What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes? is a fairly middle-of-the-road redux of Fury’s Big Week from Phase One that at the end of the day highlighted the original intentions and inspiration of the Avenger’s Initiative. Episode 3 found an effective way to do that while killing off (or not introducing) all six original Avengers. The overall moral of the story is, simply, that more mighty heroes are waiting and willing to save Earth in its time of deepest need.
The tagline for the episode could be or should be, “Hope never dies.” On one hand, this was originally in reference to Hope Van Dyne—who actually died in the course of being an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.—and her father Hank Pym’s descent into murderous madness seeking vengeance. The premise of Pym being the assassin that eliminated the Avengers before they actually began is interesting, because it gives a look at Pym being in action (as Yellowjacket) for the first time that we have really seen in the MCU. It also added a bit extra to the familiar plot considering he was not introduced in the main universe until the tail end of Phase Two. The mixture of elements now at the MCU’s disposal is entirely what What If…? is about, so the light overlap in stories is appreciated here but did not seem to be enough to make this episode particularly exceptional.
Fury was the absolute star of the episode in terms of his significance to the plot. Samuel L. Jackson reprised his role wonderfully, giving animated Fury an authentic feel that likely kept Episode 3 afloat at times where it could feel a bit tedious. We got a better glimpse of Fury as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a fuller capacity than he was afforded in the main universe given screen time constraints. While it did not fundamentally change the character, or how anyone viewed him, it certainly bolstered his persona by giving him room to stretch and simply be in control.
Considering that all the original Avengers, other than Steve Rogers, were killed off, the main consequence of this episode was Loki’s eventual takeover of Earth. His address to the United Nations at the end was an interesting and fairly comical look as to how King Loki would come about and rule Earth absent the dramatic and violent Battle of New York. Tom Hiddleston’s performance—particularly in light of Loki’s heightened popularity right now from the Loki series—was also phenomenal, and the transition from screen to voice was very smooth which similarly buoyed the episode.
Ultimately, “hope never dies” becomes a reference to the enduring spirit of the Avengers Initiative that dominated the latter half of Phase One and Avengers in particular. Despite the Avengers as we know them being utterly gutted, the idea of bringing together a group of remarkable people never died in Fury’s eyes, as the episode ends with Captain Marvel and, presumably, Captain America ready to continue the fight. While the episode never felt overly exciting, it was a nice reminder of where the Avengers, and the MCU, began and what they mean to both these fictional universes and our own reality.