It’s Captain Carter to the rescue as Marvel Studios ventures further into alternate realities. What If…? is an animated series that brings the extraterrestrial Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) into the MCU. Known as Uatu in the comics, the Watcher observes historic events play out along different paths in the multiverse. The series premiere is a Captain America: The First Avenger redo. What If…? posits Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) taking the super soldier serum and not Steve Rogers.
What If…? opens in a familiar setting. Skinny Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton), surrounded by scientists, military brass, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), and Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci); gets ready to receive the super soldier serum and a blast of vita rays. But in this timeline, a chance realization and dastardly sabotage forces Peggy Carter to make a critical decision. Subject herself to the experiment or risk losing Erskine’s work forever.
Meanwhile in Scandinavia, Hydra’s Johann Schmidt (Ross Marquand) steals the infinitely powerful Tesseract. Howard Stark begs the sexist and arrogant Colonel Flynn (Bradley Whitford) to send the enhanced Agent Carter into action. She defies her superiors and moves against Hydra with Stark’s signature weapon, a Vibranium shield emblazoned with the Union Jack. Captain Carter’s heroics take the fight directly to Hydra. But the Red Skull isn’t easily outwitted. Hydra has a sinister plan for the Tesseract that will change the fate of mankind.
What If…? episode one jams the entire storyline of Captain America: The First Avenger into thirty ass-kicking minutes. Captain Carter’s adventures largely mirror Steve Rogers’ transformation. The characters switch places, but both have to continuously prove they belong in the fight. Peggy more so because of the sexual stereotypes of the time. They do team up, in an interesting way, to pummel Hydra and the Nazis. The fight scenes are beautifully animated. Every punch, kick, and explosion jumps off the screen. The characters are not overly intricate. They pretty much look and act like their live-action versions.
I have to admit noticing that Chris Evans doesn’t voice Steve Rogers. Hugo Weaving is also replaced as the Red Skull, but it’s not as apparent. Hearing Sebastian Stan as Bucky and Stanley Tucci as Erskine converse with another actor doing a Chris Evans impersonation feels strange. It’s a minor quibble. I love what the writers do with the “Skinny Steve Rogers” character. It’s just odd to have nearly everyone else reprising their voice roles except for the biggest star. Maybe that’s not such a negative. This is the Captain Carter story. She deserves to be front and center.
Episode one goes big on purpose. What If…? gives Peggy Carter her due, but also allows Steve Rogers another way to contribute to the beatdowns. There’s little nuance, but never a dull moment. Adults and children will be equally entertained by the premiere. It’s straightforward and cinematic by adhering closely to the film’s structure. More complex narratives are in store for later in the season. What If…? is produced by Marvel Studios and Flying Bark Productions. New episodes premiere every Wednesday exclusively on Disney+.