So far, the Disney+ series What If… has distinguished itself for its anthology quality. But the second-to-last episode opens up the possibility of something more. As had been speculated, the series shows the way in which the different realities narrated up to now abut each other.
Chapter eight of the series showcases what is undoubtedly the villain of the season. Ultron, the artificial intelligence conceived by Tony Stark in the film The Avengers: Age of Ultron, returns as an unstoppable creature.
With the integration of his consciousness into Vision’s body achieved, the character transforms into an alternate version of unlimited power. So much so that he threatens Earth, his timeline, and all other planets and realities.
During its opening sequences, episode eight of What If completely reinvents the premise of Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the original timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ultron is defeated by The Avengers and Vision.
‘What if…’ and the triumph of Ultron.
In the events of chapter eight, Uatu’s quick review of what he observes makes two things clear. That Ultron’s threat is so extraordinary as to be able to doom reality to destruction. A detail that will later be of considerable importance to the development of the plot. And that Ultron’s triumph means that in addition to taking Vision’s body he also gets hold of the mind stone.. The eventuality sums up the extent to which the chapter overlaps with the plot of the original film. In fact, Ultron can be seen waking up in Vision’s body already carrying the mind stone. This suggests that the triumph of the robot built by Tony Stark occurs immediately before it can be stopped by the intervention of the Avengers.
For the first sequence of the episode, the world is shown to be under colossal destruction. With full access to all of the world’s programs, Ultron gets his hands on the nuclear codes as well. The attack is direct, devastating, and uncontrollable.. General Ross can be seen as he watches the world being destroyed through Ultron’s control. Barton can also be heard naming “Laura”, his wife in the original timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The sole survivors of The Avengers.
By the time the episode begins, we can see Black Widow and Clint Barton fighting robots controlled by Ultron. They find themselves in a desolate passageway that is soon identified as Moscow. The sequence that follows pays homage to the scene from Natasha Romanoff and her now iconic motorcycle in Age of Ultron.. The ride is almost identical and there are images that refer immediately to the film. But beyond that, it also does so with the context of the character. It’s certainly the most immediate reference to Black Widow’s world from What If…?
In the company of Clint Barton, she enters the KGB archives where she finds The Red Guardian’s shield. And in fact, Natasha will carry it on. There are also several mentions of the Russian supersoldier project, which ties the episode to Captain America: Civil War. Barton is even shown to be wearing a metal prosthetic in the same manner as Bucky Barnes.
Black Widow and Clint Barton are the only surviving Avengers. The rest are seen dying in a brief flashback. The scene shows Tony Stark on his knees in a direct reference to his sacrifice in Endgame. In the same sequence there is a quick image of Thor’s body. In the end, Tony ends up being killed amidst Ultron’s words stating that he will “carry out his final mission.”
This is perhaps the occasion when animated series comes closest to its comic book version. The plot and the death of The Avengers is reminiscent of the 2014 volume of What If? Age of Ultron. In it, creators Joe Keatinge and Raffaele Ienco reinvent the story. And in fact, the cover shows Ultron sitting on what looks like the Avengers’ death symbol.
Arnim Zola and the only chance for salvation in What If…?
The chapter gives a chance to pull off a risky move. Black Widow tries to use a program that cannot be controlled by Ultron. And this turns out to be Arnim Zola, whom we had already seen in the first episode of the series. This time, Zola is shown in the same form as in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Her consciousness is found transferred to an analog device. Natasha’s plan is to jam Ultron Hive’s mind communications through Zola.
The sequence allows a tour of the KBG archives and show Zola as the continued self-awareness. But Natasha’s plan has a flaw. Zola is unable to control Ultron’s hive mind and in mid-flight Barton ends up dying by falling into a void. The scene is a picture-for-picture reconstruction of Natasha’s death in Avengers: Endgame. Only this time it’s Barton and not Black Widow who must sacrifice her life for the greater good.
Ultron’s total triumph
One of the most amazing aspects of the episode is Ultron’s multi-layered victory. Not only does he manage to get his hands on Vision’s body and the mind gem. He also, and in a curious intersection between the major storylines of several of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most important storylines, takes on Thanos. The character appears in search of the last gem he needs to carry out his cosmic genocide, as it happens in the official timeline. But instead of finding The Avengers, he finds Ultron.
The robot defeats Thanos with astonishing ease and also steals the stones that the mad titan had already collected. It is then that he absorbs them and his body becomes a formidable indestructible mech. As speculated, Ultron integrates the stones into his body and can control them. So much so that he gains infinite knowledge of his timeline. It is then that he begins what is an ultimate wave of destruction that encompasses the planet earth, but also the entire universe.
In quick succession it is possible to see the total destruction of Asgard, Xandar, Ego, Vanaheim and so many others. With nightmarish speed, Ultron ends up devastating life in the Universe.. But that’s when the most disconcerting twist of the chapter occurs. Ultron, increasingly powerful, notices that someone or something has been watching him, which leads to the most relevant point of the story.
‘What If…’ focuses on Uatu.
In the comics, Uatu the Observer is often admonished for intervening in complex situations. Since his appearance in Fantastic Four #13 (April 1963), the character has had a long involvement in various events. Frequently, and with events related to the Fantastic Four storyline, he often transgresses his oath as a passive observer of cosmic events.
But in the What If… series had not yet been given a chance to happen.. And although there was a brief interaction in the episode with Supreme Stange, Uatu had stuck to his role. In chapter eight his need to intervene becomes more and more pronounced. In an early instance, we see him about to intervene as Clint and Natasha search the KGB files for information on Zola. Then it becomes increasingly clear that The Watcher is about to leave his place as an impassive witness to major events.
And it finally happens when Ultron expands his consciousness even further and discovers the possibility of multiverses. The character finds that he can take his “peace” mission to infinite possibilities. Ultron understands Uatu’s power and ends up battling the vigilante himself. There’s a quick look at several universes and in one of them you can even see Steve Rogers taking the presidential oath. The wink references issue #15 of the Ultimate comics series.. In the story, the character to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in his race for the White House.
The journey of the Multiversal Avengers begins.
After the fight between Uatu and Ultron in which Synthezoid achieves triumph, The Vigilante makes a decision. And that is none other than to seek the help of other heroes. The first? Strange Supreme, whose conversation with Uatu closes the chapter and brings together the possibilities of the multiverse at Marvel.