One of the central themes for the Disney+ MCU series “Loki” has been the maintenance of a “Sacred Timeline” of events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as chronicled in the many films (and now series) of the franchise. As those who watched “Loki” know, that Sacred Timeline was “de-sanctified” at the end, giving rise to branching timelines with divergences from “canon” events. These alternative stories are the crux of the new (and animated) Disney+ MCU series: an anthology entitled “What If…?” Based on a similarly-titled Marvel Comics line positing “What-if” divergences to canon comic-book events, this series does the same to the MCU’s many movies.
Being an anthology means “What If…?” employs an element of classic anthologies, that being a host/presenter for the episode of the day. This show’s presenter is a cosmic being called The Watcher, a staple character for the Marvel “What If?” comics with the MCU version being voiced by Jeffrey Wright. As a starting point, the premiere “What If…?” story is the one first seen in the series’ original teaser, that of WWII-era SSR Agent Peggy Carter receiving the Super-Soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. Now we see it fully told.
“What If Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” demonstrates how the “event deviation” convention of “What If…?” will play out in every episode. It starts with the scene from 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” when Steve Rogers is strapped into the Super-Soldier chamber to receive the serum. The divergence happens when Agent Carter decides not to return to the upper observation booth and instead watch the procedure on the lab floor. This in turn leads to the other observers being allowed to come down too…including the assassin from Nazi Germany’s HYDRA Division, who carries out his sabotage early, killing the SSR’s military commander and top scientist before wounding Rogers and getting killed by Carter.
With the lead personnel dead and, subject injured and the Super-Soldier chamber losing power fast, Peggy volunteers to receive the serum and becomes taller, buffer and Super-Soldierly. Unfortunately the new SSR commander (from the “Marvel One-Shots” short films) is a misogynist suck-up who keeps her sidelined, where she vents her frustrations with a recovering Steve at her side. Fortunately, SSR’s main tech guy Howard Stark is sympathetic, helping her undertake an infiltration mission into Germany based on intel that HYDRA has stolen a supernatural power source from Norway: the Tesseract.
Dressed in a Union Jack-themed armored costume and wielding a similarly-colored Vibranium shield, the newly-minted Captain Carter secures the Tesseract and its HYDRA scientist minder, rescues the US Army unit with Rogers’ friend Bucky Barnes from a HYDRA POW Camp, and teams up with Steve who becomes the pilot for a Stark-built and Tesseract-powered mechanical armor nicknamed the HYDRA Stomper. But HYDRA’s leader Johann Schmidt/Red Skull has his own plans to ensure his organization’s ascendancy to world domination, and when Rogers is presumed killed in a top-secret mission gone wrong, can Captain Carter do as her Super-Soldier premise was advertised for: to end the war?
Visually, “What If…?” depicts the MCU as it has never been seen before. Its 3D animation with cel-shading is gorgeous and fluid, and remarkably violent with near-absent blood and gore. The series although makes good – mostly – on its promise to have the characters be reprised by the actual actors and actresses who portrayed them in the MCU: Hayley Atwell as Carter, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes. Steve Rogers however is voiced by veteran animation VA Josh Keaton (“Spectacular Spider-Man”), who does try to emulate Chris Evans’ voice very closely.
All in all the first episode of Marvel’s “What If…?” delivers solidly on the concept of alternate-timeline stories, seeing the MCU retold because of event deviations here and there. This anthology consists of eight more episodes following “Captain Carter,” with a second season of another nine episodes green-lit for development. This premiere both sets the overall show tone and stands well enough on its own, making “What If…?” a new MCU program to watch out for weekly on Disney+ streaming.
Image courtesy of The Direct