That was brilliant! Let’s give it another go!
Meet The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), a cosmic being who observes the ebb and flow of time and reality. Guiding us through the multiverse of infinite possibilities and choices diverging into new timelines, he asks us to ponder the question what if…? For example, what if Agent Peggy Carter were given the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?
Events are changed by a simple decision during what was meant to be Steve’s injection as a covert HYDRA agent shoots Steve before he can enter the test chamber. In an effort to save the experiment, Peggy Carter jumps into the test chamber and becomes enhanced in Steve’s place. Despite Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) claims of success, the patriarchal military refuses to accept a woman as a soldier. With Stark’s help, and some encouragement from a recovering Steve, Carter takes up her shield, emblazoned with England’s flag, and goes after HYDRA.
After kidnapping Dr. Armin Zola (Toby Jones) and the tesseract, which Howard uses to build Steve the first Iron Man suit AKA The HYDRA Stomper, Carter builds her forces and pushes the Red Skull’s army back to their headquarters. Launching a full scale attack of his castle, she witnesses the Red Skull’s ultimate goal; to summon HYDRA’s true champion, a tentacle monster from beyond the stars. Carter manages to push the creature back behind its dimensional gateway, but finds herself trapped with it. Seventy years later, as SHIELD experiments with the tesseract, the portal reopens, allowing Carter to return, though no time has passed for her. Met by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Hawkeye, he tells her the war is over, they won, but Steve and everyone she knew has passed.
With the end of Loki breaking the sacred timeline and releasing the multiverse, What If…? gets to work on what exactly that multiverse looks like. For the first time, Marvel Studios is choosing an animated approach to tell this chapter of the MCU, and it benefits from having Disney’s backing and expertise to create the animations. While still staying very cartoonish, the effects and art style is worthy of Disney and Pixar’s legacy.
Hayley Atwell shines in this series premiere, as she always does. She’s played the role of Peggy Carter in four films, though only briefly in three of them, a cameo in Agents of SHIELD, and her own popular, but short lived, series Agent Carter. As much as I would love to see her return in greater fashion, having her back for this short episode just reminds me of how great she is in the role. Not only does she bring the charm and attitude of Carter to the animated screen, but now that she gets to be Captain Carter, it’s clear just how much fun she’s having playing the frontline soldier as opposed to the covert agent. Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, and Samual L. Jackson also reprise their respective roles, and while they only have brief scenes, it’s good to see the old Captain America: First Avenger cast back together (sans Chris Evans).
It’s not just the cast of Captain America that returns, but unfortunately some of its flaws come with it. What If…? is about thirty minutes long and attempts the retell the story of a two hour movie in that half hour. Because of that, the pacing feels rushed, and while it’s entertaining, things happen almost too fast to fully enjoy each scene. While there are obvious changes from the Captain America: First Avenger storyline, such as Captain Carter, Steve “HYDRA Stomper” Rogers, and Red Skull summoning an alien, for the most part, the rest of the story follows the same exact plot lines of the original film. It felt like even with the variants of Captain Carter, I was still just watching a sped up version of the film I’ve watched more than a dozen times since 2011.
Like every other Disney+ Marvel show, What If…? leaves us with some exciting speculations and intriguing questions. What was HYDRA’s champion? My first guess was that it was Hive, the ancient Inhuman that the HYDRA cult worshipped and was seen in Agents of SHIELD. Both are described as champions of HYDRA, and both have tentacles, though the tentacles were toned down in Agents of SHIELD. With Peggy trapped in an inter dimensional gateway, who created SHIELD? Howard Stark would still have been involved, but who else? Steve and Bucky? What was The Watcher doing before Loki released the multiverse, aside from listening to Earth adventures from The Stan Lee Watcher as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Or because of time travel, did Loki breaking the multiverse at the end of time somehow make the multiverse an ever existing thing reaching back to the beginning of time? Finally, what is The Watchers agenda, if he has one at all? Obviously, his whole thing is just watching, and he states at the end of the episode that he should not, cannot, will not interfere. However, why show us these stories? Is he saying he won’t interfere to convince us, or himself?
This series premiere of What If…? is a fun, animated, and imaginative view of the big events of the MCU. While it relies heavily on already seen plot points, it still manages to entertain and give fans a breather from the dramatic live action shows.