Thanos may be gone, but the world is still adjusting to an uncertain future without Captain America. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) are dealing with the loss of their best friend while enduring a mid-life crisis. When a new terrorist group known as the flag smashers starts hatching a new world order, Sam and Bucky are forced to team up with Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) from Civil War, who’s still seeking to enact his vengeance on the super heroes.
Coming off the heels of WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier continues phase four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney Plus. All the conspiracy theories and predictions can be put to rest since this is closer to what the franchise is known for: a sandwich of stellar action and character chemistry. This initially took the form of a buddy cop series, but thankfully it goes in a more unpredictable direction, dealing with trying to make ends meet after being gone for five years. Sam may be a super hero, but even he has to deal with institutional discrimination when bankers simultaneously refuse to give him a loan while asking for selfies. Bucky has been pardoned, but experiences nightmares from his Winter Soldier days while adjusting to a world a hundred years from his time period without Steve. Both leads play it completely straight and know how to carry a scene by themselves and together when forced into a complicated situation.
This includes all the action sequences displaying their full potential between the aerial shots and hand-to-hand combat. Falcon’s opening mission alone is worth a subscription as the camera takes its viewers on the zoom equivalent of a roller-coaster ride, dodging missiles and blocking bullets with his wings. What’s even more powerful are the strong cliffhangers that leave you with so many questions. From this point on, we’re diving into spoiler territory. So if you haven’t seen this series yet, stop right here and go check it out on Disney Plus. Otherwise, lets get into the nitty gritty:
In the first episode, Sam toils with the idea of living up to Steve’s legacy, but ultimately gives the government the shield. Because of course the government is trustworthy after Civil War (sarcasm). Even Bucky knows this as shortly after a terrorist attack, a random person on the street is named the new Captain America. One John Walker (Wyatt Russel) is given the outfit, the shield, and a strike team that includes his brother in arms, Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett). Revisiting the series with all episodes available, he’s the most developed character trying to reason with Sam and Bucky on working together. Russel knows how to channel the two sides of this newcomer: the half that’s nervous about the pressure attached to the title, and the half that lets the power go to his head. The descent into justifying his questionable actions is believable, and he has one of the most memorable moments in the series following the death of his best friend:
The pacing however doesn’t pinpoint where these moments begin, making his redemption ark feel out of left-field without resolving the anti-hero angle that made him an interesting contrast to Steve Rogers. As of the ending, we know that he has consumed the last super soldier serum and has adopted the new name U.S. Agent. It’s just that he was a better anti-hero than a superhero with everything he had to endure, but who knows where his new title will take him.
And once again, the internet has forgotten how to separate a character from their performer as Russel received death threats from fans for doing too good of a job in making us despise this complex human being. It’s only been half a year since Laura Bailey endured the same situation with The Last of Us Part 2, and even longer since Kelly Marie Tran dealt with fan toxicity from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Can the internet, for once, learn to let go of fiction and bring itself back to reality without this negativity? This is gone on one too many times to excuse any longer. It paints fandoms in a bad light by encouraging this continuously cancerous consequence when studios are doing their best to bring beloved characters to the screen. It was only a decade ago when no amount of outcry would change how Deadpool looked in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Consider what we get nowadays as being spoiled.
The other great character is Zemo even before Marvel released a one hour video of him dancing. Previously the antagonist in Captain America: Civil War, he is recruited by Bucky and Sam to help stop the flag smashers, for a few favors in return. While he was out of place during the playoffs of Team Iron Man and Team Captain America, he’s a much more fitting obstacle here: calculating, philosophical, vengeful, and level headed in tense situations. Yet there’s an air of unpredictability surrounding him, like when Sam and Bucky let their guard down allowing him to kill the scientist behind the super soldier serum. There’s a lot more explored with him, even if it’s more in words than visuals. He’s apparently rich, can speak several languages, and is diplomatically cunning with children. Sadly the iconic mask is only here for trailer footage. Although near the end, he is taken into custody by another cameo that have been hunting him ever since he escaped prison. Not the expected ending given his history with Bucky, but it’s still satisfying seeing where he goes when there are other fish to fry.
