Agent Carter Premiere Review: Hayley Atwell Steals the Show in Yet Another Marvel Hit
Ok Marvel, this is starting to get boring now. Your constant string of successes are giving us very little to talk about. Sure, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had its ups and downs, but even that has become essential viewing. Then last night, you introduced me to Agent Carter and I fell in love within the first 10 minutes, not with Hayley Atwell (although she was fantastic) but with the show itself. From the first beautifully crafted shots of post-war New York City to the toe-tappingly infectious soundtrack to the witty one liners and comebacks delivered so brilliantly by Atwell's Peggy Carter, this show was both a surprise and a breath of fresh air.
Let's start with Hayley Atwell aka Peggy Carter. I simply don't have a bad word to say about her character or her performance, during which she expertly portrays every facet of her character's role in this show. And trust me, there are many, many facets to this role. On the one hand, Peggy is comfortable in her abilities and she knows she can more than handle herself in all situations, whether it be a physical dust up with a bad guy or a verbal spar with her misogynistic colleagues. However, she also knows that there's one battle she's not going to win: the fight against society's idea of what a woman of her age should be doing with her life. The scene in which she concedes to move into the women's only boarding house is testament to that fact. But the overriding feeling you have towards the show's protagonist is that this is a person who can own just about any personal encounter thrown at her, whether it be telling Jarvis to forget about his soufflé, or taking a simple shortcut to collar a criminal before her pig-headed male colleagues, Peggy comes out on top. Unfortunately, the show does try and cram in a few too many 'sock it to the men' lines to demonstrate this point, but Atwell commands the screen so well that they don't detract from the bigger picture.
But Peggy isn't all hard-nosed killer, she also displays a profound amount of emotion and sensitivity towards those who are close to her. When her roommate is killed after a tangle with the show's mysterious mute villain, Peggy's grief gives way to a sense that she cannot let the few people in her life that she truly cares about come to harm because of her work. The tenderness she displays towards these people, specifically Jarvis, Angie and Sousa, serves to add another layer to this refreshingly complex character.
Atwell's brilliance is complemented by one of the best supporting cast performances I've seen in a good long while. While Dominic Cooper's appearance as Howard Stark won most of the cheers on social media, it was the showings from the likes of James D'Arcy (Jarvis), Lyndsey Fonseca (Angie), Shea Whigham (Dooley), and Chad Michael Murray (Thompson) that deserved the plaudits for supporting Atwell. Maybe it's because I'm British, maybe it's because I watch Downton Abbey a couple of days ago, but James D'Arcy instantly wormed his way into my heart as the do-gooder, ever-so-proper butler, Jarvis. The banter between Peggy and Jarvis produced some of the show's best comic moments and it's testament to D'Arcy's performance just how attached I am to his character already. Whigham and Murray also excel with their roles as the casual antagonists/misogynists, and comparisons of the latter with Pete Campbell from Mad Men "but with better hair" seem pretty much spot on.
The production team also deserve their plaudits. In Agent Carter, they have created a world that's half Dick Tracy and half Marvel Superhero movie. I mentioned earlier the shots of post war New York and the music, which when combined with some excellent costume design create a bright, vibrant world you wouldn't normally expect to find on the small screen.
Finally, let's talk about the plot. Aside from the usual Marvel obsession with littering their products with Easter eggs, the Agent Carter story is shaping up to be a gripping one. Howard Stark has lost control of some of his most dangerous tech (which he refers to as his Bad Babies) and he's now being held responsible by the Government. Before he is forced to go into hiding, he recruits Peggy to help him clear his name and prevent any further catastrophe from being caused by his creations. The big bad is shaping up to be a shadowy organization known as Leviathan, and it's exact identity, origin and goal will likely be the show's biggest plot line. My one criticism would be the regular visits to the world of Captain America: The First Avenger. Yes, I understand that these two products are very much linked, but couldn't we just leave that as a given and not force our brilliant protagonist to pine for her fallen superhero?
If you're a Marvel fan or not, Agent Carter should absolutely be on your viewing list this winter. With just an 8 episode run, this show is set to be a frenetic adventure through some of Marvel's less-explored comic book lore, and as the comic book giant is wont to do, there are sure to be Easter Eggs and tie-ins from across the MCU and comic book canon. But the real reason you should be watching this is quite simply because Hayley Atwell is bloody brilliant.