuinely believe that the first episode was always to some extent going to play like the tutorial level of a video game, giving general audiences a taste of what the series had to offer before it could jump into bigger and bolder concepts. And we’ve got four straight weeks of good or great episodes to prove that What If…? isn’t afraid to go big.

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Tony Stark and Erik Killmonger | cnet.com

But it seems the show still has a couple of clunkers left in store for us too.

And the downside of What If…?‘s anthology format is that without an overarching storyline to pull viewers through these rough patches, audiences are gonna drop off and they won’t necessarily feel compelled to come back each week. Technically, the characters in What If…? are supposed to meet up and fight a big bad at some point, and there’s even talk of some appearing in live-action sooner rather than later, but we’re six episodes deep into a nine episode series, and there’s still no sign of that happening.

That puts the pressure on each new stand-alone episode to try and outdo the last, and unfortunately this week something just doesn’t click. On paper, the basic premise is intriguing enough: what if Tony Stark (voiced by Mick Wingert) never got kidnapped by the Ten Rings, never became Iron Man? That alone could be the Nexus Event of a million new realities, but throw in the seemingly random twist that it’s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) of all people who rescues Stark, and we could have had a good old political thriller weaving across the globe between the United States and Wakanda.

But in execution, episode six is an awkward mash-up of Iron Man and Black Panther that struggles to add anything meaningful to either movie’s mythology in just thirty minutes. Tony Stark’s inclusion, at least in such a prominent role, feels especially unnecessary. He’s really only there to be Killmonger’s pawn in a game of three-dimensional political chess, but roughly half of the episode is spent fleshing out their relationship. The story actually nearly finds its footing when the action finally shifts away from his mansion to Wakanda, but because we still need to catch up with Stark’s supporting characters, the problem of split focus doesn’t get solved.

Also, I totally get wanting to capture the tone of Iron Man and Marvel’s other Phase One movies…but did the plotline need to be ripped from the Phase One movies too? I just really need Tony Stark’s genius to be utilized for something other than building an army of faceless, easily hackable robots. I’m begging Marvel to think of something else, anything else, that they can do with this character’s tech.

The scenes in Wakanda, meanwhile, suffer from a lack of thematic cohesion. The nuance of Ryan Coogler’s writing simply isn’t there to foster potential for multiple interpretations on different levels, or to provoke a very meaningful discussion, and the episode falls completely flat when tackling the complexity of its central character, Killmonger. Sure, we learn that he’s a big fan of anime, which is a cute humanizing detail I’m not entirely sure what to do with, but What If…? doesn’t actually seem to understand his motivations except on a surface-level.

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Nakia | syfy.com

And part of that is because What If…? drops the most crucial (and underappreciated) character from Black Panther – Nakia. This isn’t something acknowledged in the episode, nor is any correlation drawn between her absence and the ease with which Killmonger takes over Wakanda in this timeline, but the loss of Nakia is felt. She’s the antithesis to Killmonger – both come from a place of wanting to help the African diaspora, but while Killmonger only has a vague idea of how to achieve that, informed by his experience working with destructive imperialist institutions such as the US military and CIA, Nakia wants to use Wakanda’s resources to help the world, and she has cohesive strategies about how to do so.

That’s what makes one exchange in What If…? stand out as a particularly bizarre moment that betrays a misunderstanding of Killmonger’s purpose as a villain. In place of Nakia’s radical empathy, What If…? uses James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) as the mouthpiece for a very different moral counterpoint to Killmonger’s message. “You’ve gotta be part of the system to change the system”, he says at one point while defending his service in the US military, before Killmonger strikes him dead and responds that he’s gonna “burn it down”, referring to “the system”.

The problem with this is that Killmonger always was part of the system – even in this alternate universe, it’s made pretty clear that he’s been working with the US military and the CIA for some time. That’s where he learned how to be such an effective agent of chaos, and where he became enamored of the imperialistic ideology he tried to implement in Wakanda. Killmonger didn’t ever want to “burn down” the system – he wanted to force it to work for him because being part of that system had taught him to equate bloodshed with strength, and oppression with power.

This scene, which tries to sever Killmonger’s connections to the US military and position him as an outsider with radical opinions, feels like What If…?‘s counterpart to that episode in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier where Karli Morgenthau accidentally started making some good points, so the series stopped talking about her cause and doubled down on why her methods were too extreme and she had to be stopped.

