** Warning! This review contains spoilers for episode 1 of Marvel’s What If…? Series **
Episode one of What If…? brought us back to the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. The creation of a super soldier was in progress, and Steve Rogers was set to be given the serum. Peggy Carter was there to support Rogers and decided to stay on the floor of the procedure instead of heading to the booth. When an explosion is set off by a HYDRA agent and Rogers is shot, Carter steps in to get the super-soldier serum injected.
Against the wishes of her army superior (a returning Bradley Whitford), Captain Carter does many of the things that Captain Rogers did in his first film. She takes out Nazis in an impressive action sequence and collects the Tesseract from Arnim Zola. Carter follows it up by rescuing Bucky Barnes and the rest of the Howling Commandos. In a big change, she gets help from Steve Rogers in a new Iron Man-style armor created by Howard Stark. The HYDRA stomper is here and it is awesome.
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Carter, Rogers, Barnes, and the Howling Commandos revisit the train scene from Captain America. Instead of Bucky being captured by HYDRA, Rogers sees the train is rigged to explode. He and the HYDRA Stomper are lost to HYDRA. We learn that Red Skull and HYDRa have an interdimensional portal weapon, and are using it to unleash a new weapon. The weapon is a giant tentacle monster that crushes Red Skull as it exits the portal.
The Howling Commandos save Rogers and give him back the HYDRA Stomper armor. Carter and Stark work on pushing the monster back into the portal, with Carter having to give it a shove into the portal to banish it. Captain Carter again doesn’t get her dance with Rogers, following the monster into the portal to banish it for good.
Carter comes out the other side of the portal and is at the SHIELD Headquarters from The Avengers. She’s greeted by Nick Fury and Clint Barton, meaning she can be a part of another Avengers team in the current day.
Animation is always kind to comic book adaptations, and What If..? takes full advantage of this in the first episode. There are shots that look directly pulled from comic book panels. It allows for intense action sequences that grab the attention.
Speaking of the action scenes, they showcase Captain Carter with excellent action. Her capture of the Tesseract has a great blend of comedy and action, and the scene with her entering the facility to free the Howling Commandos is excellent. A big highlight: Carter tossing a motorcycle into a HYDRA guard tower.
The episode is also a love letter to Marvel fans. Throughout the episode, fans can look to find things that are the same, paralleled, or slightly different. An easy one to spot: Bucky Barnes is grabbed by Carter when he almost falls off the train. Barnes quips “Thanks, you almost ripped my arm off.” Oh Bucky, if you only knew.
The Not As Good:
Due to the half hour runtime, What If…? was all plot and very little character development. There are tons of interesting threads to discover in the characters introduced. What is Steve Rogers like without the super serum? Does it change him at all knowing how close he was to becoming a super soldier? What does Bucky’s life look like with less tragedy? We get some glimpses of how Captain Carter is dealing with sexism and her new powers, but how does she adjust to the expectations of the position? Hopefully, future episodes will dive more into the personality changes instead of a rehash of the action.
It has to be the work of Peggy Carter. Hayley Atwell returned to voice Captain Carter, and she did well with the new role as Cap. Not all actors are well-suited to voice work, but Atwell conveys great emotion. From her surprise at her abilities to her sad goodbye with Rogers, Atwell carries the emotional core of the episode throughout.
What If…? has episodes dropping every Wednesday on Disney Plus.
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