‘What If…?’ is Marvel Studios first major attempt at doing something different with their brand. For there first foray into animation they have taken a decades old idea from the comics and given it a MCU spin. The concept is simple, take a story that everyone loves and pose the question “What if?” you were to change just one aspect and then see how it all plays out with everything being narrated by Jeffrey Wright’s The Watcher. With the climax of ‘Loki’ blowing the doors of the Marvel multiverse there is now the opportunity to tell these stories and for there to be some weight to them as now anything is possible in the MCU.
First up is a tale that switches out Steve Rogers for Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell reprising her role) as the recipient of the super-soldier serum. We go into ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ just before Steve is about to enter the chamber to be transformer and the “What If?” moment comes when Peggy decides to stay on the floor to see it happen rather than watch it from the safety of the booth. This flips everything on it’s head as her presence triggers the Hydra terrorist attack to happen earlier than it did in the film resulting in Steve being shot and incapacitated. The super-soldier transformation process had been activated by Howard Stark and someone needs to take it or all the research will be lost so Peggy, being the closest military personnel to the chamber, climbs in and is injected with the serum and emerges as an Amazonian-esque warrior.
Of course, as you would expect from the time period, her superior is not to happy about a woman being the sole recipient of the only batch of serum and the face of the Allied forces. Before this episode was released Marvel Studios dropped one of their ‘Legends’ spots on Disney+ that focus on Agent Carter but it didn’t contain any footage from for short lived TV series. This led to the assumption that Marvel Studios where ignoring any Marvel content that hadn’t been produced by themselves from this point onwards. This is more or less confirmed here as Peggy’s commanding officer is Colonel Flynn with Bradley Whitford voicing the role he played in the Marvel Studios’ produced ‘Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter’ linking this episode to their material rather than that created by the now defunct Marvel Television.
The basics of the episode follow the key plot points of ‘The First Avenger’. The Red Skull is still the villain (voiced by Ross Marquand who played the role in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and ‘Avengers: Endgame’) and the race against time to capture the Tesseract. Captain Carter, with a suit and shield provided to her by Stark behind Flynn’s back, proves far more effective at the task than Steve Rogers was and quickly she Tesseract in Allied hands. Howard Stark uses this to create a MK1 Iron Man suit which he gives to an unpowered Steve Rogers and then Peggy and Steve team up to go and save Bucky which lines the episode up with the film again.
We then get to the sequence from the film where the team zip wire onto a moving train to try and catch the Red Skull. This time it is Peggy leading Bucky and the Howling Commandos but Steve is still involved and flies in wearing the Iron Man suit. He busts his way onto the train and it is revealed to be a trap resulting in Steve being the one who ends up missing, presumed dead instead of Bucky.
Peggy finds out the location of the Red Skull’s secret castle base and sees an opportunity to end Hydra’s reign of terror and leads the Howling Commandos and Howard Stark an assault. While they are attacking, the Red Skull has managed to re-acquire the Tesseract and is using it to open a portal and summon an interdimensional beast to conquer or destroy the world. Peggy’s team split up to search the castle with Peggy and Howard going upstairs and Bucky and The Howling Commandos venturing into the basement. Peggy finds the Red Skull trying to unleash a Cthulhu-esque monster, all tentacles and teath, on the world and Bucky discovers Steve still alive. The monster is to powerful to be controlled, amusingly crushes Red Skull as its first act, and Peggy and Iron Man Steve have to fight back while Howard tries to reverse the polarity on the portal gate. Armed with a sword and shield Peggy forces the monster back but only at the expense of being sucked into the portal herself. When she emerges she is in the room from the start of ‘The Avengers’, where Loki is summoned by the Tesseract, and she is confronted by Nick Fury and Hawkeye. She may have helped win the war but she is now seventy years in the future.
While the animation looks amazing and stylised and having the majority of the live action actors provide the voices prevents it sounding jarring, the story in this first episode was lacking. It basically beat for beat retells ‘The First Avenger’ and doesn’t take any major risks with maybe too many winks at the camera when they have changed something. Also, some of the imagery looked very similar to other superhero iconography that is around at the moment. Captain Carter flying with Steve in his armour looked very similar to DC’s ‘Stargirl’ and the sight of Peggy wielding a sword and shield had major ‘Wonder Woman’ vibes to it.
While it was a good first taste of the ‘What If…?’ concept to a wider audience its up being a bit vanilla when you consider that the possibilities are endless.