What If...? Season 2 Premiere Review: Captain Carter Gets Her Winter Soldier [Comic-Con]

Marvel Studios held its first ever animation panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year and, as anyone might expect, they brought down the house. Not only did we get glimpses of what's to come with "X-Men '97," "Spider-Man: Freshman Year," and "Marvel Zombies," but we also got a glimpse at the upcoming "What If...?" season 2, as well as the confirmation that a third season is on the way. To cap the whole thing off, those in attendance were treated to an entire episode from the show's sophomore season and, as it just so happens, I was one of those people filling one of those seats. I am here to tell you that the show is very much keeping up with the multiverse shenanigans and, in this premiere episode, will be tackling a classic storyline from a very unique vantage point.

I should caution that, to some, the very notion of a review this far in advance of a show's release could constitute spoilers to some degree. I'm certainly not going to spoil anything major about the episode but I will be discussing the plot, in broad terms, and things of that sort. So, for those who want to go into it completely clean next year, turn away now. Everyone else, let's talk about the return of Captain Carter and her emotional journey.

The Winter Soldier, revisited

The episode, which was introduced as "What If Captain Carter Fought the Hydra Stomper?" very much sets up an opportunity to revisit not just one of the most beloved Marvel Comics storylines of all time, but one of the best MCU movies to date, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Yes, as the title implies, Captain Carter is at the very center of this episode, just as she was the premiere episode of the show's first season, and her standalone episode is getting a sequel. In this case, she is getting the opportunity to go through a lot of what Steve Rogers went through in thinking his pal Bucky was dead, only to find out years later he was alive and, more than that, an agent of evil.

Naturally, there are some familiar beats, but the nature of Peggy Carter having to re-evaluate her relationship to Evil Steve years later changes things an awful lot. It's by no means a beat-for-beat retelling of what fans already know. Quite honestly, it's anything but that. Only in the most basic ways does this story resemble "The Winter Soldier." The folks at Marvel really committed to making this a multiverse tale by flipping everything on its head and throwing it all at the wall. We get to see key moments recontextualized through Captain Carter as opposed to Captain America, yes, but it's much more than just "the same but different."

One of the most satisfying things in all of the MCU was Steve and Peggy's relationship that culminated beautifully in "Avengers: Endgame." This episode allows us to revisit that relationship in a truly unique and radically different way. The love is still there and the hearts beat the same, but the vessels carrying those hearts around are markedly different. As such, even though this is a multiversal take on a familiar tale, it hardly feels familiar at all.

An overwhelming amount of Marvel madness

As for the execution of the story, it's a lot. We're talking about a tale that spanned many issues in the comics and made for a two-hour film. Here? We get less than 30 minutes to cram an awful lot in. Again, avoiding spoilers but it veers into some pretty unique directions and enters corners of the MCU that can best be described as unexpected. Mostly, this leads to a great deal of action, with Black Widow and others joining in on the madness.

The thing is, with so much to tell in so little time, it moves at a straight-up blistering pace. There is nothing worse than a movie or show that feels too long, but this is a jarring shift in the other direction, as one hardly has time to process a big moment before we're onto more explosions, more big reveals, or what have you. It's a lot. Along the way there is plenty of humor and some impressive action sequences. There is one particular sequence that has some "Stepford Wives" meets "Terminator" vibes that got me just right. But that paves the way for a finale that is so action-heavy and so busy that it's tough to settle in. Such is the nature of short-form storytelling.

In the end, this is a big story told in a small time frame, especially since the show is absolutely continuing the tradition of having something larger at play that will connect these disparate tales. Ultimately, the viewer is left feeling quite curious as to where this is all going. It's all connected, for better or for worse.

"What If...?" season 2 premieres in early 2023 on Disney+.