The most interesting thing about the episode, at least to me, is the different reception that awaits Killmonger when he finally reaches Wakanda. Having killed T’Challa (voiced once again by Chadwick Boseman, in an especially touching performance), his path to the throne is seemingly wide open: but while he could easily strike down the elderly King T’Chaka (John Kani), Killmonger chooses to keep the man alive instead and manipulate his grief to obtain a spot in the King’s favor, ultimately being chosen to succeed T’Challa as the new Black Panther.

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Killmonger | engadget.com

Not everybody is fooled by his act, however. Visiting the Ancestral Plane, Killmonger is warned by the spirit of T’Challa that he will pay a terrible price for his crimes – which segues nicely into the final scene of Shuri (voiced by Ozioma Akagha) discovering that Killmonger is behind the murder of Tony Stark, and meeting with the new president of Stark Industries, Pepper Potts (voiced by Beth Hoyt) to discuss a plan. I haven’t forgotten that shot from the trailer where Pepper was fighting alongside the Dora Milaje, and although I expected to see it in this episode I now feel certain we’ll pick up this storyline again.

At the moment, I’m not sure if that idea actually excites me. This episode isn’t bad, but it brings very little to the table that wasn’t already done (and done better) in Black Panther or Iron Man. Hopefully in part two, Nakia shows up and becomes the Black Panther in this universe like she deserves.

Episode Rating: 5.9/10

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has (in)famously had a hard time establishing romantic relationships between its characters: even the few love stories that have helped to define the overarching story have sometimes gone through ups and downs, or simply collided headfirst with a brick wall and died (looking at you, Thor & Jane). And yet they keep trying to master the same old boy-meets-girl (or Norse-god-meets-girl, or boy-meets-alien, or computer-program-meets-girl) formula. That’s why, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ve set myself a challenge: trying to find the ten most romantic, endearing, adorable couples in the MCU and ranking them.

Disclaimer: “ships” or non-canon pairings aren’t being considered on this list because that would be cheating – most MCU “ships” are at least ten times better than the majority of actual onscreen pairings. It’s simply not fair to compare.

10: Thor & Jane Foster.

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These two had something that looked like potential – I mean, if you squinted really hard. From the moment that Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, crash-landed in the American Southwest, upsetting one of Jane Foster’s pseudo-scientific experiments, Marvel tried to convince audiences that a grand and glorious epic love-story for the ages was brewing – but all the magic (or “what your ancestors call magic”) words in the Marvel mythos couldn’t force Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman to look more than remotely disinterested in each other. And after Thor: The Dark World failed to turn up the heat, or really do anything at all, Portman had finally had enough: she quit the MCU, and Jane Foster was subsequently written out of the story. In Thor: Ragnarok, it was briefly mentioned that she broke up with the Thunder God offscreen – an uncomfortably awkward conclusion to what was supposed to be a cornerstone of Thor’s entire arc.

9: Stephen Strange & Christine Palmer.

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I’m actually tempted to move this couple ever so slightly further up the list, because while they’re not exactly memorable, they’re also probably not as bad and/or boring as you remembered. Dr. Stephen Strange, a snobbish, arrogant surgeon, wasn’t just the on-and-off boyfriend of Dr. Christine Palmer – he was also her work-partner, and it was mentioned (though never really elaborated on) that the two had even pioneered an important new surgical technique, making the couple basically equal. And after Strange’s run-in with karma, it was Palmer who tried to help him recover his strength and rebuild his life: their heated argument about Strange’s future is the most powerful scene in the Doctor Strange movie, and carries a lot of emotional weight. Unfortunately, Rachel McAdams’ character basically fades into the background after that, and apart from being privy to a battle on the astral plane and trying (unsuccessfully) to save the Ancient One’s life, she really has nothing more to do in the story. And she’s not returning for the sequel, so I guess that’s the end of that.

8: Peter Quill & Gamora.

