Die Hard With Avengers (& A New Hulk)

Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for What If…? season 2 episode 3.


  • What If…? season 2 episode 3 is a festive and fun homage to Die Hard, with Happy Hogan as the hero and plenty of humor and heart for Christmas.
  • The episode explores the idea of what it means to be an Avenger, highlighting the importance of doing your duty in the face of adversity.
  • Justin Hammer’s return also showcases his newfound martial arts skills and potential as a more formidable villain in live-action in the future.

Marvel’s What If…? season 2 episode 3 is a festive joy, paying homage to definite Christmas movie Die Hard, and making Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) the hero. The animated episode is easily one of the most fun MCU releases, and perfectly matches up to the spirit of the season. There’s humor, heart, and a new type of Hulk for the Marvel timeline: everything you could ever want for Christmas.

But what does it all mean? And how well does the Die Hard parody actually work? These questions and more are answered in this full explainer of “What If Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?” Along the way there’s a hint of a major event in Hulk’s story after Avengers: Endgame’s ending, a hint of Armor Wars’ villain’s future, and an examination of what really makes an Avenger an Avenger.


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What If…?’s Die Hard Parody Explained

What If Season 2 Happy Hogan as Santa

“What If Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?” is essentially a smartly observed Die Hard homage. In place of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, Justin Hammer plays the invading villain, and the Avengers Tower stands in for the Nakatomi Plaza. Happy, of course, is John McClane and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) is his Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), as she identifies herself in a particularly meta moment.

All the major moments get referenced, from Happy crawling through the vents, to putting a villain in the elevator (though this time it’s a mannequin), and Gruber’s iconic death (though it’s subverted by Happy saving Hammer from death). There are obviously differences – John McClane didn’t use Bruce Banner’s blood to turn into a Hulk to save the day as Happy does – but it’s an affectionate and perfectly timed pastiche.

The “what if…?” element – as if it really matters – is what if Justin Hammer took revenge on Iron Man by infiltrating the Avengers tower and taking over the defence systems including the Iron Legion. Naturally, it just so happens that the Avengers are out on promotional duties and JARVIS is down for repair. Ultimately, Happy takes down Hammer himself after accidentally being transformed into a Hulk when the original plan to reboot the Tower’s defences with a backup AI (hilariously styled on Werner Herzog) fails.


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Tony Stark’s Hulk Cure Explained

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in science lab in Avengers Age of Ultron

As Happy hides from Hammer and the hijacked Iron Legion drones, who are seeking to steal a vial of Bruce Banner’s blood to turn Hammer into a Hulk, it’s revealed that Stark was developing a Hulk cure. Interestingly, it seems Iron Man’s experiments sought to keep Banner’s ability to transform into the Hulk, but without the anger issues.

While it may seem strange that Stark doesn’t look to cure Banner outright, that actually fits with what’s established elsewhere in the MCU. In She-Hulk, it’s revealed Iron Man built Hulk’s lab in Mexico to help him transform into Smart Hulk. It could be that Stark’s earlier experiments led to the epiphany that Hulk could never be “cured”, leading in turn to Banner and Stark hypothetizing that balance was the only cure. And there is some suggestion that Stark actually valued the Hulk too much to lose his influence as one of Earth’s defenders.

Marvel's What if...? Season 2 Poster

What If…?

What If… ? is an animated anthology series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which features fan-favorite characters, including Peggy Carter, T’Challa, Doctor Strange, Killmonger, Thor, and more. The new series, directed by Bryan Andrews with AC Bradley as head writer, features signature MCU action with a curious twist. The show sees Uatu the Watcher, an omnipotent being that observes the events of multiple universes from afar as they unfold, unable to interfere. However, things shift when an entity peers beyond the veil, jeopardizing the multiverse. 

Samuel L. Jackson , Stanley Tucci , Michael Douglas , Sean Gunn , Mark Ruffalo , Karen Gillan , Tom Hiddleston , Jeffrey Wright , Michael B. Jordan , Toby Jones , Sebastian Stan , Paul Rudd , David Dastmalchian , Natalie Portman , Josh Brolin , Dominic Cooper , Jeff Goldblum , Hayley Atwell , Djimon Hounsou , Chadwick Boseman , Taika Waititi , Chris Hemsworth , Neil McDonaugh , Jeremy Renner , Michael Rooker


Why Happy Hogan’s Hulk Is Purple (And Speaks)

Happy Hogan and the Purple Hulk

The major differences between Happy Hogan’s Hulk mutation and Banner’s are the color and the fact that he can speak. Happy Hulk is purple (and bald like The Abomination despite both Hulk and She-Hulk having hair). Perhaps modified versions of pure Hulk blood create more monstrous mutations?

In the comics, the most prominent Purple Hulk was Norman Osborn who used powers taken from Super-Adaptoid to steal Red Hulk’s powers and transform. His purple coloring is never really addressed. But the other Purple Hulk from the comics suggests the color links to incredible evil. In Incredible Hulk #371 Hulk is possessed by Shangar, the Sorceror Supreme of the Dark Dimension (who became the Dark Entity in the animated adaptation). Possessed, Banner became Dark Hulk and turned purple (at least in the animated Incredible Hulk series of 1996 where the color was revealed).

Super-Adaptoid was an Android created by AIM in Marvel Comics using the Cosmic Cube which had the ability to absorb the powers of any superhero it came into contact with.

Happy’s Purple Hulk would break the trend of supervillains turning Hulk purple, though he does visibly fight the influence of the Hulk with his own personality. So perhaps purple here does also mean evil, and Happy’s true superpower was just being enough of a great guy to counterbalance it.

What is clear is that whatever Tony Stark did to Bruce Banner’s blood, it created an early version of Endgame‘s Smart Hulk, because Happy is still able to talk when he becomes Purple Hulk. Notably, both the original Hulk and Abomination were limited in their ability to talk, because neither were able to control their rage: She-Hulk was an exception, because her experience as a woman trained her to control her rage, so she never lost control entirely. Happy explicitly mentions Stark working on a means to control Hulk’s anger issues, suggesting the key to communication is simply not being angry.

In She-Hulk, Emil Blonsky is able to talk normally as Abomination because he has achieved a state of inner balance and peace.

What If…? Sets Up Justin Hammer’s Powerful MCU Return

Justin Hammer wearing Hulkbuster armor in What If...? Season 2

At one point, Justin Hammer reveals that he’s gained considerable martial arts skills in prison after the events of Iron Man 2. In the company of criminals, Hammer learned a number of martial arts disciplines in the prison yard, suggesting his expected life-action return could see an improved villain all round. Interestingly, that would also make him a lot more like Tony Stark, who is established as a hand-to-hand combat expert in the MCU.

What Marvel’s What If…? Says About The Avengers As An Idea

What If Season 2 Avengers at Christmas

Seeking deeper meaning in a cartoon that parodies Die Hard and features a John McClane Hulk bumbling his way through a mission to save his superhero friends might seem pointless, but it’s absolutely there. What If…? season 2 episode 3 subtly explores what it really means to be an Avenger: it’s not just about using your superpowers, but about doing your duty in the face of serious adversity.

On top of that, Happy’s initial mistake in letting Hammer take over Avengers Tower so easily echoes the experience of almost every original Avenger. Each had red in their ledger, to borrow Black Widow’s most famous catchphrase, and it was only in atoning for those mistakes that they became Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Happy effectively earns his Avengers stripes because of his recovery, and not just his newly gained powers.

New episodes of What If…? season 2 release every day until December 30, on Disney+

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