Marvel Mondays – What If…?: Episode 1

Plot summary: When Steve Rogers is injured, Peggy Carter volunteers to take the super solder serum in his place, becoming Captain Carter and battling the Red Skull.

Notes

Episode Title: ‘What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?’

Air Date: August 11th, 2021

Directed: Bryan Andrews (1)

Written: A.C. Bradley (1)

Peggy’s Captain Carter costume shares similarities with that of Union Jack, a World War II era superhero, though that’s likely coincidental as it’s somewhat unavoidable.

Bradley Whitford reprises his role of Agent Flynn from when Marvel used to make One-Shots (short films). He’s a colonel here, functionally filling Tommy Lee Jones’ role from The First Avenger without having to actually recast him, as his character is killed in the opening.

Howard Stark mentions spending a weekend with Hedy Lamarr, who makes for fascinating reading. An incredible inventor from Austria who helped develop breakthroughs in radio technology that contributed to the war effort and were later incorporated into WiFi and Bluetooth technology, her scientific achievements were largely downplayed as she was promoted by MGM studios as the world’s most beautiful woman, appearing in thirty films. The main reason for the nod here may have been that she briefly worked with and dated Howard Hughes, who Howard (and Tony) Stark are based on.

Recap

Uatu the Watcher sets the scene of Captain America: The First Avenger up to the point Steve Rogers was to undergo the super soldier process. Peggy Carter and the others opt to stay in the room in this branch though, so when the Hydra agent strikes, she shoots him and takes the injured Steve’s place.

A furious Colonel Flynn takes over the SSR, drawing a comical amount of blood from Peggy in the hopes of one day making a “real super solider”. He benches her, meaning no U.S.O. shows and no Captain America nickname.

The Red Skull steals the Tesseract from the Norwegian church, which now features an… interesting new carving with some tentacles surrounding a cube.

Flynn denies Peggy’s request to lead a mission against Schmidt, so Howard Stark privately approaches her with a costume and shield. Peggy decimates the Hydra convoy in Berlin, obtains the Tesseract, and captures Arnim Zola.

The newly promoted ‘Captain Carter’ storms a Hydra compound and rescues Bucky Barnes and the Howling Commandos with the assistance of Steve in the ‘Hydra Stomper’, essentially the Mark I Iron Man armour powered by the Tesseract.

Peggy and Steve bond over drinks after a montage of wrecking the Nazis across Europe. They execute the familiar train mission, but this time Bucky is fine and it’s Steve who seemingly perishes.

Torturing Zola for information, Peggy learns of Red Skull’s plan and she and the boys storm his castle, where Steve is of course revealed to be alive and Bucky rescues him.

This also means Red Skull has the Tesseract and his men use it to open a portal from which giant tentacles emerge… and immediately crush Schmidt to death.

Peggy does her best to fight off the creature while Howard begins to close the portal, but the monster holds on. Seeing no choice, Peggy pushes it back through herself, bidding farewell to a helpless Steve.

She emerges 70 years later when Nick Fury uses the Tesseract to open the portal from the beginning of The Avengers, and he and Hawkeye break the news about her current circumstances.

Review

It is incredibly strange to me they didn’t call Peggy ‘Captain Britain’. I know that’s already a character, but when has that ever stopped them? Even if they want to bring Brian Braddock into the MCU in his own right, how does an alternate universe story like this impede anything? Sigh. Anyway, big strong ladies are cool, incels complaining about them should be launched into the sun, and it makes sense they want to bring her back for season 2. Plus I assume episode 9 will bring together the variants from the first eight episodes for a team-up.

This was the first story cited as an example of what they were going for with the show, with the image of Peggy holding a shield the first piece of art revealed. So this story playing out almost exactly as you’d expect, while a potential red flag, could be chalked up to being such a known entity.

In theory, every episode exists in a vacuum, so one being bad does not mean the next one will be, but I found this intensely dull for the most part, acting as a relentless exercise in asking if its audience remembers a film that is only a decade old. Winks and nods should of course be expected, but I didn’t think they would lay it on quite so thick and hope the series does more playing with its beloved history than simply pointing at it.

My interest dramatically picked up as the action did, and I was particularly impressed by the sequence where Peggy smashed into a cockpit and then the ‘camera’ moved with her up and onto the top of the plane as the mayhem continued in a surprisingly fluid manner. The tracking shot when they raid the castle, too. We see precious little of this kind of thing in live action Marvel, which prefers quick cuts.

On the topic of the visuals, the art style grew on me after a rough opening, which looked like Telltale Games animated it. While I think I simply got more used to it, I do believe the animation got better around the mid-point, and by the time Peggy was tackling giant tentacles I was more into it. Steve’s Hydra Stomper HUD was gorgeous, perhaps the single best piece of art in the episode, and I love that it’s all analogue dials instead of Tony’s slick digital display.

But as I said, this simply failed to hold my attention, and I found myself glancing at my phone a lot. Boring is worse than bad, as I have said a few times on this site. The next episode boasts far more intrigue as it is unfortunately the final performance of Chadwick Boseman, but I also hope they don’t play it as safe as this. More giant squid monsters and less worrying about shot recreation, please.

Most Marvellous Player

Boy, voice acting isn’t for everyone, is it, Sebastian Stan? Some ‘normal’ actors can do it well, but in general the full-timers completely outshine them. For example, I believe Matt Groening was always reluctant to feature celebrity cameos on The Simpsons, but obviously that didn’t take.

This is all a long way of saying that while Josh Keaton may stick out as the lone MCU recasting in the episode (the director says Chris Evans was too busy), he’s also just notably better than 90% of his more famous peers. Dominic Cooper and Bradley Whitford oscillate between fine and decent, while Neal McDonough and in particular Sebastian Stan are awful. A lot of the others had too few lines to make an impact. Jeffrey Wright’s narration is nothing special.          

So it’s a three horse race as far as I’m concerned between Keaton as Steve Rogers, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter and Ross Marquand, who took over as Red Skull in Infinity War. Marquand is solid as a Big Bad, and Atwell nails some moments but is a bit flat in spots. Keaton’s surprisingly large role and better ability to deliver both banal and emotional dialogue gives him the edge.

I’m fascinated to see how the rest of the series plays out given they managed to secure 95% of the movie cast to make everything feel more authentic but episode one may be a red flag that they’ve drastically overspent in that regard and could have reallocated the funds to the visuals.

Villain Watch

Hey look, everyone, it’s the Red Skull! One of the MCU’s more awkward villains due to the fact he’s a Nazi and that’s a bummer, and that his original actor has violently opposed ever coming back, Schmidt got a radical overhaul in Infinity War. Some have expressed hope he will return in his more traditional role one day, and I once heard somebody in a comic book shop call him the MCU’s best villain, which is wacky to me, because he was Very Okay at best in The First Avenger. And he’s Very Okay here, too. Not better, not much worse… Yay?

But what we’re all far more interested in is what may have been Shuma-Gorath, an ancient cosmic Cthulhu entity that periodically gets banished by magic users in Marvel comics only to rear its ugly single eye and many tentacles again every few years. Animation lets everything get weirder, and if you ask me, giant cephalopod monsters are a fantastic thing. This one may return later this series, or in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Plugs

Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend it’s the Mystery of the Batwoman and some final numbers on The New Batman Adventures.

There Will Be Movies continues each Wednesday, as Ben Phillips and I talk about 25 of our favourite movies from the 90s. This week you can’t handle the podcast, because it’s A Few Good Men.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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