Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) hurtles towards the Earth with a vital message to deliver both to the human race and his fellow mighty Avengers. Thanos is coming. He crashes through the roof of Dr Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum but finds it deserted. Venturing out onto the streets of New York he fears that he’s too late and all is lost as the streets are eerily quiet. Then Thanos’s footsoldiers Maw (Tom Lawlor-Vaughn) and Obsidian arrive to do their master’s bidding… and when the Avengers arrive on the scene Banner is understandably concerned when it becomes clear that his superhero friends aren’t quite the people he remembers…
Taking its lead from the popular ‘Marvel Zombies’ series, episode five of What If...? is probably the silliest entry in this impressively imaginative animated series yet. Hank Pym has rescued his beloved wife Janet from the Quantum Realm but discovered that she has been infected by a virus that has turned her into… well, there’s no other way of putting this… a zombie. Hank has been infected and on returning to his lab the virus rapidly spread across the United States and beyond. Bruce teams up with a number of MCU survivors – basically anyone who had a spare afternoon in their diaries (and Hudson Thames doing a passable impression of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man) so they could record some breathless (and deathless) dialogue. So it’s a big welcome back to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) in a cameo that evokes Futurama¸Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Sharon Carter (Emily Van Camp), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and… er… Kurt (we had to look him up too) voiced by David Dastmalchian. This mismatched group battle hordes of zombified humans and MCU topliners as they fight their way to a survivor camp where a cure to the virus is being developed. Casualties are suffered on the way but when they reach the camp they discover more than they bargained for and that their last best hope is actually a deadly trap fashioned by an old friend who can’t let go of his past even when it’s turned into something rather less than human or even superhuman.
What If… Zombies?! is largely tongue-in-cheek fun, borrowing heavily from The Walking Dead (obviously), Zombieland, and even Train to Busan and for an animated episode likely to attract a significant younger audience it’s surprisingly graphic – there are decapitations and zombie attacks galore – but it’s balanced by some clever visuals (The Wasp borrowing Giant Man tech to do some zombie stomping) and a welcome appearance by the jolly green Hulk himself. There’s also another touching cameo from T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as a wounded prisoner in the survivor camp. We won’t reveal the identity of who’s using the camp as a lure (even though a quick study of the guest voice cast gives it away if you’re minded to tick off the big names as they appear), but the twist is quite a neat reversal of events we’ve already witnessed this year elsewhere on Disney +.
What If… Zombies?! lacks the power and emotional punch of some of the series’ earlier instalments – episode four especially – but it’s a fun and diverting thirty minutes, well-animated, neatly scripted, and voiced enthusiastically, as ever, by some game MCU stalwarts. Not the best this series has to offer but, placed mid-series, it’s a worthwhile change of pace from the more momentous episodes we’ve had so far and those which are still hopefully lying ahead of us.