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I don’t really like either Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, an interstellar pirate armed with braggadocio, semi-Celestial powers that have proved to be entirely inconsequential outside of his own movies, and an impressive playlist of golden oldies), or Gamora (a.k.a. The Most Dangerous Woman In The Galaxy, who never actually lived up to that title before her untimely death at the hands of male screenwriters who didn’t know what else to do with her her own father, Thanos): nonetheless, I have to admit they had a spark of chemistry in both Guardians Of The Galaxy movies – and their interactions in Avengers: Infinity War, during which Gamora nearly convinced Quill to kill her (long story), are pretty emotional. There was something there! It wasn’t much, maybe, but it also wasn’t not there – much to the dismay of Thor & Peter Quill shippers everywhere. But in the end, Quill failed (because doesn’t he always?), Gamora got tossed off a cliff, and here we are with nothing left of their relationship but a sad trail of bubbles.

7: Natasha Romanoff & Bruce Banner.

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I like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I know it’s unpopular to say this, but it’s honestly the best Avengers movie – not only because it references the events of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but also because it successfully balances almost all of the main characters while still being able to add a couple new ones to the mix. There’s a cohesive plot, the stakes are raised, and the Avengers get to interact with each other on a more personal, intimate level than ever before. And then there’s Natasha Romanoff’s random relationship with Bruce Banner – while it’s not a bad idea, and they make a cute couple, the basis for their coupling up is based on the problematic idea that they’re both “monsters”: Bruce, because he transforms into a giant green killing machine; Natasha, because she’s…infertile? The messaging is weird and kind of sexist, especially since it would have been way easier to make Natasha’s murderous past with the KGB the reason for her guilt and self-loathing. It’s a shame, because Natasha actually did have better interactions with Bruce than she ever had with her former love interest, Clint Barton, but for better or worse their story arc was completely abandoned in Avengers: Infinity War.

6: T’Challa & Nakia.

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While there’s certainly an argument to be made that T’Challa, the catsuit-wearing guardian of the African nation of Wakanda, is slightly more low-key and subdued than many of his co-stars in Black Panther (let’s face it, he doesn’t have Okoye’s fiery energy, Killmonger’s smoldering charisma, or M’Baku’s macabre humor), there can be no denying that his relationship with Wakandan secret agent/humanitarian Nakia is super cute. The two are a power couple, with both characters having genuine hero moments – Nakia even briefly diverts the main focus of the film away from T’Challa, and considers becoming the Black Panther herself. By the end of the film, she’s also working around the world to help extend Wakandan aid to those in need. And when they’re onscreen together, they’re presented as a healthy, sturdy relationship that doesn’t have to rely on drama, troubling gender dynamics, or sarcastic banter to be interesting. They’re basically #CoupleGoals, and I love them.

5: Wanda Maximoff & The Vision.

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Ah, the tragic story of the computer program who became a man…once, for no apparent reason, and never did so again. The Vision, a sentient computer program outfitted with a cool new body (that, unfortunately for him, came along with the Mind Stone, one of the most coveted objects in the galaxy), didn’t really show any signs of attraction to the troubled witch, Wanda Maximoff, until Captain America: Civil War, but when their romance finally kicked into gear, and the two began to bond over spicy food, things got good – and then immediately got weird again, when Wanda blasted Vision through a floor, before suddenly…ending up on the run with him in Scotland? Where Vision was suddenly able to turn into a human man, but only did so once, for reasons that were never explained? Yeah, so there’s some serious gaps in what we actually know about their relationship, but at least it ended on a strong note, with Wanda having to brutally murder her lover in an attempt to destroy the Mind Stone before Thanos could get to it, only to watch Thanos use the Time Stone to reverse all her hard work, murder Vision again, and use the Stones to wipe out half the galaxy, including Wanda herself. If it’s any consolation, the upcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ will feature Wanda resurrecting her dead partner, only to have him presumably die once again when her entire reality inevitably comes crashing down around her. Cheerful, am I right?

4: Scott Lang & Hope Van Dyne.

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Technically, there have been two canon MCU power couples that call themselves Ant-Man and The Wasp: Hope Van Dyne’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, and then Hope herself and her partner, reformed burglar/single father/world’s best grandma, Scott Lang. But the latter couple has the edge on its predecessor, mostly because Janet doesn’t actually show up until the end of the second Ant-Man film, and most of her flashbacks with Hank were cut out of the movie anyway. Scott and Hope share the spotlight (and the title-card) in Ant-Man And The Wasp, which focuses almost entirely on their relationship – and their exchanges of playful, witty banter, coupled with their fidelity and focus on family, make them one of the most endearing couples in the MCU.

