On paper this one sounds like it would be a really interesting concept. Unfortunately, though it seems like a great idea to center an episode on one of the best MCU villains to date, the result is that you strip him, and anyone else of their most sympathetic qualities, making for an episode where everyone is just unlikable all together.
WHAT IF…KILLMONGER RESCUED TONY STARK had a lot of promise in its opening moments. Thinking about what these mad geniuses can do together is an idea that’s exciting. And it does lead to a very interestingly quick resolution to the first IRON MAN. It also made you think that, given Tony is at his core a good person, some of his heroism may rub off on Killmonger. But the episode decides not to focus on that. Things simply just devolve.
We know in the original BLACK PANTHER that Killmonger is driven by revenge. But in that film we find out there’s more to it than that. It’s also driven by a sense of duty to a Black community that is often oppressed by those with power. And through T’Chala’s arc, we are also allowed to explore the sins of the past and the accountability and responsibility of correcting those mistakes through those responsible for the future. Its these complex elements that led to the film making history as the first superhero movie ever to be nominated for Best Picture.
However in this episode, we strip all that away because things are centered on Killmonger and his singular, narrow views and motivations of revenge, and only that revenge. So we only see suffering and death. We take no time to explore any motivations he had about helping the oppressed in the world (apart from a few throwaway lines), and to add insult to injury, we also strip away any sympathy we have for other characters like Tony because we never see him become a hero. If there was a theme in this episode, it would solely be that revenge is corrosive. But it’s such a simplistic and heartless motif to explore that it tarnishes away all charm from this franchise and gives us an installment that’s nothing but dark callousness. I mean what is this? The DCEU?
The darker episodes of this series so far at least provide either good levity and fun (Zombies), or really interesting, deeper character explorations (Strange). This dark episode doesn’t really provide either, or much at all. So I guess the real theme of this one should be that themes about revenge are corrosive to good storytelling.
WHAT IF…Episode 5 is now streaming on Disney +.