What If…? (2021) s01e01 – What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?

One of the joys of an old What If comic was seeing how the epilogue played out. Spider-Man ends up with eight arms and eating New York, whatever. The show’s apparently not going to do interesting epilogues because they want to bring in big-name guest stars from the major properties.

So instead of Hayley Atwell getting a character arc as she gets to imagine her Captain America part being more than “the girl with asterisks”—though the story still centers on Steve Rogers—it’s just a rehash of that movie. There’s a second-act twist—Atwell’s Captain Carter (not Britain?) gets the magic MacGuffin away from the bad guys—but they just get it back in time for the Cthulhu-inspired finale. Which takes place in an evil Disney tower. Captain America: The First Avenger was before the Disney deal and before Kevin Fiege cut out the Marvel Comics brain trust slash penny pinchers, so this “What If” is also some insight into what they’d do differently today.

Instead of laser zappers so there’s no blood, the Hydra agents have regular guns, but there’s still no blood because they’re Captain Carter fodder. And the Black guy in the Howling Commandos isn’t as present or visible.

And then there’s the voice casting. First off, Jeffrey Wright’s lousy as the Watcher. I’m not sure what the Watcher is supposed to sound like (I imagine helium voice because it’s funny), but Wright’s ostensibly in the Orson Welles or James Earl Jones vein. Forget Rebel Alliance and traitors, Wright can’t even muster whirled peas. Thankfully he doesn’t narrate the whole episode.

But then there’s the regular cast. Since Steve Rogers is still a main character and Atwell showed for all Chris Evans’s outings, maybe he’ll show up for her? Nope, can’t literally phone in a performance (versus metaphorically phoning in a performance like Bradley Whitford or Sebastian Stan). Atwell’s fine. Josh Keaton—filling in for Evans—is mostly acceptable. The dialogue’s not great, neither is the sound editing, but there are occasional flashes of inspiration. One of the Nazis Atwell punches out makes a Disney villain punch-out face, for example.

And the Nazi Disney castle.

Disney+ is targeting fewer quadrants with “What If,” so they’re doing it on the cheap. It’s not just the animation, they’re not even willing to pay for graphics for the end titles. I guess it’s interesting to see return-on-investment realities hit the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Disney pays for less and less, but… damn, isn't the real question–what if Marvel did right by its long-time female stars?

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