‘What If…?’ Episode 6 Review — ‘What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?’

What If - Killmonger

Marvel Studios’ What If…? returns to more grounded territory this week with a story that goes all the way back to the very beginning of the MCU.


‘What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?’ is the simplest multiversal tale we’ve had in a few weeks. Last Wednesday, we had zombies defeating Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and the week before that, Doctor Strange became too powerful because something went terribly wrong. Those were wiiiild rides. On the other hand, this installment simply introduces a key player from 2018’s Black Panther into 2008’s Iron Man.


Those two films share a big idea: what if the next step in warfare fell into the wrong hands? Of course, Ryan Coogler’s film was also concerned with Wakanda’s culture and its relationship with the rest of the world, and those elements certainly bleed into what starts as a retelling of the first Iron Man film… unless there’s no Iron Man this time around.


Spoilers ahead…


Shortly after the opening of the first Iron Man is replayed in front of us, Killmonger (voiced by Michael B. Jordan) saves Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) from the Ten Rings. He doesn’t appear to be much younger than in Black Panther, which was set roughly seven years later, and he’s already looking for the same things he wanted in that film. He is just taking a different approach.


Back in American soil, Erik Stevens is treated as a hero and promptly becomes a prominent figure within Stark Industries after uncovering Obadiah Stane’s treason. His advances alongside Tony Stark are the complete opposite of subtle for anyone who has watched Black Panther, and I’m guessing that’s almost everyone following this show. I personally would’ve liked a different take on Killmonger and his motives — maybe even going back to the night when his father died and he started following a dangerous path.


By the way, it’s amazing that Marvel Studios brought back Leslie Bibb after all this time to voice just a bit of Christine Everhart, the journalist who got very intimate with Mr. Stark in the first film. They really are reaching out to everyone.


What If - Tony Stark


His plans escalate quickly as he talks Tony into developing a drone prototype which could give the United States and its allies an advantage in the war against terror. You see, the fact Tony Stark was never locked in a cave means he never got to reevaluate his beliefs and priorities, thus… he still believes throwing more weapons at the enemy is the solution. He’s the perfect deep-pocketed ally for Killmonger. By the way, I loved the nod to Michael B. Jordan’s passion for anime. That was great.


Another important point here is that the miniaturized ARC reactor doesn’t exist either, so they turn to vibranium in order to solve the drone’s energy problem, which brings the plot to Ulysses Klaue’s base of operations from Age of Ultron. But this time around, Ultron ain’t looking for the precious mineral. In the episode’s most rushed scene, the Black Panther shows up and shuts down the party before being unceremoniously offed by Killmonger, who also murders Rhodey in cold blood — they needed a negotiator between Klaue, the US Army, and Stark.


What If - Rhodey and T'Challa


I kinda wished they’d saved some of these character deaths for later, as the episode becomes more “safe” during its final strides. However, I liked T’Challa’s overall presence in the episode, as (once again) What If…? seems to be a great farewell to Chadwick Boseman and his legacy. Those final moments with Erik are a beautiful twist on what goes down at the end of Black Panther, and it hits harder now that we’ve lost our King.


Tony Stark also bites the dust shortly after the vibranium deal goes south in spite of finding out about Killmonger’s true intentions. Since he’s killed with a Dora Milaje spear right after the death of James Rhodes and his team, the US ramps up the production of Stark and Stevens’ drones and goes to war against Wakanda. At this point, it appears the timeline has completely gone off the rails, yet Killmonger still wants the same thing he wanted in the 2018 film: taking his rightful place (according to him) among the Wakandans. Klaue’s corpse sweetens the deal too (it appears he’s destined to get shot by Killmonger).


With T’Challa out of the picture, Erik does whatever he wants with everyone. His plan is perfect, and only Shuri has doubts about all that is happening. The writers don’t forget she’s one of the brightest minds on Earth, and the last scene in the episode sets her up as the new Tony Stark… or at least someone representing who Tony Stark should’ve been in that universe — after men with too much power have messed everything up, it’s up to Pepper and Shuri to try to fix things and bring peace to the world. That wasn’t a subtle jab either, but I dug it.


What If - Wakanda


Most of the episode’s action comes from a battle between Wakanda’s army and a legion of drones which are deactivated and reactivated at Killmonger’s will, giving him the chance to shine as Wakanda’s most formidable warrior and someone worthy of the Black Panther mantle. As stated before, he has a quick chat with T’Challa in the Ancestral Plane about what it means to hold that power and responsibility — a recurring theme in Marvel. We know that power can easily corrupt those who wield it, but Killmonger was already corrupted by his personal crusade against those who wronged him. He simply gets to hold that power in this timeline, unlike in Black Panther, where his efforts, based around terrorism, fail and Wakanda rejects his call to war against the outside world. It seems like the key was saving the right man and feeding off the United States’ hunger for war and Wakanda’s isolationism… Sadly, his villainous plans make a lot of sense here.


We don’t know whether the What If…? team will return to this story or not, but it feels really open-ended and incomplete, and not in a cliffhanger-to-leave-you-gasping kind of way (like the last two episodes). The Watcher states that every universe finds ways to replace its heroes, and it appears that Shuri may have things under control. The mid-season sneak peek has teased a return to some timelines, but maybe a few continuations are being left aside for Season 2. After all, Marvel can go anywhere with this series.


Come back next week for our recap and thoughts on the seventh episode.