Marvel Mondays – What If…?: Episode 2

Plot summary: Yondu’s crew abduct T’Challa by mistake, but he spends the next 20 years carving out a glowingly positive legacy as The Star-Lord.

Notes

Episode Title: ‘What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?’

Air Date: August 18th, 2021

Directed: Bryan Andrews (2)

Written: Matthew Chauncey (1)

James Gunn, Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman himself gave notes on the script to make sure both sides of the equation stayed true to form, particularly keeping T’Challa as a role model.

Rather than The Milano, T’Challa’s ship is called The Mandela.

T’Challa mentions jump-starting the dying star of the Krylorians, a niche Marvel alien race who are all feline. Get it?

The Collector uses Korg from Thor: Ragnarok’s severed arm as a gauntlet weapon. Gnarly.

Recap

On Morag, Star-Lord (sans music) steals the orb containing the Power Stone from the start of Guardians of the Galaxy. Except under the helmet is none other than T’Challa, who Korath completely fanboy’s over.

T’Challa defeats him and his crew with an assist from Yondu, taking Korath back with them as a new Ravager recruit. Uuatu explains that in this reality Yondu delegated the task of snatching Ego’s son to his crew, who got the wrong boy due to Wakanda’s cosmic radiation from all the Vibranium.

Back in the present, the Ravagers drink to celebrate, with a peaceful Thanos joining them (T’Challa talked him out of his universal genocide plan long ago). Nebula approaches him with a job proposition to steal ‘The Embers of Genesis’ from The Collector.

Yondu strongly objects, but T’Challa talks him into it on the basis of the possibility of ending galactic hunger. The crew go over the plan to smuggle T’Challa in under the guise of selling the Power Orb while the other Ravagers start a riot as a distraction.

Exploring the facility, T’Challa happens upon a Wakandan spaceship. He learns from an on-board hologram that his father never stopped looking for him, in direct contrast to Yondu’s claims Wakanda was destroyed.

Unfortunately, The Collector’s private security, The Black Order, see through their diversion and sound the alarm… and Nebula turns on them and everyone is thrown in a holding cell.

T’Challa demands the truth from Yondu before being led away to be dissected. Nebula reveals her deception was planned with T’Challa and breaks the Ravagers out, Embers of Genesis in hand.

Star-Lord breaks free as well, but finds himself overmatched against a heavily armed Collector. Yondu provides back-up and together they’re able to imprison the villain in one of his own cases and then leaving him at the mercy of his freed prisoners.

Everybody makes amends and travels to Wakanda for a family reunion. The space-farers make fast friends with the earthlings, with T’Challa telling his father that he was lost and Yondu found him.

On the other side of the planet at a Dairy Queen, Peter Quill is mopping the floor and listening to his 80’s mix… when Ego arrives to meet his son. Uuata confirms this will spell big trouble.

Review

Good lord they fucked up by not releasing the first two episodes together as a special premiere, because this was more fun by orders of magnitude and a far better proof of concept for the series. Where the Captain Carter episode meticulously recreated scenes from The First Avenger, this one immediately dispensed with any familiarity as quickly as possible. Even the scenes they did riff on had an entirely different energy because of Chadwick Boseman and in particular, Djimon Hounsou who finally got his ‘mea culpa’ for how limited his role was in Guardians despite being so desperate to be in a Marvel movie for his son.

The episode can easily be summarised as an absolute dunk-fest on Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, with the results of T’Challa being an infinitely nicer human being placed in a similar situation bearing plentiful fruits. At its heart though, this was an exercise in nature vs nurture. There’s no getting around it, Peter is a douche. He annoys literally every character he comes into contact with, but is arguably bettered by the company he keeps. Without them? Well, not to shame anybody who mops floors, but it’s a far cry from the unlikely galactic hero we knew.

Conversely, T’Challa, was raised as a curious, kind-hearted child keen to explore the world despite his father’s isolationist beliefs, and is rewarded with an entire galaxy. We are treated to the profound and titillating changes he brings about simply by being who he is, from eliminating the threat of Thanos with nothing but words, to ensuring Drax’s wife and daughter survived (hello, Moondragon…), to encouraging Nebula and Thanos to repair their strained relationship, to inspiring the Collector’s assistant to lead an uprising. Not a fan of Nebula with long blonde hair, though.

