The first episode of Marvel’s new animated anthology series, What If…?, dropped today. We’ve already shared our overall initial impressions but here we dive into an individual episode. As reported prior to the premiere, the episode poses the question, “What if Peggy Carter received Dr. Erskine’s super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?”
When Rogers is about to become Captain America, Carter decides to stay on the floor to watch the procedure rather than observe it up in the booth. That slight change in this universe alters the course we know when Heinz Kruger tries to steal the serum. The havoc the Nazi agent causes results in Peggy becoming enhanced with the serum and it’s the SSR officer who takes the fight to Hitler and HYDRA and turns the tide in the war.
What If…? makes a smart move by placing this tale at the start. For a show that boasts endless possibilities, you might not want to throw the audience into the deep end right off the bat. The plot is pretty much a condensed version of Captain America: The First Avenger. It parallels the original story and has the same beats but with some role reversals and slight tweaks.
However, this familiarity can be disappointing when looking for fresh new takes. It’s cool to see a heroic superpowered Peggy kick some butt and given a spotlight, but it seems as though the show is trying too hard to push the character that the story doesn’t match the hype. Captain Carter even hijacked the Captain America twitter account and wrestled it away from Sam Wilson for the sake of promotion.
With the role reversal, it can become a bit cringey with a significant portion of the plot dedicated to her love story with Steve Rogers. The optics don’t match up since her character is supposed to represent a pro-feminism figure who rises up against the misogyny to save the world but many of her decisions are influenced by her romantic interests. One of the main takeaways is to show what happens when a woman is in the room when decisions are made but yet she’s greatly defined by who she has feelings for.
Despite these criticisms, the season premiere of What If…? has many things going for it. The animation for the action sequences is great and entertaining with the Captain Carter exhibiting both grace and power. The montage of Peggy fighting her way through Europe in particular is entertaining with her repeatedly beating the enemy accompanied by a jazzy number. It evokes the feeling of a classic war film appropriate for the period.
There are cool creative takes on certain characters. Scrawny Steve Rogers using the HYDRA Stomper allows the physically fragile wannabe soldier to take part in combat. The fact that it’s designed by Howard Stark fits into the Iron Man legacy. It’s also nice that they lean into the occult and supernatural side of HYDRA especially when their champion is summoned.
The voice talent can be hit or miss. Ross Marquand does a good job making the most of his role as the Red Skull. For those who enjoyed the Agent Carter short film, Bradley Whitford is back as John Flynn. He captures the petulant thorn in Peggy’s side really well and is someone you love to hate. Neil McDonough and Sebastian Stan voice Dum Dum Duggan and Bucky Barnes respectively but are used more for comic relief than providing any real contribution.
The first episode has some creative takes on the MCU with their characters, particularly Captain Carter, but the execution falls short of the expectations. Though it might be an adequate way to ease viewers into the possibilities of What If…?, the rehashes of Captain America: The First Avenger make it too familiar and can take away from the excitement.
New episodes of What If…? are released Wednesdays on Disney+.
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