3: Steve Rogers & Peggy Carter.

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Specifically, their relationship in the first three Captain America films, before Avengers: Endgame happened. In the beginning, scrawny new recruit Steve Rogers and fast-talking, no-nonsense commanding officer Peggy Carter were actually quite a sweet pairing: they both had character arcs, and agency in their own stories. There was a quaint little 1940’s love story between them, but Peggy, by virtue of being in the military, wasn’t forced to play the damsel-in-distress or grieving-girlfriend-on-the-home-front roles: and in the post-war era, after Steve went down in the frigid Antarctic Ocean and was lost, she picked up her life and moved on, founding S.H.I.E.L.D. and starting a family. Her relationship with Steve after his resurrection from the ice was deeply emotional and interesting, and it was tragic when she passed away. But then to essentially reverse all the complexities of their post-The First Avenger relationship by having Steve go back in time and start all over with her, making her essentially a consolation prize for Steve after he failed to move on with his life, thus preventing her from moving on with hers? No, just no.

2: Tony Stark & Virginia “Pepper” Potts.

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They’re the MCU’s original duo: how could they not come in near the top of the list? Tony was a sarcastic, cynical mess of a human being; a war-profiteer who didn’t care one iota about the countless people killed daily by his weapons of mass destruction; Pepper was the very opposite, a cool, collected woman with savvy business skills and a friendly disposition. It’s a trope, and a tired one at that. But their relationship evolved into so much more than that – Tony became Iron Man, and Pepper took over as CEO of Stark Industries. They constructed the Avengers Tower in New York City. In the five years after Avengers: Infinity War, they got married and had a daughter. In Avengers: Endgame, where they even got to fight in battle alongside each other, their decade-long relationship came to an end with Tony Stark’s tragic death. In that final moment, as the former “Merchant of Death” gave up his life to save the world, Pepper stayed beside him and her face was the last thing he ever saw. I’m not crying: you’re crying.

1: Leopold Fitz & Jemma Simmons.

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Yes, I cheated! Fitz and Simmons, or “Fitzsimmons” as they’re more commonly known among the fandom, are not technically members of the MCU: they come from the Marvel TV division, where they made their debut on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have endured through six grueling, torturous seasons of hardship, personal loss, tragedy and pure, wholesome romance. While they started out as the team’s two bumbling, socially-awkward scientists, it didn’t take long before the universe’s vendetta against them resulted in them standing up for S.H.I.E.L.D., and for each other, in incredible ways. Their tense, frantic struggle to figure their way out of an airtight box at the bottom of the ocean (long story) was one of the highlights of Season 1, as it showed just how powerful the two are as a team – so of course they were then split up. Jemma became an undercover spy, got eaten by a space monolith, was transported to another planet and had to survive on her own, fell in love with an astronaut who turned into an evil alien god, was possessed by the Kree, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know she had a thing for Daisy), and even met and defeated the demonic personification of her self-doubt: Leo lost his ability to communicate for a long period of time and became delusional, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know he had a thing for Mac), became a dashing secret agent, met his evil HYDRA doppelganger, fell in love with HYDRA’s cyborg overlord, and then got stuck in two different time-periods at once, which resulted in him dying but still being alive and yet somehow a space pirate in both timelines…it’s a wacky and confusing series, but their love for each other, which persists even against all odds, has always been at the heart of the story, and I would be lying if I didn’t say they’re the most romantic couple in what used to technically be part of (or at least adjacent to) the MCU.

So what do you think of my top ten, and would you have chosen differently? Did I leave your favorite couple off my list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

X-Men Won’t Be Joining The MCU – Yet.

The moment Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, Marvel comic fans around the world had one question: how soon will we get a Marvel reboot of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four?

It’ll be a while.

Those were Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige’s exact words in a recent interview, where he explained that he has a plan for the next phase of the MCU, and, at present, it does not include the X-Men. Specifically, he has a five-year plan that starts in 2020, apparently, so it appears we might not get our next X-Men movie until around 2026. Dark Phoenix, the last relic of the Fox X-Men, suddenly has a lot more significance: it will be a long time before we ever see characters like Professor X, Magneto, Jean Grey, Cyclops and Storm onscreen again.

