SPOILER-FREE REVIEW. "What Would Have Happened If "a single twist of events changed the Marvel history we know, is a concept that got its start in 1977 with the first issue of What If?. That issue asked the question "What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?", diverging from the events seen in The Amazing Spider-Man #1. What If? stories took events that Marvel fans were familiar with, made one decisive change, and played out how the story would unfold differently, in entertaining and unexpected ways. What If? only lasted for 47 issues, perhaps because the multiverse concept was ahead of its time.
But recently, with the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, and the official creation of the MCU Multiverse in the final episode of Loki, such alt-history/alt-universe stories have suddenly become much more relevant and tantalizing. Which, I am certain, is why Marvel had the foresight to invest in the animated series What If...?
As in the comic, our guide/narrator is known as The Watcher, one of a cosmic race of beings whose purpose is to observe and record events, but never to interfere. So far, The Watcher is depicted as an immense, ethereal silhouette, voiced by a perfectly cast Jeffrey (Westworld) Wright. Will we see him in the flesh, as we often did in the comics, and with other Watchers in an entertaining MCU movie end credits scene with (fellow Watcher?) Stan Lee?
The first installment, "What if...Captain Carter were The First Avenger?" envisions how the events of the first Captain America movie would have unfolded if Sharon Carter had received Dr. Erskine's super soldier serum and Vita-Rays pod treatment instead of Steve Rogers. The story was perhaps inspired by Exiles #3 (2018), featuring Peggy Carter as Captain America.
Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that many of the scenes and shots are direct references to those in Captain America: The First Avenger, and even much of the same dialogue is used, enhancing the parallel alt-uni tale.
The action scenes go to extremes that are much easier and less costly to construct in animation than in live action. A highlight is a battle montage set to lively 1940s Big Band music.
Captain Carter's uniform and Howard Stark-made shield are designed so flamboyantly with Union Jacks, that it makes you wonder why she wasn't dubbed Captain Britain. I was surprised at how good she was with the shield, so quickly, and it was fun to see how tickled she got with her new abilities. Eventually Carter adds a sword to her ensemble, reminding us of a certain Amazon.
The Peggy/Steve love story is still very much intact, but with the roles deliciously reversed. As in The First Avenger, there is the romantic promise of a Dance that may or may not happen.
As impressive as it was to hear that most of the cast of The First Avenger reprised their roles, it was disappointing not to hear Chris Evans' voice coming from his likeness. And no, that was not Hugo Weaving as the voice of the Red Skull, but Ross Marquand, the same actor and talented impressionist who fooled us by voicing the same role in Avengers: Endgame.
Most of the likenesses of the actors are spot-on, especially Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), seen above. However, I felt Sharon could have looked a lot more like Hayley Atwell, likewise Bucky/Sebastian Stan. The animation style itself is considered a bit controversial. It's a 3D technique made to look 2D. While it can be done very effectively if enough time and money is spent (see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse), here movements seemed jerky and awkward at times, people's faces were not as expressive as they could be, and mouths conforming to spoken words could have been more precise and thorough. But still, the level of sophistication and shading details far surpasses any animation seen on television to date.
As for the story itself, the main difference in events (besides Captain Carter) revolves around who has possession of the Tesseract, and what they do with it. When Howard Stark has it, he develops an interesting way to allow Steve Rogers to still make a difference in the war effort. When the Red Skull has it at the end of the tale, his horrific plan puts the fate of the entire world at stake.
In the What If? comic, the alt-journeys from established history were always different, but often the end results were the same. Perhaps this was a way of saying "History cannot be changed; certain key events will always happen." I will leave it to you to watch Episode One and see which way things go.
I was a huge fan of the What If? comic, and am looking forward to seeing the tales that follow. If the first episode is any indication, they will be fun and imaginative rides.
What If...?, a 9-episode series (with Season 2 already greenlit) airs Wednesdays on Disney Plus.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Exiles Vol. 3, #3 (2018) - Peggy Carter as Captain America