Review | Marvel’s What If…? (Episode 1)
Marvel’s What If…? is a breathtaking, fresh look at the legends we know and love; with beautifully rendered animation. The comics have come to life!
After the success of Loki, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is riding high right now. But just as the euphoria of Tom Hiddleston’s adventures is beginning to subside, Marvel Studios is back to tantalize us with What If…?, an all-new animated series that will challenge everything we know about the MCU. Forget about Steve Rogers becoming Captain America. Set aside T’Challa becoming King of Wakanda and prepare to embark on a journey into the bizarre. But can it live up to the expectation and deliver something truly unique and fresh the likes we have never seen before?
Absolutely. I mean, was there ever really any doubt? Kevin Feige and his amazing team have a knack for turning comic book paper into gold, and What If…? is THE FINEST demonstration of that. It is Marvel Comics coming to life with breathtaking animation, the finest voice cast in the universe, and the boldest storytelling possible.
A BOLD NEW CHAPTER
Now, although Disney was kind enough to send over the first three episodes of this new series, I will be focussing solely on Episode 1 for this review. My colleague, Thomas Storai has reviewed all three if you feel the need to gain a wider perspective. But for me, a detailed review of the debut episode is an absolute must. So come with me on a journey into the MCU’s past to meet a whole new hero. One that is destined to challenge the misogyny of the time and demonstrate that anyone can be a hero. It’s time to meet Captain Carter.
The story is relatively simple and it’s one we are all too familiar with. The Watcher, Jeffrey Wright tasks us with a fresh take on the MCU where the events of the past are changed by a simple question. What If…? things happened differently.
By now, we are all familiar with Peggy Carter’s monumental contributions to the MCU. Aside from being Steve Rogers’ inspiration and love interest, she is a highly decorated and driven Agent of Shield. In fact, she has saved the world many times over and has been an integral part of the fabric of the MCU. So imagine what she could do if she received Steve’s super-soldier serum instead of him! This is our entry point into What If…?
Before the procedure can take place, Steve is wounded leaving Peggy to take the serum in his place. Once altered, Peggy becomes Captain Carter. A symbol of freedom and justice. But the misogyny of her male superiors threatens to curtail her heroic acts before they even begin. Much in the same way as Steve Rogers, she is practically overlooked as a soldier and berated for being a female. This lights a fire under our unconquerable hero, and she sets out to change these perceptions and become one of the earth’s mightiest heroes in Steve’s stead. The story unfolds with Carter going rogue (with Howard Stark) and going behind enemy lines to save Bucky Barnes. Once liberated, Carter, Bucky, and his squad return home to find Steve in recovery and itching to get back in the fight.
Always eager to be a little rebellious, Howard Stark (once again voiced by Dominic Cooper) creates the first “Iron Man” suit, which he aptly names the Hydra Stomper. What follows is a retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger with Peggy Carter leading the charge accompanied by Steve Rogers’ indestructible Hydra Stomper.
A MULTIVERSE OF POSSIBILITIES
Whereas other entities would view an animated series as non-relevant entertainment, the MCU goes the extra mile to make it UNMISSABLE. The series takes a fresh approach to familiar events and turns the MCU on its head. In a good way! With The Watcher taking us by the hand we are thrown into the MCU’s version of The Twilight Zone. And it works. Clocking in at a compact 32 minutes, the episode flies by at breathtaking speed. And in the finest possible way, leaves you wanting more, and I am grateful that we will be seeing Captain Carter again in future episodes.
The brilliance of this series hinges on the quality of its animation, and I am delighted to confirm that Marvel has nailed the landing. The animation used for this series is sensational, and the highest compliment I can pay is that it feels as if the classic comics have leaped off the page and come to life. Disney has always been a pioneer in the field of animation, and this, coupled with Marvel’s larger-than-life adventures has delivered something truly memorable. Every scene is a treat for the eyes. And although the episode takes place in wartime; the tones and textures being used bring an unexpected sparkle to one of the darkest times in our history.
As expected, Marvel is bringing its A-Game when it comes to its talent roster. Sebastian Stan reprises his role as Bucky Barnes; Dominic Cooper returns as Howard Stark; Stanley Tucci returns as Abraham Erskine; Neal McDonough pops up as Dum Dum Dugan, and Toby Jones adds new depth to Arnim Zola. But the shining star of the episode is Hayley Atwell. Despite taking place in an animated arena, Atwell somehow manages to add a new level of depth to Peggy Carter. And the character thrives with this new lease of life. Moreover, she is having more fun than we’ve ever seen before, and this is reflected in Atwell’s performance.
You can literally hear the joy and enthusiasm in her voice, and the performance is infectious. Thankfully, Marvel has already confirmed that Captain Carter will be popping a lot more in future episodes, and that is to our advantage. This bold new direction coupled with Hayley Atwell’s alluring performance is more than enough to warrant revisiting this character. And I cannot wait to see what new adventures await us moving forward.
Given that What If…? is the first Marvel animated series to hit Disney Plus, some fans may have lowered their expectations. But believe me, when I say this is an ERROR. This series deserves to take its place amongst its counterparts playing on the big screen. And the highest compliment I can pay is that it genuinely feels like a big-screen production – albeit on the small screen. Marvel fans young and old are going to adore this bold new chapter. One that we can take pleasure in fleshing out and adding some well-deserved depth to the characters we know and love.
Head writer A.C. Bradley and series director Bryan Andrews have set their stall out early to deliver a truly noteworthy take on the events of the MCU. And judging by the strength of the first episode they have easily exceeded those expectations and then some.
The first episode of this bold new series is a visual treat, a polarizing exploration of the characters we all love, and an absolute blast. One that fans will take pleasure in immersing themselves in. If this is a sample of what awaits us then get ready for one helluva rollercoaster ride. This version of the MCU may be a dark and twisted multiverse, but when comic books come to life like this, we can venture forth safe in the knowledge that we are taking our first steps into a larger world…and a very special series.
Marvel’s What If…? will release exclusively on Disney Plus from tomorrow.
Our episodic reviews will be coming thick and fast. So be sure to check back regularly and never miss a single review.
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Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!