One of the treats of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the manner in which creators have portrayed its intricate design through various settings and perspectives. Such is the case with Marvel’s most recent television series, “Agent Carter.”
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It’s 1946 New York City and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) is picking up the pieces of her life following the end of World War II and the loss of Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans, “Snowpiercer”). But the show is more than just a “Captain America” spin-off. Creators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (“The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”) bring the sly political commentary that made “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” such a hit. The duo write a solid pilot, albeit one that is somewhat safe, before they give the reins over to the more-than-capable show-runners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas (“Reaper”).
Whereas “Winter Soldier” was a paranoid political thriller and “First Avenger” a nostalgic pulp swashbuckler, “Agent Carter” finds itself somewhere in the middle. In the pilot, inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, “My Week With Marilyn”) is accused of treason and branded a fugitive. He enlists the help of Carter to use her connections with the Strategic Science Reserve to clear his name and bring those responsible to justice. As Carter evades her male superiors, she stumbles upon a secret organization called “Leviathan” which may or may not be stealing Stark’s weapons and selling them on the black market.
The revelation of a secret organization with an ominous name might not be the most original move, but it does clue comic fans in on the potential thematic path of the series. In the comics, Leviathan is an organization that stems from Stalinism in the same way Hydra stems from Nazism. Though it’s too early to say for certain if “Agent Carter” will be the MCU’s take on McCarthyism, it would make sense given Marvel’s love of “pop with purpose.”
A lot of the heart in “Agent Carter” is thanks to its lead, Hayley Atwell. The pilot has plenty of gunshots, punches and supernatural craziness, but it also features Atwell’s confident and soulful performance. If some found Peggy in “First Avenger” as just another beautiful love-interest, “Agent Carter” smashes that notion with a roundhouse kick to the face. She balances action chops, wit and a tragic sense of loss with subtlety and charm.
Though Atwell is great, some of the cast in the pilot feel a bit underused. Shea Whigham (“Boardwalk Empire”) is a little shallow as Carter’s sexist supervisor — a shame given the actor’s spectacular resume. Nightclub owner Spider Raymond (Andre Royo, “The Wire”) was killed off early in, which was also disappointing. That being said, it was fascinating seeing Chad Michael Murray (“One Tree Hill”) embrace the sleaziness of his pretty boy image as Agent Jack Thompson. And it’s interesting to speculate where the show might take Enver Gjokaj (“Dollhouse”) as a well-meaning, wounded war-vet and fellow agent.
While the pilot of “Agent Carter” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Marvel has created an exciting action-adventure series that announces a brave new talent in Hayley Atwell. The upcoming “Daredevil” series might be Marvel’s bolder television property, but “Agent Carter” does a hell of a job proving that the House of Ideas can make mainstream hits outside the movie theater and still attract the best talent in entertainment.