‘What If…?’ Episode 3 Forces Us to Rethink Our Opinion of a Certain Marvel Hero

The Avengers Initiative implodes from within, and we can never look at on particular character the same way again.
What If Episode 3 Explained

Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry explores What If…? Episode 3 and why a certain Ant-Man ain’t to be trusted. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

“There was an idea. To bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could.”

Nick Fury’s vision for the Avengers cements the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but what if someone stepped in at a few critical moments and smashed it to smithereens? The fantasy would soon become a nightmare.

What If…? Episode 3 drags us back to one critical week during Marvel’s Phase Two: that moment between Tony Stark exiting the donut in Iron Man 2 and Bruce Banner rampaging through Culver University in The Incredible Hulk. Just as these heroes draw near each other, an interloper appears. And strikes, stopping the Avengers Initiative in its tracks.

“What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?”

Instead of receiving the antidote for his palladium poisoning, Tony Stark keels over dead, apparently murdered by Black Widow. The Hulk doesn’t escape General Ross’ college assault; his body pops, splashing so much green blood upon the campus. Rather than holding his aim, Hawkeye sends an arrow straight through Thor, and his twisted brother Loki arrives on Midgard with an occupying army. The Avengers require some avenging.

Black Widow gets on the case, but even she falls victim to the mysterious killer. Before she perishes, she sends one last message to Nick Fury. And Fury puts two and two together, and we discover the choice made that separates this reality from the prime MCU reality.

Understanding the Rage of Hank Pym

In the Multiverse world seen in What If…? Episode 3, Hope Van Dyne, the second Wasp, joined Nick Fury’s team well before Tony Stark declared himself Iron Man. No doubt, she was a serious ass-kicker, but like her mother before her, she died in the field. This tragedy sent her father, Hank Pym, over the edge. When he discovered what Fury was planning with the Avengers, he struck, killing these heroes before they could be killed.

Pym’s logic is flawed, but it’s not about logic. It’s about rage. Hope’s death fills Hank’s heart with hate. He wants Fury to feel just an ounce of what he feels. Would our prime-MCU Hank Pym behave in a similar fashion given the same circumstances? Probably.

In the MCU

As we saw in AntMan, Hank Pym bent over backward to keep Hope outta the suit. The death of his wife poisoned their relationship, and in his desperate desire to keep Hope safe, he drove a massive wedge between them. He even went so far as to trick a convict into taking on the Ant-Man persona rather than sitting down and having a rational conversation with Hope about his feelings. Hank Pym does not do feelings well.

If he had only caught a glimpse of the future and peered into AntMan and the Wasp, he would have seen just how incredibly capable Hope is as a hero. She elevates Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, into being the best he can be, and he does the same for her. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding her What If…? death, but it’s easy to defer that it would not have happened if either her father had been more open with her regarding her mother’s heroism or if she could have bounced some of that action off Scott Lang. When the Pyms and Langs are fighting together, they’re unstoppable. When they’re fighting with each other, they’re doomed.

In the Comics

Hank Pym as a raging psychotic, as we see in What If…? Episode 3, is nothing new. Infamously, Pym is known for striking his wife Janet in Avengers #213, published in November 1981. In that storyline, Pym is losing control of his emotions, falling into patterns of violent outbursts. On the battlefield, Captain America scolds Pym for his careless behavior. Formal charges are brought against him, and the Avengers put Pym on trial.

Wanting to defend her husband, Janet initiates a private investigation. She discovers an adamantium robot in his laboratory, clandestinely constructed to attack the Avengers so that Pym can heroically defeat “the villain” in battle. When she confronts Pym about this absurdly despicable plan, Pym hits her.

Pym’s plan never goes into motion, the Avengers boot him from the team, and Janet issues divorce papers. Eventually, Pym is arrested, goes through a series of adventures designed to offer redemption, and slowly crawls his way back into the Marvel Comics spotlight.

But this moment in his history has forever stained the character. There’s no coming back from such a violent, low. And, it would not be surprising to learn that this is the reason why Scott Lang was positioned to be the first cinematic Ant-Man. If Hank Pym were made front and center, fandom would be left waiting for this dark episode to rear itself. And, probably, it’s an episode Marvel Studios would wish we would forget. Except, they go ahead and make Pym the psycho for What If…? Episode 3.

Hank Pym is a Killer

Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke once stated that we’re all just one bad day from becoming the Joker. But we’re also just one bad day from becoming Batman, too. We can’t blame others for the choices we make. They belong to us.

Hank Pym’s loss is unimaginable. First, his wife. Then, his daughter. We can’t blame him for the anger he feels. We can blame him for what he does with that anger.

In What If…? Episode 3, we meet a killer. Do we empathize with him? Sure. Forgive him? No way.

The question becomes, does seeing Hank Pym behave so wretchedly in What If…? change your feelings toward him in the rest of the MCU? Is his darkness visible now? Do we have to watch him with one eye always open? Yeah, definitely. Do not trust a Hank Pym. Ever.

What If…? Episode 3 is now streaming on Disney+.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)