What if the multiverse that now dominates the Marvel Cinematic Universe was an incredibly boring place where nothing much happened?
Well, you don’t have to ask that. It’s not. Especially now that the latest Disney+ show, What If …, is off and running.
Anything goes in What If …, it seems. Actually, judging by this first episode, everything and everyone could eventually be in the mix. For instance, Peggy Carter, a live action character, now appears in a transformational animated show. Perhaps her Captain Carter persona will emerge in the live action MCU at some point down the road. According to multiple sources at Marvel Studios, it’s all canon! FAH-bulous!!
Maybe someone like The Watcher is able keep track of all of this. For us ordinary mortals, not so much.
Introducing The Watcher
The Watcher is our guide to this new show’s format. He puts the “What” and the “If” into What If …
The Watcher’s monologue opens the show: “Time, space, reality … it’s more than a linear path. It’s a prism of endless possibility where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities, creating alternate worlds form the ones you know. I am the Watcher. I am your guide through these vast new realities. Follow me and ponder the question …,” but hey, why state the obvious? You know the question, right? It is NOT “Why is the sky blue …”
Recap of Old Cap & New Cap
In the original Captain America, The First Avenger, Steve Rogers, the ever redoubtable human quote machine (“I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from,” “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn,” and “I can do this all day …” to list but a few) receives Dr. Erskine’s super-soldier serum and single-handedly takes on Hydra and its leader, the Red Skull, to recover the Tesseract, (aka: the Cosmic Cube).
In the first episode of What If …, aptly titled, “What If … Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?,” the show’s creator, A.C. Bradley, explores what the world would have been like if Margaret “Peggy” Carter received the serum instead of “Skinny” Steve Rogers. Remember, the serum enhances the attributes that the recipient already has. If you’re good, you get better, as well as stronger. In the show, when Erskine asks Carter “… wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the booth?” she says, “No … I prefer to stay.”
The rest, as they say, is history … a new history. Uttering this simple four-word phrase causes the MCU to pinwheel off in a uniquely different direction. Carter remains in the action zone and the Hydra agent detonates a bomb before Steve Rogers can enter the transformation chamber. When Rogers is wounded by the Hydra agent he is no longer available to take the serum. Howard Stark shouts that the process has already begun and can’t be stopped. Carter steps in and undergoes the procedure. As the late, and very great, Stan Lee intoned numerous times, ‘Nuff said!
No Spoiler Alert
A la Captain America, this new “loaded for bear” Captain Carter kicks ass and takes names, and to flip a metaphor from the first Captain America movie, her dance card is full. The Red Skull is still the low-hanging Hydra fruit, but beyond this review cannot divulge anything more because it will NOT spoil the action for anyone who intends to watch the show. And understand, there could be spoilers galore. This thirty-three-minute debut episode has more twists and turns than San Francisco’s Lombard Street on pavement steroids. Don’t blink. You’ll miss something.
If You Fail To Plan …
… you plan to fail. Lucky for all of us, series creator, A.C. Bradley, planned successfully. This episode is so laden with action elements that it seems to hold a lot more than its slightly-longer-than-half-an-hour run time should allow. While the script basically follows the original Captain America movie, the What If … premise allows creator Bradley to lead all of us to certain conclusions, only to have the metaphorical rug pulled out from under us. That, mi amigos, is what a gifted creator/writer does. Even more so because we eagerly anticipate the rug being pulled and thoroughly enjoy it when that happens.
Animation for this episode, and evidently for the entire nine episode first season, is provided by Squeeze, Flying Bark Productions, and Blue Spirit, with Stephan Franck serving as the head of animation. Franck and his crew(s) deserve a heaping helping of praise. The action scenes are amazingly well developed, rigged, animated, and lit. Because this is animation, the hero characters can perform stunts that would seem ludicrous if they were done using live action and real actors. Not to mention that should she attempt to perform all these stunts, Hayley Atwell would throw both shoulders and at least two or three other anatomical parts out of joint every day during filming. Probably her stunt double would, too.
In addition, several montages of insanely dynamic static images pepper the episode, in some ways mimicking the original live-action feature film. Here is a two-shot slideshow demonstrating what this mean:
What, or Who, Do I Hear?
The talents of the voice artists help make this first episode a cut above. For starters, Jeffrey Wright is the voice of The Watcher. He gives the character an air of authority without going too much over the top. There is also room for the character and voice to grow, considering at some point The Watcher will need to do something more than simply watch. Just look at the comics. He never stays on the sideline forever!
Many of the original live-action MCU actors reprise their roles as animated characters. Hayley Atwell (Agent/Captain Carter), Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Stanley Tucci (Dr. Abraham Erskine), Bradley Whitford (Colonel John Flynn), Toby Jones (Emil Zola), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) sound great. You’d expect them to, since they are who they are supposed to be. The other supporting cast members are equally gifted. Ross Marquand is a very malevolent Red Skull, and Josh Keaton holds his own as the skinny version of Steve Rogers. Getting Chris Evans to reprise his role might have broken Disney’s piggy bank – and that’s one seriously huge piggy bank – but it wasn’t really necessary. This is, after all, Peggy Carter’s turn to occupy center stage.
No Need To Binge (Unless Ya Wanna)
Because each episode is self-contained, there is really no reason to torture yourself by holding out to watch it until the entire season is released. Of course, the pandemic has led to an entire cadre of viewers who are not content to do anything one episode at a time. And to them, let’s just say: don’t worry, be happy.
Regardless of what method you use, make sure to watch What If … You won’t regret it. You might want to even set up a Watcher party … get it? Watcher party! Yeah. It’s about time to close.
New episodes of What If … premiere each Wednesday on Disney+.
A second nine-episode season has already been ordered and is currently in production.
Hey, WHAT IF … everyone reading this would take a moment to leave a comment about what YOU thought of the episode. Everyone who leaves a note is significantly changing the multiverse potential of this article. So post away!!! If you comment, I will comment back. And so forth. And so forth.
* Source: YouTube – Marvel What IF Episode 1 Breakdown! Easter eggs & Captain Carter Captain America Callbacks