Marvel Studios premiered its sophomore Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and it’s received rave reviews thus far. The studio continues its game plan of attempting to bring something new to the table and it’s toying with the idea of exploring the grief and trauma that emerges as the byproduct and consequence of years of superhero fighting. And as exciting as it can be to watch action sequences of cinematic scale on the small screen, it’s the psychological deep dive into the issues that plague our heroes that remains this business model’s more compelling offering.
It’s all the more reason for me to feel regretful not catching this series at the time of its premiere. Life and work have been keeping me occupied off late and the desire to spend more time with family has left me with less time to blog. Nevertheless, it has the subliminal advantage of freeing me from the pressures of catching up with the industry and operate at my own pace when it comes to reviewing material like this. That said, I hope to make amends and be back on my feet pretty soon so make what you will of that.
The opening sequence involving a rescue is immediately reminiscent of Iron Man thanks to the stark similarity in the landscape and the presence of the military in Humvees. It’s also welcome to see Georges St-Pierre reprising his role as Batroc the Leaper; his survival was left ambiguous in The Winter Soldier and it continues to remain that way. It’s a good start for Sam Wilson’s Falcon who, toying with the responsibility of donning the mantle of Captain America, goes straight back to being the Falcon before he hands over the shield.
Wilson’s clearly not ready to take up the role just yet. He’d love it though if the world thought that he’s the right successor to the role (more on this later) but he just doesn’t feel it yet. He returns the shield to the US government and in another low-key cameo from Don Cheadle’s Rhodey, the two black heroes ponder over Steve Rogers’ legacy and wonder whether the country will ever look at them with the same respect as their white counterparts are. In the quietude of silence, they relate to each other’s place in the new world order.
Speaking of which, I’m loving the hints that we’re getting at about how the world survived and adapted to the blip that saw billions of people returning back to earth at once. I imagine this event is going to fuel loads of storylines down the road, with its footprints present in every Marvel property ahead. We understand that the world, having gotten used to living post the snap, is having trouble catering to so many people at once, w.r.t. coming to terms with them or managing the influx of resources needed. It still doesn’t explain how New York was shown completely ravaged and desolated 5 years after the snap but the White House and most of the world seems in a perfectly normal state construction-wise months later.
Wilson is struggling on his own ever since he “magically” reappeared as part of the blip. We learn about his sister, the business she runs and their differing opinions on whether to sell off the last remaining piece of their parents’ legacy. To avoid going into debt, Wilson offers to take Sarah to a bank, hoping that his status as a former Avenger would help them secure a loan. This leads to the episode’s finest scene that sees Wilson and Sarah making their case against the tone-deaf bank manager as they struggle to secure a loan due to Wilson’s lack of income for the time he’s been missing. The manager is more concerned with getting selfies with Falcon.
In reality, it’s a great way to showcase the day-to-day struggles of both black people in the real world and superheroes in the fictional world. It’s topical in light of the #BlackLivesMatter moment but clearly Marvel would’ve shot or at least written this sequence much before. It neatly encapsulates the challenges that people of color encounter on a daily basis and for the show to lay that out by devoting time to something that a movie could never dive into instantly makes it worthy of existing. It’s also a candid peek into how heroes have to go about making a living by surviving on government contracts and people’s goodwill and is a welcome change from the billionaire Stark we’ve seen. If ever you’ve wondered how superheroes make money, this is a great demo (I know I’ve asked that question to myself loads of times).
Bucky meanwhile continues the episode separate from Wilson, dealing with his own nightmares. His flashbacks to his time as the Winter Soldier may seem like treading old ground but undergoing therapy to contain those and make amends is an interesting new choice to explore Bucky’s horrors more closely. The sequence itself is shot with extreme tilted close-ups mimicking Dutch angles but top-down, perhaps to convey Bucky’s claustrophobic temperament with the one-sided face suggesting he’s still keeping things close to his chest. He has befriended the father of the son who he killed as part of the flashbacks for witnessing a crime and his dilemma over confessing the murders to him to let him know is again a good arc to lead with.
Nearly all the scale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is evident in the opening action moments and while the scene is cut fast, the visual effects are impeccable and indistinguishable from the films. But it’s the character traumas that really draw us in. Both Bucky and Sam struggle to adjust and reintegrate themselves with society after everything they went through. The Avengers may have time travelled but that doesn’t erase the history of the journey these characters have been through and it’s clearly left some scars. And Steve may have retired but he’s left his band of brothers to deal with their issues on their own. Both Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie get remarkable moments to shine and display a side of their characters they never got to fully explore in the movies.
The series antagonist looks to be the Flag Smashers but since Disney+ doesn’t release all episodes at once, we don’t get to fully understand the extent or reasoning of their plans; neither do we get to empathize with them too much. And in a fitting Marvel tradition, the ending with the appointment of a new government employed Captain America is the right kind of piqued interest to conclude the episode with. Sam’s reaction to this reveal is the most interesting as it conveys a sense that deep down, he probably wanted his name to be called out. I understand these are plot points that will be explored in future episodes and while I have access to them, I’m deliberately avoiding watching them all at once lest they influence my review of the current episode.
Overall, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premieres to pure Marvel fun. The studio seemingly has the science of their filmmaking nailed down and this premiere draws you in at the onset and fits right along with the movies. It has its drawbacks and it follows the Marvel archetype a bit too closely but the scenes with Bucky and Wilson going through their motions and the MCU addressing some very common-man-esque issues are what make this a winner for me.