Following the delightfully offbeat WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the next Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) limited series exploring characters who have yet to star in a full movie of their own.
This time around it is Sam Wilson (the Falcon) and James “Bucky” Barnes (the Winter Soldier) as they are forced to team up and tackle new terrorist threat, The Flag Smashers.
We’re only getting a short six episodes this time but it is clear from the opening scenes that the budget has been splashed around when Wilson (Anthony Mackie) leaps out of a plane, unfurls his tech-wings, and engages in an explosion-laden aerial battle.
Yet on the flip side, our re-introduction to Bucky (Sebastian Stan) shows the over 100-year-old assassin in therapy, trying to come to terms with an identity not linked to murdering on demand or old friend Steve Rogers (aka Captain America).
First impression is that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has more DNA with the big screen Marvel output than WandaVision did. The obvious format is that of ‘buddy cop’ with movies such as Lethal Weapon and 48hrs as touchpoints.
The chemistry between Wilson and Barnes sparks nicely throughout; there is plenty of mileage for laughs in scenes such as when both are forced to look deeply into each other’s eyes during an impromptu counselling session. Their uncomfortable spikiness is instantly recognisable as the behaviour of men shoved together with nothing in common but a mutual friend.
The show is set 6 months after the events of Avengers: Endgame and the plot fuel burning through its engine is the political ramifications of that movie’s resolution of ‘the Blip’ (I’ll avoid spoilers whilst also assuming you are very likely to have seen Endgame and know what I’m talking about here).
Terrorist organisation The Flag Smashers believe that things were better during the Blip and want to return to open borders/lack of government/other general ‘terroristy’ things. Not much detail is given at first except to demonstrate that its members are superhuman strong, meaning that some of the problematic ‘Captain America’ formula must be moving around the black market somewhere.
Of course what we want these limited series for is not just a continuation of the MCU plotting but to get to deep dive into characters not otherwise given time of their own. In that respect, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has ups and downs. Barnes dealing with the trauma of being a one man murdering machine for the best part of 80 years is on the obvious side of things. Stan isn’t the most emotive performer so it will be up to the quality of his journey to see if this lands or not. So far he is best friends with an elderly gent who mourns for his missing son (I’ll give you three guesses as to who is responsible for that disappearance) which could have good dramatic legs later.
The more interesting facet is a tackling of the subject of race. Free from the ‘magical’ elements of Marvel’s cannon, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier instead deals with a grounded reality. We learn of at least one black superstrong soldier erased from the history books and cast aside, and it is only Wilson’s fame that gets him out of an encounter with police who view an irritated black man as a threat. Troubled with financial and family issues, Mackie brings an everyday personability to the show separate from comic book stylings.
Unlike WandaVision’s strict individual episodic approach, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels more like a chopped up movie narrative. The opening episode doesn’t even get its title stars in the same room and, unlike WandaVision, there is nothing visually distinctive setting this apart as a series. Fewer episodes leave little room to breathe, so whether the narrative can add enough depth remains to be seen.
However, the buddy/odd couple comedy clashes work well, and the subjects raised promise more social clout than any MCU movie (barring Black Panther) have touched upon to date. Wilson’s discomfort with taking up the Captain America mantle (only for the U.S. government to pluck a decorated, non-superhero, and white soldier for the job instead) opens up the possibility of comment on the face America shows to the world, and needs for itself.
With a likely very magical Loki coming up as the next Marvel / Disney Plus show, hopefully six episodes will be enough time for the grounded dramatic realism of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to spread its wings. Even at the very least you get comedy bickering for your money, and who doesn’t like that? And if you want an alternative ending, check out Marvel's animated series What If…?
Words by Mike Record