Marvel Studios is on a roll with its Phase Four push into their multi-verse stories and, after the successful release of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his wonderful Variants, the comic book giant taps into the ‘What If…?’ comics to further expand explore alternate versions of canon story lines. First up, “Captain Carter”.
Uatu The Watcher, wonderfully brought to life by Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), is a celestial who’s assigned to watch Earth and its multiple versions but ” does not, can not, will not interfere.” with the natural order of things but will guide and pinpoint the moments that create the split from for the first episode we go to the first story in the cinematic timeline to ask what if Peggy Carter became the super soldier known as Captain Carter.
The scene is familiar; the crowd of scientist and military personnel, waiting to see the future happen under Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and further from the limelight stands Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) discussing the current events of the war. It is then that you get hints of the subtle differences in story line: Paris fell and London is soon to be next, the stakes were higher for Carter and it gave her story a bit more weight, but the real split didn’t occur until Carter stayed on the floor instead of going to the booth to watch.
This decision causes Heinz Kruger to attack before they injected Steve with the serum who, after getting shot while trying to stop Kruger, is now unfit to go through the transformation. Peggy, not wanting to lose the chance to have an edge in ending the war, takes Steve’s place and successfully completes the experiment – much to Colonel Flynn’s (Bradley Whitford) dismay.
Around here is where “Captain Carter” skims a fine line. This alternate reality highlights Carter’s struggle of not only being the world’s first super soldier for the Allies, but a woman with the capability to fight the entire war by herself and end it. With this world keeping the traditions of our own, Colonel Flynn viewed Carter’s actions as a failure, as this wasn’t the outcome or the type of soldier he wanted. This is an interesting choice for conflict motivation because women’s participation in war efforts and fighting was at a high during WWII in our universe. It could be the same in they could have highlighted this one to more than Carter taking on the helm.
But just like using Steve’s ‘Skinny-Brooklyn-kid-gets-yoked-to-stop-global-bullies’ narrative to boost the underdogs, the writers took Carter’s first introduction in the movie as the main struggle of how women fight to have the chance to do the same things as men while asking to be respected enough to be left alone to do it. The message lost the nuances of the micro-aggressions that are experienced in favor of the heavy-handed verbal reminder.
This, along with the narrative being a near blow-by-blow account of Captain America: The First Avenger movie, underplayed it’s potential. When watching, I couldn’t shake the thought that the story still belonged to Rogers because his constant presence gave little room for Carter to break out and make it her own, something that I hope will change as they release more episodes.
Now I know that the 30-minute format didn’t help, but despite the limitations, it was exciting to see what this series brought to the table. A majority of the original actors voiced their characters and it felt like a reunion. I even forgot that pre-Winter Soldier Bucky was outgoing and a slight joker. It was nice seeing this version again, and it made me appreciate his, and other character’s, journey so far.
The animation of this series is top notch. From the fluidity of the characters to the mood of the background, Marvel is building their own style, and it looks good on them. I love how they set up the fighting, and the best was Carter’s version of the U.S.O. Tour, a montage of her fully into her fighting power and in the field (and air) making a difference. Luckily, there will be more of this as What If…? continues and Marvel opens up a small scale animation studio.
The ‘What If’ stories in the mid ’80s – ’90s were my favorite because it gave permission for the Marvel team, and readers, to be daring and come up with interesting struggles for characters. Unfortunately, even if knowing the time format, the pilot episode kept it safe by not straying too far away from MCU cannon and I think it may have lost its moment to open up and really test the engine on what you could do with infinite stories and infinite possibilities.
So “Captain Carter” might not have been a favorite, but I enjoyed the story and what they attempted to do with it. Also, I will not lie; I’m excited for all of it and can’t wait to see what else they have in store for the rest of the season.
You can stream the first episode of What If…? on Disney+ and new episodes air Wednesdays.
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