Where the nurture aspect comes into play for him is that while the T’Challa we knew undoubtedly had these warmer qualities, it took the events of Black Panther to make him leave his father’s beliefs in the past. By contrast, Yondu encouraged his curious yearnings straight away, arguably helping him become who he is faster, ensuring he does not become as stubborn. Plus the lack of pressure of being a prince and then a king doesn’t hurt.

Themes aside, it’s also just a really fun heist caper, complete with a fitting soundtrack and quirky crew. More heists and more detective stories in mainstream media, please! Even if this were an original whole cloth creation, it would be an engaging 20 minute cartoon as everybody is having fun and play off each other tremendously.

The show continues to look better in motion than when we dwell on groups of characters having conversations, with the slick T’Challa vs Collector and Thanos vs Black Order fights really underlining that. Similarly, the background locations are gorgeous, so it’s nice that the end credits endeavour to showcase them via concept art.

If they top this episode I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Most Marvellous Player

Chadwick Boseman was a special human being, and this episode really makes his tragic passing sting all over again. He pours so much warmth into his performance, presenting a version of T’Challa that lives by Ted Lasso/Walt Wittman’s philosophy of being curious, not judgemental. He effortlessly turns Star-Lord into the nicest man in the galaxy, and you fully believe everybody would want to be his friend. He encourages, he forgives, he loves. It’s not all charm and smiles though, as he throws in some dramatic snarls and venom when he confronts Yondu. But even then, he quickly moves to playful barbs and ultimately frames his kidnapping in as kind a way as possible.

The only person to remotely challenge him is Djimon Hounsou, who hurls himself into this with as much aplomb as I have ever heard from a vocal performer. He dials it all the way up to 11 and we’re left wondering how Korath was such a non-entity in Guardians. His and Boseman’s back and forth in the opening scene was one of the main highlights, managing to sound like they recorded it together rather than in isolation, which I would suspect was the reality due to their schedules. Hounsou’s comedic flair acts as an embarrassment of riches, helping keep things breezy even though the episode remains entertaining throughout.

Karen Gillen calling him ‘Cha-Cha’ was adorable and an ad-lib on her part, but much like Hayley Atwell last week, she occasionally would wander into dry territory despite nailing several line reads. Benicio del Toro is clearly having a good time but suffers from the same problem. Michael Rooker was Very Okay for the most part, but nailed the tender moments with his adopted son.

Josh Brolin’s return as Thanos felt like one of the more important ones due to the weight of that character, and turning him into an easy-going ally with some controversial opinions was a trip. Sean Gunn’s delivery of “Two see holes, two hear holes, one eat hole” was fantastic. There are a tonne of others but we’ll be here all day.

Fred Tatasciore replaces Drax, with Batista claiming he wasn’t offered the part despite Marvel producers swearing they asked everybody to come back, and was not all that great. Fred has excelled as The Hulk and all manner of cartoon monsters, and also leant his voice to Corvus Glaive here, but he’s definitely not able to match Josh Keaton’s work in the debut episode. Brian T. Delaney takes over as Star-Lord but only has one line so we don’t know if he’s any good.

Villain Watch

Taking a more comedic character and turning them into a fully-fledged menace isn’t an easy task, but they manage it in spades here with The Collector. For one thing, they actually engage with the disturbing realities of this weirdo who has sentient beings in display cases. For another, he gets to weaponise his vast collection of cosmic artefacts, boasting versions of Mjlonir, Cap’s shield, Malekith’s dagger and Hela’s headdress. Finally, they’re able to use the artistic licence of animation to make him a tall, muscular badass.

I have always enjoyed The Black Order, so it was cool to see them weaved into the story, with their visual designs translating better to animation than as CGI characters in live-action. They remained formidable, with Proxima Midnight and Cull Obsidian nearly killing Thanos. The Ebony Maw got owned too quickly though.

Ronan will simply never get his day, will he? Relegated to a name-check and no appearance here, and a couple of quick cameos in Captain Marvel, it would be impossible at this point to convince MCU fans that he should be taken seriously.

Plugs

Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend we dip into the enormous beast that was Gotham Adventures, the tie-in comic to New Batman Adventures.

There Will Be Movies continues each Wednesday, as Ben Phillips and I talk about 25 of our favourite movies from the 90s. This week you it’s Groundhog Day. This week you it’s Groundhog Day. This week you it’s Groundhog Day.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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