Marvel’s Agent Carter Review: Two Hour Special Premiere

It’s about time.

That’s the first thing that should be said about Marvel’s first female-lead project. Sure, a Captain Marvel film is on the horizon, but at the moment Agent Peggy Carter stands alone as the lone leading lady in Marvel’s extensive repertoire. The best part is, she totally shines in the spotlight.

AgentCARTER

Agent Carter kicks off with a pretty sizable bang. Both of those are totally puns because it’s a two hour special premier and it’s all about bombs. Go me.

“Pilot”, the first half of the two hour premiere does what just about every television pilot in history has ever done. We get a solid sense of Agent Carter’s role in the post-WWII Strategic Science Reserve; those who have seen the one-shot film (also titled Agent Carter) will be familiar with the setup. Carter is disrespected and overlooked as a woman in a man’s game. The SSR is dominated by the manly men of the 1940’s, and most of them see Carter as little more than Captain America’s old flame. Chad Michael Murray, Shea Whigham and Kyle Bornheimer play three of the worst offenders, SSR field agents who treat her as little more than a secretary who they can dump their tedious paperwork on. Enver Gjokaj plays Sousa, an agent with a missing leg from war injuries and a softer heart. It’s nice to see the show treat men as more than just sexist pigs, but at the same time I’m glad that Sousa isn’t always on Carter’s side. Throughout both episodes she plays him here and there to protect herself. More on that in a bit.

Rounding out the rest of the major cast members are Howard Stark, portrayed by a returning Dominic Cooper, and his butler Edwin Jarvis, played to perfection by James D’ Arcy. Stark appears briefly to give Carter her main objective that will likely carry her through the remainder of the season: find all of his secret, dangerous inventions that were stolen and are now being sold to the highest bidder. Stark disappears into the night to go on a search of his own, but leaves behind Jarvis to aide Carter in any way he can. Jarvis is the true important player here. He accompanies Carter throughout the remainder of the two hours and it appears he will be by her side for the remainder of her mission. And of course, Iron Man fans will take delight in realizing Tony Stark’s AI butler JARVIS is actually based on a real butler. But of course, comic fans merely scoffed; they already knew of course.

 

Jarvis from the comics, only slightly different from the one we see in the show.

Jarvis from the comics, only slightly different from the one we see in the show.

So this setup, brief yet effective is all we need to set the series in motion. Carter, restricted at the SSR purely by gender, must take on a secret mission to clear the name of the man her very own agency is pursuing. This double agent intrigue adds a nice and necessary layer to Agent Carter that prevents it from feeling like a 1940’s carbon copy of Marvel’s other big spy show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Granted, the show essentially is a detailing of the early days of a S.H.I.E.L.D. precursor agency, but Agent Carter has its own distinct feel.

The action of “Pilot” gets going pretty quickly once Carter has her mission. She ducks her SSR bosses while performing some pretty nifty spy craft of her own. The nightclub scene was well done with a nice mix of tension, humor, action and even a little “ooh, that’s a cool gadget” that every good spy show needs. I personally got quite a kick out of the “sweet dreams” lipstick. This scene also expertly walked the fine line of making sure that you know that star Hayley Atwell is sexy, but also badass.

The trio of Murray, Whigham and Bornheimer as Carter’s SSR bosses were firmly established as the hound constantly nipping at Carter’s heels as she stays one step ahead of them on her secret mission. I’m hoping there is some room for growth for these characters though. It would be a shame to waste three pretty solid actors on roles that make them out to be pretty crappy guys. Murray’s Thompson may be the least arrogant and disrespectful of the three, but even he just comes off like a jerk in most scenes. At the same time, I truly don’t want these three all of the sudden coming to the realization that Carter is an incredibly skilled agent and fully accepting her. There is a fine line there, but I think this show has a pretty good chance of getting it right.

The person most responsible for laughs in the first two episodes was D’ Arcy’s Jarvis. His buttoned-up, yet devoted butler is the perfect foil against the tough-as-nails Carter. At the same time, he is also there for all of the biggest scenes in the premiere, barely escaping the catastrophic implosions caused by Stark’s invention with Carter. It seems that, for lack of a better analogy, Jarvis will serve as Carter’s Alfred. The voice of sarcasm, reason and occasional dry humor. The show hints here and there that Jarvis is hiding something from Carter on behalf of Stark. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in future episodes.

The biggest bit of world-building done in this episode was the establishment of Leviathan. The duo of mute thief/assassins was an interesting introduction to this shadowy organization/thing. We didn’t really get much of a sense of what Leviathan could be, but in the second part of the premier titled “Bridges and Tunnels” we do get a sense that they are something to fear. So of course, we have some shadowy, frightening thing with a bevy of creepy killers at its behest. Pretty much par for the spy story course. Let’s hope Agent Carter can avoid the mistakes that Agents of SHIELD made in its first season and let us in some of its big secrets a little earlier in the story. Sometimes its just no fun having to wait until the last episode to get all of the answers.

peggy carter

Either way, I really enjoyed Agent Carter‘s premiere; it was the perfect mix of humor, period-piece, suspense and action. Hayley Atwell continues to shine as Peggy Carter and I don’t see that ever changing. Marvel has done a good job at picking actors who perfectly embody a role. Hayley Atwell just seems to be another one who falls into this group. I would like to see some more growth out of the SSR side of Carter’s life, rather than just a hindrance on her late night spy work, but that’s just nitpicking. The show has only just begun and already has a pretty solid momentum heading into its next week. I’ll admit, I’m already looking forward to it.

Cody Seymour

Creator of NerdSpeak. Writer, filmmaker, nerd and lover of good food.

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