DISCLAIMER: This recap of the What If…? series premiere episode is laden with spoilers. You’ve been warned. Proceed at your own peril.
Welcome, Marvel fans! What If…? kicked off the festivities with the rise of Captain Carter, a.k.a. Peggy Carter. A.C. Bradley pens the debut of Marvel’s first animated series while Bryan Andrews helms it. Does it pass muster? What if it doesn’t (Get it?)? While my curiosity is piqued, I wasn’t completely blown away by this outing.
The story is intriguing. I did enjoy watching Peggy kick Nazi ass. However, the dialogue is a mite too corny, even for my taste. But I’ll chalk that up to the time period (hopefully). Thankfully, it’s not a deal-breaker for me.
Ready to dive into episode one of What If…? Let’s get to it.
We open with our peerless, omniscient Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright). He talks about the power of a single choice and how it can spawn a “prism” of endless possibilities. For example, Peggy Carter’s (voiced by Hayley Atwell) decision to stay in the room when Steve Rogers received his super-soldier serum.
Suddenly, a nefarious trespasser ignites an explosion that almost decimates the lab equipment. Steve is shot in the process. Howard Stark (voiced by Dominic Cooper) is asked to carry out the super-soldier experiment, even amid the fiery chaos.
But he’s a genius and a ladies’ man, not a fighter! So, Peggy bites the bullet. She receives the serum. Peggy emerges looking like a superhero, much to her boss’s (voiced by Bradley Whitford) dismay. His misogynistic, chauvinistic dismay. Steve recovers, and all is well.
Meanwhile, we see that HYDRA is up to no good in Germany. Right now, the Red Skull is on the hunt for the Tesseract.
Later, Howard creates a vibranium shield for Peggy. But instead of the American flag, we see the Union Jack is emblazoned across it. The same design is also prominent on her new suit. Time to kick some Nazi butt! Peggy travels to Germany to do just that.
Next, Peggy returns home with the Tesseract in tow. Howard decides to get creative with … something. Steve laments over his best buddy’s capture by HYDRA. You know who that is — Bucky Barnes. Thus, Peggy heads over to HYDRA’s base to rescue Bucky.
After Peggy frees Bucky (voiced by Sebastian Stan), Dum Dum Dugan (voiced by Neal McDonough) and the Howling Commandos, we see Steve join the fray in a new way. He barges in donning a massive metal suit a la Iron Man. Meet HYDRA-Stomper! Howard constructed a means for Steve’s involvement in the war.
Now, what follows is more butt-kicking, courtesy of Captain Carter, HYDRA-Stomper and Team USA. Peggy and Steve finally go on a date. Just as they’re about to kiss, Howard and Bucky conveniently intervene.
Then, Captain Carter and her crew are on a snowy train track in Europe, attempting to intercept HYDRA. There’s a moment wherein Peggy saves Bucky from falling off the train. He mentions that she “almost ripped” his arm off. It’s a nice (cheesy) nod to Bucky’s narrative in the main MCU timeline.
Suddenly, the train collapses and careens into a deep ravine with Steve on board. Peggy and Bucky mourn his loss.
Later, Captain Carter and the team track down Red Skull at his lair. He’s ushering in something truly monstrous with the Tesseract. We see gigantic tentacles protrude from the blinding blue light. Bucky and the Howling Commandos find the HYDRA-Stomper among Red Skull’s collection. Thankfully, Steve is alive!
Peggy and Howard attempt to fend off the tentacles after one of them effectively crushes Red Skull. Howard tries to put his intellect to good use with Red Skull’s lab equipment, but Hedy Lamarr never taught him German! What If…? makes its only sex joke in the form of “pushing buttons.” It’s subtle.
Next, while Peggy is wrapped up in extraterrestrial tentacles, Steve swoops in with HYDRA-Stomper. He scoops up Bucky and the Howling Commandos and promptly drops them off outside.
Peggy continues to fight the monster to the best of her ability. However, it’s not enough, especially after it does quick work of Steve’s HYDRA-Stomper. She brandishes her shield and a sword and slowly pushes the tentacles back through the portal.
Unfortunately, she falls through the said Tesseract portal along with it. Before she vanishes, she schedules a dancing date with Steve for Saturday. I appreciate the Captain America: The First Avenger parallels in this episode. Steve and Howard are utterly crestfallen.
Then, Peggy emerges through the “portal” into the test chamber for Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. Nick Fury (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and Clint Barton (voiced by Jeremy Renner) are present. She learns that World War II ended 70 years ago.
Overall, I’m intrigued. I’m glad Bradley and Andrews refrained from giving us a carbon copy of The First Avenger. While certain moments were a little too on-the-nose, at least Captain Carter’s “death” scene differs from Steve’s. Stan’s dialogue drove me a bit mad — notably, all of the food references he kept making.
Again, I think it’s safe to assume the cheesiness was intentional. Some of the voice acting fell flat for me as well. Stan sounded like he didn’t want to be there.
All in all, this was a fine pilot episode for What If…? I’m curious to see how Captain Carter’s arc evolves over the course of the season. How often will we hear about a Marvel hero going in for a mission “without a plan”? Hey, they’ve got shields. That’s better than nothing.
New episodes of What If…? are available to stream every Wednesday on Disney Plus.
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