The fifth episode of What If…? follows Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) returning to Earth, just as he did at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War; except now the planet’s populated by zombified versions of his closest allies and friends. What follows is something the MCU has never tackled before now, a full-on horror show with all the expected genre trimmings of gore, blood and death, lots of death.
What If…? continues its strong run in it’s fifth episode, an adaptation of the cult-classic Marvel Zombies comics. Any expectations you might have going in, throw them out the window. Every character is on the menu, including many you may not expect. The episode quickly establishes itself as the most violent and gory project the MCU has ever seen; expect decapitations, impalements and bifurcations. The violence and brutality are a bit jarring, but somehow the crew manages to keep the tone mostly consistent with other MCU projects, which helps out the episode tremendously. There’s still the typical humor and fun action, just now featuring zombies and zombified Avengers, who keep their respective powers and abilities.
The cast is great too, with the vast majority of the original actors reprising their roles. The notable outlier of them is Tom Holland, who does not return to voice Spider-Man. The replacement is Hudson Thames, who really nails Holland’s version of the character; at first I didn’t even notice it wasn’t him. Thames is even given a moment to shine in one of the MCU’s best Spider-Man scenes.
Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk is the main protagonist of the episode, receiving the majority of the exposition while acting as a superpowered vessel for the audience. His performance isn’t as good as in live-action, but it’s still serviceable, nowhere near being bad. Sebastian Stan is great in his return as Bucky Barnes; his performance is so much better than his turn in the series’ first episode.
The rest of the cast is also fantastic, but I won’t reveal them as they weren’t shown in the marketing. I also would recommend not looking at the cast list in the series’ intro, it’ll ruin a lot of the surprises of what characters are involved if you know who’s who in the MCU.
The animation, as always, is gorgeous. It seemingly keeps getting better from week to week. The character models are top-notch, especially the zombified versions of the Avengers. Seeing Captain America’s jaw partially detached and hanging down is both visceral and exciting. Many of the zombies have a massive level of detail, with exposed bones and torn flesh; it’s great to see. There’s so many soon-to-be iconic MCU shots in this episode, many of which riff on already iconic hero shots of the now zombified Avengers.
What If…?’s fifth entry is fantastic and an exceptionally unique entry into the MCU. The Marvel Zombies comics are something Marvel fans never thought they’d see adapted, but here it is, and it should live up to their (rightfully) high expectations. The only real issue to be had with the episode is that there isn’t more of it, especially because of its massive tease of an ending. It’s an episode that I’d hoped would somehow act as a backdoor pilot for an actual Marvel Zombies Disney + series, though that may just be a pipedream. Regardless, it’s nice to see a company like Disney taking such a big, gory chance on this episode, which would otherwise only invest on extremely safe and sanitized content.