Captain America debuted in Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The First Avenger back in summer of 2011, bringing to a new generation of fans a new look at one of Marvel’s greatest heroes and also a new look at HYDRA and the Red Skull, two villainous mainstays of Marvel’s villains line-up. It was a decent movie, though it had some pacing and acting issues that prevented it from being really good. And in all of that, there was one character who rather flew under the radar so to speak, Agent Peggy Carter. In the last year or so she has taken on an entirely new dimension and Haley Atwell has become the first female Marvel actor to get her own live-action story in the form of Agent Carter.
Set in the years since the end of the Second World War, the new show is a prequel to Agents of SHIELD, though the time-gap separating the two of them is something like 70 years or thereabouts. A lot has changed since then, and as the first episode of the two-hour special premiere started, it was apparent that we were definitely not in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has been developed over the last decade or so. Agent Carter has a very distinctive feel to it and though it is starting off as a decent procedural and is often riddled with tropes of the noir-era, it also has a great charm to it, not to mention that Haley Atwell and James D’Arcy are absolutely superb in their roles as Agent Carter and Edwin Jarvis, the latter being the butler to Tony Stark’s father Howard Stark. Great potential here.
In the weeks and months following the end of the war, times are a-changing for Peggy Carter in New York. The men are returning from the war and everywhere there is a rush of new hires as employers let go of their female employees in favour of the war-heroes, jumping on the crazy band-wagon. And in all of this, we see that Peggy Carter is pretty much the only woman of note at her offices, Strategic Science Reserve, the pre-cursor to SHIELD. And as such, given her war-record and her involvement with Project Rebirth, Howard Stark and Captain America, she finds herself in prime position to set the tone of SSR’s new mission.
By serving coffee to her peers and superiors.
Not a good time for the hero, as we come to see, because she is often ignored (at best) and denigrated (at worst) by those she works with. Frustrating to be sure, but also a good setting in which to have the character absolutely thrive since she is pretty much the antithesis of what the men around her expect to be like, whether we talk about those who see her as little more than an ornament in the SSR offices or those who do side with her for chivalric reasons.
And I gotta say that the first two episodes are one hell of a ride in that respect. Haley Atwell is pretty damn magnificent in every scene she is in. You could even say that she steals every scene she is in. She is a phenomenal actor and it seems that her time on Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter One-Shot were her just getting warmed up for the big leagues of headlining her own show. She has debuted before as Agent Carter on Agents of SHIELD in that show’s second season, all to build up the steam for her own show, and I gotta say that the show is well worth the wait, by far.
The first two episodes are a short-arc about her trying to clear Howard Stark’s name in the political circles at Washington and New York. Some of his inventions have been, apparently, stolen and put on the black market and thus he is under fire from all angles to prove his innocence or accept his guilt. And so the genius father of genius Tony Stark gets his old war-time friend Peggy Carter of SSR to covertly help him clear his name and he puts his butler Jarvis at her service, for anything she might need.
Of course, the whole thing isn’t over by the second hour of the two-hour premiere special, but we do get to see the resolution to one of the inventions, a significantly power explosive that can redefine the world as nuclear bombs redefined the worlds. A very interesting concept, certainly, and I think that the show’s executive producers and the writers are definitely on the right track here.
They are all able to draw in various elements of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe together to show how it all narratively got started after the end of the Second World War. The characterization of Peggy Carter and Haley Atwell’s acting definitely lend themselves well to the overall premise, making Agent Carter one of the most fun new shows of recent history, let alone comic book shows. And I do have to say that the first two hours of Agent Carter are infinitely better than almost two-thirds of Agents of SHIELD’s debut season, and more than a match for most of the show’s second season, which is saying something since the show has definitely upped its game in the 2014-15 season.
Dominic Cooper, who plays Howard Stark, can often be very over the top and lays it on really thick with the whole playboy and eccentric inventor thing he’s got going for him, so it is with thanks that he appears so very little on the show. He is also mentioned as being a recurring character only, rather than as part of the main cast, which is all well and good since it allows the creators to occasionally tap him for something really big, as is the case in this episode.
James D’Arcy has Edwin Jarvis is quite hilarious at times and it is fun to see him dealing with the chaos that Peggy Carter has brought into his life. He is a creature of habit, Jarvis is, and these two episodes really emphasize that. Plus his chemistry with Haley Atwell is superb and it really does feel like that these two are the best of allies in service to a common man.
The supporting cast of villains and potential allies is pretty interesting too, and I think that as this short-lived show (only 8 episodes confirmed to date for the first season) goes on, it is going to get even better, and will be further made or broken in the sense of the supporting cast.
For now though, with great characters, great actors, great story, and great everything else, Agent Carter got off to an awesome start with its debut, and I hope that the tempo never slows down. In Agent Peggy Carter, we have one of the most badass of all female characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!