Later on in the series, we get to see Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) who had previously helped Steve, Bucky, and Sam escape persecution. Living in Madripoor after being exiled, her world views have changed from that of the aunt she looked up to for many years. Like the rest of the universe, there’s a sense of progression and change from the status quo, even if she now leads a life of crime. Despite the distrust between her and those she helped free, she’s still a powerful ally that knows how to prosper in her new environment. Many speculated that she was the power broker and wouldn’t you know it, everyone was right as the final confrontation opens many doors of uncomfortable feelings knowing what Sam and Bucky are unaware of. All of it culminates to a scary post credit scene where she’s pardoned and given full access to government secrets that she can sell to the highest bidder:
About the halfwaypoint, soldiers from Wakanda track down Bucky and demand custody of Zemo for his crime of killing their previous leader King T’Chaka. This is the first time Wakanda is brought into the story following the death of Black Panther lead Chadwick Boseman (RIP). Obviously Black Panther himself is unable to make an appearance until Marvel sorts out who will take up the mantle, but until then this is but a brief detour that has some emotional moments delving into Bucky’s backstory as the White Wolf:
Other than that, it’s just a quick cameo taking a good chunk of time out of the limited episodes when they escort Zemo back to jail.
Then we have the main villain of the flag smashers, Karli Morgenthau. The flag smashers are a group of people who are trying to bring the world back to the time of the blip. Apparently wiping out half the population had some positive repercussions. Those who did not disappear were enjoying a new prosperous life, only to be kicked out of that luxury five years later when the Avengers gathered the Infinity Stones.
On paper she seems like an interesting villain, trying to find her place in the world after the return snap exiled her. But in the context of only six episodes, there is not a single flashback to her perspective of the blip society, which is a big influence on her decisions. With Spider-Man: Far From Home and Wandavision giving us new points of view, this could’ve greatly benefited from giving us an entirely new outlook that could have us question the necessity of Thanos even more. She gathers a ton of support for her cause through her charity work, but there has to be some other way to convince us that people actually believed in wiping out half the universe. This was such a big deal in both Avengers sequels, but this doesn’t devote any visual storytelling to the moment that left audience in complete disbelief for venturing into uncharted territory. She’s better than the early Marvel villains thanks to her skilled acting and concocting nature, but the most important element to her cause is completely absent.
New Captain America
After going Pulp Fiction at the end of episode five, the new Captain America is revealed before the climactic battle, sporting a new red, white, and blue outfit. It looks amazing and compliments Sam’s tech that was destroyed after fighting Walker. He doesn’t have the serum which also separates him from the other contenders as a person who’s trying to make a difference after listening to the stories of Isaiah Bradley. Following the final battle, Sam advocates for those arrested by putting the government in its place for labeling everything surrounding the events in black and white. It would have a lot more meaning if we got to see the prosperous side of a blip world, but instead we’re spoon-fed what it was like making this a well intended commentary that doesn’t take advantage of showing another side of the coin. As of the final episode, a new Captain America film has been announced continuing the story, and it will be interesting to see where all of this goes in the future. And to those who say the ending is “too political”, here’s a reminder of why Captain America was created during the late 30’s and early 40’s:
Number of Episodes
Ultimately, the biggest downfall of the series is the small number of episodes. With a cinematic universe this big and a series with so many perspectives, six episodes is not enough to explore everything. Both The Mandalorian and WandaVision were given so many episodes to accommodate their expanding worlds and budgets. Why couldn’t this get the same treatment? With the villain’s motivations centered around life during the blip, there’s a lot of missed opportunities in showing what little good Thanos’ actions had on the select few, and the latent functions of bringing everyone back. How amazing would it have been to see more time devoted to John Walker slowly becoming addicted to the power that comes with being Captain America, or what life was like during the blip for those who benefited from not having anyone or anything to lose? We’ve seen two different perspectives on the event and this presented another opportunity to show the benefits sitting alongside the consequences. There’s also Zemo’s comments on how idolizing superheroes could be dangerous to the public. With more episodes, these concepts could’ve been broadened given that the Flag Smashers blow up buildings and Sam tries to talk to Karli like he does with other soldiers. Wistfully, these ideas will only exist in our imaginations never to be brought to fruition unless Marvel decides to remake the entire season.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a substantial spin-off of two side characters coming into their own adventure, but it’s a few episodes short of being a masterpiece. With more time and episodes, many of the complex themes could’ve been fine tuned rather than teased and quickly wrapped up at the finale. As far as story telling is concerned, Marvel has a ways to go before completely mastering streaming narratives, even with the resources that comes with being owned by Disney. That being said, the acting is strong enough to carry the stakes, the action is well choreographed, the themes are cleverly debatable, the cliffhangers bait the audience at the right moments, and the characters still have tons of chemistry. It’s not often that side characters can pull off a successful transition to leading roles, but with many of the well known Avengers stepping down, this streaming platform is perfect for testing the waters of the more obscure newcomers. Here’s hoping they can carry on the mantle into the unknown that is a post-Endgame future.