Plot summary: Killmonger wins Tony Stark’s favour and uses his resources to manipulate his way to the top.
Episode Title: ‘What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?’
Air Date: September 15th, 2021
Directed: Bryan Andrews (6)
Written: Matthew Chauncey (4)
Killmonger attributes his designs for the drones to his love for anime. Michael B. Jordan is a big fan, producing and appearing as the lead in Gen:Lock, and Killmonger’s costume is patterned after Dragonbal Z’s Vegeta.
A bottle of the scotch Tony laments spilling a glass of recently sold for $1.2m.
The electronic earplugs Killmonger wears are identical to those used by Obadiah Stane in Iron Man.
T’Challa’s casket says ‘Wakanda Forever’.
Tony Stark is ambushed in Afghanistan like at the start of Iron Man, but Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens rescues him before the IED explodes, letting Tony walk away unscathed.
Stark takes him back to America, and Stevens immediately exposes Obadiah Stane’s involvement in the attack, having been undercover within The Ten Rings. Tony names him Chief of Security, annoying Happy Hogan.
Luckily for Happy, Stark does one better by making Stevens COO shortly afterward, prompting Pepper Potts to have Rhodey look for dirt, but they find none. She remains suspicious.
Killmonger shares his scrapped plans for automated combat drones to prevent human casualties, so Tony helps him build one to return the favour for saving his life. They lack a sufficient power source, and while Stark briefly considers a miniaturised arc reactor, Killmonger suggests Vibranium instead.
Requiring diplomatic cover, they set up a meeting between Rhodey and Ulysses Klaue to buy Vibranium. Black Panther arrives and takes down all of Klaue’s guards.
Stevens reveals himself and murders T’Challa and Rhodey with an experimental Stark weapon, making it look like they killed each other, having instructed Klaue to leak news of the sale to lure T’Challa into the trap.
Tony confronts Killmonger with proof that he was behind the murders, setting the completed drone on him, but Stevens defeats it and kills him with a Vibranium spear.
This convinces Thaddeus Ross that it was a Wakandan assassination, so the military seize control of Stark Industries and mass-produce the drones to prepare for war.
Klaue is thrilled… until Killmonger kills him and presents his body to King T’Chaka to prove his loyalty. He is welcomed warmly and helps them fight off the American invasion.
T’Chaka makes Stevens the new Black Panther. T’Challa warns him from the spirit world that he will face a reckoning for his actions. Shuri travels to America to offer help to Pepper Potts.
I understand there is a tradition for these elseworld scenarios to just be getting started when they finish, but I can’t help but feel the last two have ended prematurely. “Is that it?” territory. I would rather they cut some of the middle in order to tack more on to the end, but I would guess we’ll end up with a sequel episode with Pepper in Shuri-designed armour battling Killmonger.
That being said, there was a lot to like, getting to spend more time with an incredibly popular character in an incredibly popular setting, blending two incredibly popular movies. My favourite episodes so far have been the ones that created new stories, yet I can’t deny the appeal of seeing Tony and Killmonger building side by side, or Stevens standing alone on the rock where he died in Black Panther. Plus every re-use and interpolation of Ludwig Göransson’s score is a giant win.
Adjusting the year helps, taking us to Klaue’s hideout years before Age of Ultron and giving us things like a younger Queen Ramonda as the general of the Wakandan army and a child-aged Shuri who is unfortunately easier to talk over. We also see the consequences of Tony never becoming Iron Man, as he drinks a lot more, and never gets out of weapons manufacturing, arming Killmonger with the tools to kill T’Challa and wage his war. Having Killmonger meet T’Challa in the spirit world instead of his father was a nice little emotional gut punch.
Good work by Chauncey to slip in a sex joke to a Disney cartoon: “Terrorists, corporate raiders, Maxim cover models, what do they all have in common? They all came for the King.”
Most Marvellous Player
Michael B. Jordan has done quite a bit of voice acting, so while I thought he was the best performer in the episode, I was actually hoping for even better. He’s stuck in casual mode, rarely emoting, and while I get he’s meant to be calculating and manipulative, I was hoping for more fire. We do get the line “the difference between you and me is that you can’t see the difference between you and me”, but that’s Level 1 Killmonger. Sucks he blew the “Wakanda Forever” line read… twice.
Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis and Don Cheadle all came back to reprise their roles, joining Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, John Kani, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau and Leslie Bibb from previous episodes. Everybody was pretty much on point, with Serkis standing out the most to me among the famous folk, which makes a great deal of sense given his experience.
Naturally they couldn’t get Gwyneth Paltrow or Jeff Bridges, who are replaced by Beth Hoyt and Kiff VandenHeuvel. The former isn’t much of a soundalike, but still gives a good performance, while the latter does a decent Bridges impression. Setting the episode several years before Black Panther meant that it made sense to not bring back Letitia Wright, and instead go with Ozioma Akagha for a younger version. She was fine.
This was the most Mick Wingert has had to talk as Tony Stark, and while I’ve thought his appearances so far in the series have been much better than the trailer footage… this is the episode that worrying footage came from. The recreation of the convoy scene is bad, but the original material is better. He’s voiced Stark in a lot of shows, games and films, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise he’s got a knack for it. I’d probably place him second behind Jordan. But they should avoid having the stand-ins reciting quotes as it makes the difference more pronounced. Heck, re-use the audio if you’re desperate to revisit a key moment.
We’re in villain-as-protagonist mode this week, as Killmonger concots an even more elaborate plan than he did in Black Panther and deploys it several years earlier. He says all the right things, plays dumb and climbs the ladder before murdering everybody, including his movie nemesis, T’Challa. He spouts some of the same popular rhetoric to Rhodey and Tony, but it’s toned down. He sure does a lot of fighting though, and I enjoyed that he secretly re-activated the drones after they’re shut down in order to double Wakandan trust in him by helping fully destroy them. The ending also seems to imply he’ll get his wish of arming those of African descent around the world. So… he nailed his assignment, really.
I’ve always felt Ulysses Klaue was an underrated villain, even before Black Panther gave him a larger role, so I was pleased to see him used to signpost the timeline with a quasi-recreation of his scene in Age of Ultron, and he gets in some great greasy villain lines.
Remember Obadiah Stane? Also The Ten Rings, who Shang-Chi restored to relevancy recently? Well, they’re both here for a minute. Enjoy!
I guess you could count the Stark drones as well, but much like Iron Man 2, while they’re teased as a huge threat, they’re dispatched in record time. Minor props for changing the the design from Iron Man clones to mecha. The final fight at least looks nicer than the equivalent rhino battle scene in Black Panther.
Check out The Matt Signal Beyond, in which I recap episodes of Batman Beyond every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend Terry investigates a steroid epidemic and finds dangerous new love.
There Will Be Movies continues each Wednesday, as Ben Phillips and I talk about 25 of our favourite movies from the 90s. This week we’re totally buggin’ as it’s Clueless.