Marvel’s What If…?: Series Premiere Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
Marvel’s beloved comic series, What If…?, takes on an animated form to remix the MCU timeline to offer some multiverse mayhem and answer each episodes tantalizing titular question.
After Loki basically got the ball rolling on taking the MCU into its next era, a Multiversal War, it seemed like Marvel was delivering the perfect follow-up with What If…? – based on the comic series of the same name that debuted back in 1977. Each story is presented by The Watcher (voiced by Jefferey Wright), a celestial entity that watches over alternate timelines, who delivers a peek into the Marvel multiverse to show how a well-known story can completely change with a single choice. With the MCU heading into the multiverse, What If…? presented the perfect opportunity to delve into remixed and reimagined stories that wouldn’t necessarily make its way onto the big screen.
Its premiere tale ponders the question “What if Captain Carter was the First Avenger?” A premiere centered around Peggy Carter (voiced by Hayley Atwell) donning the shield and becoming a super soldier isn’t a bad place to start considering the love fans have for the story from the comics and the character within the MCU. At first glance, it might seem like things wouldn’t be that different, but this premiere proves that that isn’t the case.
Peggy picking up the shield comes with an entirely new perspective on the character. Peggy was already considered rare for her time with how she held a position that most women couldn’t. However, after she becomes a super soldier when the iconic scene with Steve Rogers (here voiced by Josh Keaton) takes an explosive turn, she faces even more scrutiny. It’s an interesting perspective on how some men are aggressive in keeping women contained when they gain a little power as Peggy isn’t revered by her military colleagues in the same way that we know Steve is when he’s Cap. This is what really drives Peggy to take the Captain persona into her own, even sporting a Union Jack on the shield, and makes her relationship with Steve much more interesting as he views her as this larger than life hero.
Things don’t only just change for Peggy though. After she acquires the Tesseract from Hydra, Howard Stark (voiced by Dominic Cooper) uses it to power the first Iron Man suit that Steve works from inside to fight alongside Peggy in battle. The reveal of Steve as the Hydra Stomper, which is a really lame name in my opinion, and I’d like to rename it something like the “Iron American,” is undeniably epic and shows some of the creative alternatives this series can offer. There’s something really powerful about seeing a scrawny, skinny Steve control this massive machine and be the hero that he’s passionate about being. It’s even fun to see Peggy eventually follow in the same time-traveling steps as Steve and it opens up the possibility to see Captain Carter work with modern day Avengers – which would be awesome to see.
The Captain Carter premiere proves this series has plenty of potential, but it’s unfortunately marred by weak writing. The dialogue can be super clunky, especially with Bucky’s (voiced by Sebastian Stan) one liners and while it’s nice that most of the Captain America MCU cast returns, this voice work from Atwell and Stan isn’t their best. Their line delivery can be really awkward at times and although it may stink that Evans doesn’t return, Keaton is a more than suitable voice replacement. The overall story is also a little underwhelming since it shares a lot of the same plot beats of The First Avenger, but doesn’t carry the same heart, meaning, or depth. For the most part, it’s just a truncated version of The First Avenger that doesn’t explore the relationship between Steve and Peggy with the same heart or give its side characters and villains some memorable moments. It really feels like it’s relying heavily on fans’ adoration of these characters and this story rather than making them find new appreciation through a new perspective. Also, Red Skull (voiced by Ross Marquand) summoning a tentacle monster felt like a strange and forced choice that leads to an unremarkable finale.
What If…? needs to be as ambitious and inventive as the comics its based on and one area that it could do more with is its animation. The choice for going animated is one that made this series instantly stand out and offered the opportunity to bring these comic stories to life. While the animation does look nice and fitting for a modern, well-drawn comic book, it’s a little lifeless. Frankly, I was hoping for something livelier with the action sequences and for unique character designs, but the animation here is just fine and lacks a sense of ambition. Perhaps with stranger storylines, like Iron Man and Cap becoming zombies, the animation could be more unique or possibility entirely different, but it’s just kind of bland start.
Conceptually, Marvel’s What If…? shows its potential to deliver unique, Twilight Zone Marvel stories, but struggles to get past its weaknesses. There are definitely some cool story aspects that come from seeing Peggy become a super soldier and the events that follow as a result, but weak dialogue and story writing as well as a lack of ambition keeps this premiere adventure from being a marvelous trek into the Marvel multiverse.