I actually didn’t even read that many review of Agent Carter going into last night. I was starting to worry about getting my expectations raised too much. This, is seemed, was the most anticipated two hours of the year(at least until Age of Ultron). And it delivered.
In some ways it reminded me of the recent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: an action girl, a high-stakes plotline, mysterious enemies that perhaps have already identified themselves to those who read more comics than I do, and, most of all, a thrilling ride that keeps you on edge the entire time and leaves you are the end cursing and yelling that you have to wait a whole week to find out what happens next. And this is when, unlike with the show taking place in the present day, we know already that ultimately Peggy Carter is going to lead a full and successful life, which should lessen the suspense, but it doesn’t.
On the other hand, this is basically a one-woman show. There may be a few people around her, and among them there’s even James D’Arcy holding his own, but nobody else in the cast stands a chance against Haley Atwell, or against this well-done female lead they’ve developed for her to play, and the writers seem to have pretty much realized that, since they don’t even really give the other characters a chance to try. Indeed, they instead get subsumed into what is really her biggest co-star on this show: the society she’s living in that doesn’t want to allow for women like her, forcing her into a battle so fierce and continuous that really, taking on an unnaturally enchanced mook and potential charges of treason maybe doesn’t seem quite so intimidating after that. We see everything from the chauvinist Jack Thompson, to the well-meaning Daniel Sousa who still really doesn’t know what to do with a female colleague(though the show makes a statement when they make him the one who’s finding the vital address or key the other SSR guys need), to the uglier things like the treatment the automat waitress has to put up with from customers, to Peggy having to put up with everyone listening to a demeaning damsel-version of herself on pop radio, waiting for the superhero to come rescue her.
Even as the story in the premiere, at least, feels something like a traditional superhero tale with a female lead. We’ve got the tragic loss in the background, the mild-mannered secretary keeping her extracurricular activities secret, and her taking down bad guys with ridiculously good fighting skills, some cool gadgets, and a lot of smarts-the lack of literal superpowers don’t even mean much; plenty of superhero characters work without them. The angst of someone being killed because of her connection to our heroine and her balking at getting too near anyone else afterwards is also pretty classic stuff. Really, by the time she’s taking one man down with the radio show lines and sound effects contributing to the fight sequence, it feels half like a refutation of that show’s crying out for Captain America, and half a thought that, British or no, Peggy Carter herself might now be Captain America.
Except she shouldn’t really have to be the hero that somebody else was, and ultimately, she’s her own kind of hero. One who at this rate is going to rise to the top of the pile of high-quality Marvel leads. I feel a little sorry for Ant-Man getting himself advertised on her air-time; how is he going to match that?