Sunday, January 3, 2016

'Peggy Carter' is the best of Marvel's one-shot films

Sometimes my timing of writing and posting a retro-review is dumb luck.

Having gotten "Iron Man 3" on Blue-ray for Christmas, I watched the extras not available on the DVD I had.

The best of the featurettes is "Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter," which at 13 minutes and 45 seconds of content, served as the impetus which led to the break-out, delightful ABC series of "Agent Carter." The critical and fan favorite wasn't just a one-shot wonder; the second "season" (which I assume like "Season 1" lasts six to 10 episodes) starts this month.


It's easy to see why the Walt Disney Co. (which owns ABC and Marvel) green-lit a series based on this one-shot — which is by far, the best of all the ones Marvel Studios has released. (The CCC review of the two-part pilot is here.)

Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter shines onscreen with the equally likable Chris Evans, best known for playing Captain America, who in my opinion has taken over from Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man/Tony Stark as the big star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever since the kick-ass "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (which for the record, is my favorite of all the Marvel films. In May, I ranked all of the studios' Phase I and II films; part one is here and for my top 5, click here. Let the heated discussion begin! Again …)

Captain America (Chris Evans) grabs a quick kiss from Agent Peggy Carter
(Hayley Atwell) before he confronts the Red Skull
in "Captain America: The First Avenger."
Fittingly, the one-shot starts with a clip from the end of "Captain America: The First Avenger" when Steve Rogers informs Carter he's made the decision to dump the Red Skull's bomb-filled ship into the North Pole. Cap will save millions of lives, but he knows it's at the cost of his own.

Atwell and Evans bring incredible gravitas to this tender scene, making it every bit as poignant as it should be without ever going saccharine. If this doesn't stir your emotions and have you consider reaching for a tissue, you need to have your blackened fanboy/fangirl soul checked out.

Atwell kicks plenty of ass in "Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter" — using her briefcase and an iron pipe as well as her fists. Beauty and brawn, classic good looks and carrying herself with class (and sass!) in the good ol' boys club of the post-World War II world, Carter is a tough combination.

Set one year after Cap/Rogers is assumed dead, "Agent Carter" places the main character in a pre-SHIELD office doing data analysis and code-breaking.

Carter tells her superior, Agent Flynn, she's been working there three months without an assignment and points out that "field work" is her forte. She's always overlooked to get out of the office, left to "polish up reports" and do analytical work in an eerily quick fashion.

As far as Flynn sees it, their higher-ups only have "kept on" Carter out of pity since she's "Captain America's flame." That chauvinistic attitude in the workplace is something the writers address in the series — to great insightfulness.

Just as in the Blu-ray one-shot, the "Agent Carter" TV series shines as the main character's go-get-'em personality often gets in her trouble when she's at her most impetuous — which naturally puts her in the heart of danger — but she more than knows how to take care of herself.

And just as she does in the series, Carter has verbal zingers ready for her chauvinistic co-workers. Her reply to Flynn's comment about her being useless is classic: "If they wanted to make me feel useful, they wouldn't have made me work with you." Take that, you stuffy bastard!

The gorgeous Peggy Carter isn't just a pretty face. Here she uses her compact
to check on the actions of her opponents, who are around the corner and down this aisle of boxes.
The only mild disconnect between the one-shot and Season 1 is Carter's place in SSR, the pre-SHIELD organization.

Stark's father, Howard (played with perfect, charismatic flair again by Dominic Cooper) informs Flynn that Carter now will be helping him lead SHIELD. So why by the time of the beginning of the series is our ultra-classy heroine still working in the same office, treated as nothing more than a "His Girl Friday" and a glorified secretary whose time in WWII is seen as a fluke? My guess is the creators had to hope there aren't fans like me who would notice such details. (While I'm on noticeable differences, I also noticed Atwell's hair is a bit longer and wavier than in the series …) 

Regardless, "Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter" is a treat. I enjoyed it so much I watched it twice. In the same night.

Director Louis D'Esposito (an executive producer in a host of Marvel Studios films, most notably the "Avengers," "Captain America" and "Iron Man" films) sets up the saucy Carter for success.

The subsequent series helped make the previously unknown Atwell something close to a household name. Like Princess Leia, the Peggy Carter character is yet another great model for female characters in the action genre. For me and countless other hot-blooded fanboys, Atwell is our newest heartthrob sex-symbol obsession — one of the classiest I've ever seen.

Grade: A

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