The race is on! The fourth episode of ‘What If…?’ season two retrospectively introduces audiences to the Gamora viewers met in the finale of the first season of ‘What If…?’ and shows Tony Stark trapped on Sakaar as he races the Grandmaster for control of the planet. While Gamora’s story is secondary to Tony’s – it’s still one of redemption and claiming her true self, instead of leaving in the shadows of her father.
This episode diverges from the main Marvel Cinematic Universe canon in a rather heartbreaking way. At the end of the first ‘Avengers’ film, audiences know that Tony makes it back through the wormhole after saving New York City from a nuclear missile. In this universe, he fails to make it back, and can’t see Pepper again. This is conveyed through an admirable performance by Mick Wingert,
Unfortunately though, Tony falls into the grip of the Grandmaster, to which Jeff Goldblum reprises his role to still great comedic joy, and he’s just the scumbag audiences remember from ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. He won’t let Tony leave, forcing him to watch the death-defying race below. When the Grandmaster unleashes an elephant-looking beast on Korg, Tony jumps in with his newfound heroism, only to find his Iron Man suit doesn’t work. A murderous Gamora saves them, wishing to kill Tony herself as punishment for Tony killing his father. The Grandmaster intervenes and chucks them in jail.
It’s not long before they all escape, and Korg and Tony go off to convince Valkyrie to join them in revolution, challenging the Grandmaster to a race. He orders Gamora to watch his back throughout and to kill Tony to stop him from winning.
All of this is a rather complicated setup for the race itself, but it’s worth it. The Grandmaster turned all of Sakaar into a highspeed dance of destruction, and best of all for him, he controls it. He quickly eliminates Tony’s busted-up ride, but, in a surprise, Tony turns his Sakaarian Iron Man armor (which is designed perfectly to fit with the planet) into a Formula One car. He’s had some practice since racing in ‘Iron Man 2’ too, as he whips up the field.
Gamora is struggling with whether or not to kill Tony throughout the race, as he makes an impassioned plea for her to identify as Gamora and not the daughter of Thanos. This type of plea is best coming from Tony, as he had a realization of who he was and is now encouraging others to do the same.
In a lesser show, that might have been the boost Tony needed to win, but here he still has to rely on his power to beat the Grandmaster in a phenomenal end. This enables Valkyrie to take control as King and Tony can leave the planet. On their way home, Tony and Gamora visit Thanos (who has a flat look to him), where they kill him, tying up Tony’s fears and completing Gamora’s arc.
The race is the highlight of the episode, and while the setup is a bit complicated there is still plenty of humor to be had, and the Grandmaster is just as funny as before. This was a great origin for the Gamora audiences met in the earlier episode and provides Tony with another emotional story.