Or will it be?

You see, we might not be getting an X-Men film for a long time, but does that exclude the possibility of certain X-Men and mutants appearing in other, upcoming Marvel films, not as a team, but as individuals? After all, the Avengers weren’t introduced as a group – they got solo films first, that slowly built up to their first team-up movie. Why not do something similar with the X-Men: scatter them throughout Phase 4 of the MCU, separate and distinct from each other, and then, somewhere down the line, have them meet. There’s already a lot of possibilities, so let’s explore a few right now.

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First up, there’s The Eternals. This is a rather mysterious movie, which hasn’t started filming yet, but it should come out in November of 2020, kicking off Feige’s five-year plan. The Eternals are a rather unusual group of characters, and their backstory is hugely convoluted and confusing, but basically it goes like this: thousands of years ago, space gods known as the Celestials came to Earth and started messing about with humankind – they did experiments on human DNA, and were able to create a race of godlike beings, the Eternals. However, their experiments are also responsible for the Mutants: the X-Men are descended from those early humans who were mutated by the Celestials. The Eternals could be an epic spanning thousands of years, according to Feige, which means it’s likely we’ll see those experiments on humankind. That lays the groundwork for mutants showing up later in the MCU.

Then we have Black Panther 2 – the sequel to the highly acclaimed, Best Picture-nominee Black Panther. But while it will undoubtedly feature the return of beloved characters like T’Challa, Shuri, Nakia and Okoye, the film will probably add some new characters to the mix. And there’s one character in particular who has always had an interesting connection to the country of Wakanda and the Black Panther. That would be Storm, a.k.a Ororo Munroe, one of the most notable mutants in the X-Men roster. In the comics, Storm met T’Challa when they were both teenagers, and the two had feelings for each other – though they were forced to part ways for a time, Storm returned to Wakanda eventually and married T’Challa, becoming Queen of Wakanda. Imagine if, in Black Panther 2, we see something like this: T’Challa could hear rumors of a mysterious witch living out beyond the borders of Wakanda, who can control the weather – in a mission to stop her, he could end up learning her tragic story, of how her parents were killed when a fighter jet crashed into their house in Cairo, how she became a street thief before being adopted by the priestesses living in the Serengeti to whom she is distantly related. Perhaps they could end up having romantic feelings (though in that case, what happens to Nakia?), but more likely the two merely become close friends, and Storm becomes a citizen of Wakanda. And what about this for a post-credits scene: Professor X himself shows up in Wakanda and asks her to come with him. That would be epic.

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Then we get to Captain Marvel. The spunky,  faster-than-light superheroine memorably portrayed by Oscar-winner Brie Larson is incredibly powerful, armed with the power of an Infinity Stone, and there seems to be nothing in the universe that can stop her. So what kind of villain can be crafted for a Captain Marvel sequel, what kind of villain can actually pose a threat to someone so empowered? You would need someone who could use similar power.

Enter Rogue, the young mutant who can absorb powers from other people. In the comics, she has actually done this to Captain Marvel – with disastrous results. She absorbed Danvers’ powers and used them to battle the Avengers (and even threw Carol Danvers off the Golden Gate Bridge). While things eventually went back to normal, this incident left both characters emotionally scarred. And it’s interesting that Rogue happens to hail from the state of Mississippi: just one state over, in Louisiana, lives Carol’s good friend Maria Rambeau, and it’s not unlikely that Carol will spend more time there, in the Deep South. She could encounter Rogue there in Captain Marvel 2, and the consequences could be vast.

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There you have three movies already that could feature Mutants in some way. They’re not the only ones: multiple X-Men, such as Colossus and Magik, come from Russia, which is presumably where the upcoming Black Widow movie will be set. Magik also has some interesting connections to Doctor Strange in the comics, and the Doctor is getting a sequel which should come out in 2021. A future Spider-man movie could be a great place to introduce Iceman. There’s a plethora of possibilities, and even if we don’t get the X-Men as a team within the next five years, I have no doubt we’ll start seeing set-up for the X-Men in the near future.

Also, don’t forget that while Kevin Feige said the X-Men won’t be getting a film for some time, he said nothing about the Fantastic Four. They might be an easier group to introduce a little sooner, and wouldn’t require as much build-up to their introduction.