BY MATT TUCK
If the aim of “Party Thor” was big, dumb fun, What If…? got the first two adjectives right. At least there is an intriguing cameo that could hint at a new team coming to the MCU. WARNING: SPOILERS.
BIG, DUMB FUN (MINUS THE FUN)
There will always be a large contingency of the Marvel/Disney faithful that will defend anything and everything Marvel Studios puts on the screen, no matter how bad. As I have learned through my reviews, there is also an audience that likes their movies and television inane. The argument boils down to three words: big, dumb fun. What If…? nailed two of those.
Make no mistake, this was bad. Thankfully the showrunners saved “Party Thor” for the seventh episode. If it had been the first, that would have made for an uphill battle the rest of the season.
Today’s climate leans heavily on the absurd and ridiculous, but there is an art to doing it in a clever way that doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence. James Gunn has mastered the technique with Guardians of the Galaxy (maybe not GOTG Vol. 2) and The Suicide Squad. Taika Waititi tends to go more for the absurd than Gunn, which is saying something, but he knows how to balance the drama with the slapstick. There was no balance here.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Continuing the running theme of what makes a hero, “Party Thor” took a different route to that point.
The seventh episode of What If…? plays with the immature, frat boy Thor we first met in 2011’s Thor. This is the same arrogant, irresponsible God of Thunder that was seen in the beginning of that movie. Instead of Odin sending him to Earth and Loki testing his brother’s resolve to forge a wiser Prince of Asgard, this episode toys with the idea of what would happen if Loki had stayed with the Frost Giants. The plot, though, is more about how things would have changed if Odin had not forced Thor to earn the power of the thunder god. It makes for a privileged, entitled brat rather than a true God of Thunder and heir to Asgard’s throne.
The core concept could have worked if it had taken even a slightly more serious tone and steered clear of a plot that would bring tears to Kid ‘n Play’s eyes.
The entire episode was one lame joke after another, few of which were actually funny. It was riddled with sophomoric humor and was anything but clever. Done correctly, the formula can work. Rick and Morty did the out-of-control frat party trope magically, but it was written with an intelligence and style that “Party Thor” desperately needed.
AN ABSOLUTE MISS
After a strong start, What If…? has taken its foot off the gas.
Granted, the Captain Carter and T’Challa Star-Lord episodes were more whimsical and lighthearted, but the show hit its stride when it ventured into darker subject matter. Seeing Hank Pym driven mad by the death of his daughter and Doctor Strange stopping at nothing to save the love of his life only to watch his universe crumble by his own hands was much more engaging as a viewer. Marvel Zombies lacked the depth of the previous episodes, but it was more horror and far more entertaining than this. Even last week’s rather slow episode devoted to “King Killmonger” at least had heart.
Then there is “Party Thor.” This episode ditched the mature themes in favor of slapstick comedy and a plot aimed at kids (although they slipped in some coarse language to mask it). All of it fell flat. For an episode meant for teens, my 16-year-old son chose to go to school early rather than watch the last ten minutes. That speaks volumes.
ULTRON, VISION, OR SOMETHING ELSE?
The episode’s saving grace is the ending cameo. At first glance, it appears to be Ultron with the Infinity Stones, but then he lifts his helmet to reveal what surely is Vision. His face is concealed by shadow, but that is clearly the Mind Stone in his forehead. This obviously is not the altruistic Vision we are accustomed to seeing. Since What If…? takes place on alternate Earths, this could very well be Earth-932, the home of Anti-Vision.
In the comics, Anti-Vision is a member of the Gatherers. They are the evil versions of the Avengers, bent on revenge after the death of their planet. Blaming the Eternals’ Sersi for Earth-932’s destruction, who happened to be an Avenger at the time, they clashed with the superteam. Anti-Vision would swap minds with the Earth-616 Vision until Captain America discovered the truth.
Before What If…? aired, the showrunners had said that the characters and concepts from the series could crossover with - or be adapted for - the Earth-616 MCU. If this is indeed Anti-Vision or some version of him, then this could be the opening needed to combine the two universes.
At the moment, Avengers #360 is dirt cheap. There have been few sales in recent weeks, and the raw copies have sold for as little as $2 and no more than $10. Even a graded 9.6 brought just $23 on September 18.
Maybe the joke is on us. Maybe A.C. Bradley and company have done the impossible and created something so bad that it makes Thor: the Dark World seem good by comparison. It takes a concerted effort to elevate one of Marvel’s two worst movies (it’s tied with Iron Man 3 for that distinction). Hopefully next week’s episode will return to form.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.