The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the second Disney+ TV series based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) just finished streaming its inaugural season. On the whole, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is another winner for Disney+ despite its flaws. As fans speculate, discuss and laud the series, it is pretty clear that it sets a new direction for the MCU. Spoilers will follow below for anyone who has not watched the show in its entirety.
The series takes place several months after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, is now “gone” (it is never clearly stated if he died) and his two best friends Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) were left to pick up the pieces after Steve’s absence.
In the end of the last Avengers film, Steve Rogers passed on his nearly mystical shield to Sam Wilson to carry on the legacy of Captain America. However, when the series starts, Sam is very uncomfortable with that mantle and donates his shield to the U.S. government as he carries on juggling his private life with his contract superhero work for the government. At the same time, Bucky is grappling with guilt from his previous life as the Winter Soldier, where he carried out brutal assassinations.
While the two men try to go about their lives, events occur that force them to get involved together. These include a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers led by a young woman named Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). In the time between the last two Avengers films, half the world population was erased from existence until they were restored. The Flag Smashers believe the world would be better if there were no borders or nations, which apparently happened in between the films. To help their cause, Karli and her comrades have taken the same super soldier serum that gave Steve Rogers his enhanced strength and agility. They also steal more of the serum to create an army.
The U.S. government commissions a new Captain America, who is John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a military vet suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and he has a major chip on his shoulder. Naturally, he clashes with Sam and Bucky as the two track down the Flag Smashers.
Their hunt for the terrorists lead them throughout the world and encountering allies and foes including the Machiavellion Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and the mercenary Batroc (real-life mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre). Zemo truly stood out as a character in the series with his cold charisma and calculating nature. His cause (a hatred and distrust of superhumans) was clearly defined and understandable from his point of view. For a villain who was dismissed by many fans in Captain America: Civil War, Zemo was elevated to become an A-list villains who had his own humorous memes, especially with his dancing at a night club. Here is an hour-long edit put out by Marvel Studios of Zemo dancing for your enjoyment!
There are so many admirable traits in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, notably the subtle and grounded character development of most of the leads, their acting, and the action sequences. More importantly, the series took some time to explore some real-world issues, namely racism in America as Sam grapples with the legacy of Captain America. During his emotional journey he meets a bitter, old veteran, Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), who was experimented on by the U.S. goverment during the Korean War and was injected with the super soldier serum. Seeing the two men clash idealogically were some of the most powerful moments in the show and illustrated the complicated nature of Sam’s journey. He had to feel comfortable, ready to assume the mantle of Captain America. However, during his introspection, that honor went to John Walker.
The new Captain America himself has his own issues with trying to live up to the name of the famous superhero. It becomes obvious that Walker is not experienced enough to bear the name of the good captain. He does his best and tries to reach out to Sam and Bucky, but they rebuff him. This builds on his own insecurity, especially since he did not have the super solder serum, which eads to tragic results later on. Wyat Russell does a terrific job playing the new Captain America. Although he is a pill and unlikeable his heart is in the right place and he is determined to redeem himself, which he does by the end of the final episode. His final actions lead to Bucky and Sam quietly accepting him, which was nicely shown with subtle nods between Sam and Walker and a new comraderie as Bucky and Walker walked off together in a scene.
Bucky, who is in the midst of battling his own inner demons, is furious with Sam for giving up the shield and the reasons behind his intense anger were so heartbreaking. In one of the show’s most powerful moments, he questions if his old friend Steve was wrong to pass the shield to Sam, then was Steve wrong to think Bucky could be redeemed? There is a sub plot which could have been explored more where Bucky strikes up a friendship with an old man, Yuri (Ken Takemoto). At first you think this was someone Bucky knew from World War II, but it was soon revealed that the Winter Soldier murdered Yuri’s son and Bucky is trying to work up the courage to confess his past sin. As short as this plot was it at least had a conclusion by the end of the final episode.
The two leads share a quiet and natural onscreen chemistry, which was vital for the cop-buddy vibe the series tried to capture. Their interactions were funny, insightful and full of emotion. The two men have wonderful pay offs with their individual arcs, especially Sam. By the end of the series, he fully embraces his role as the genuine legacy of Captain America with his comic book-accurate suit that looks beautiful in real life. As Captain America, Sam is given time to give a speech to the world that basically said that despite the fact that many won’t accept a Black man as Captain America, he will continue to put up the good fight for everyone. While the speech may be interpreted as borderline grandstanding it felt justified and appropriate in the moment.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, does a great deal of expanding the world of the MCU with many Easter eggs and references that could herald the coming of the mutants, anti-superhuman hysteria and the superhuman group the Thunderbolts. It is just a simple joy being back with the MCU and seeing the showrunners presenting a series that feels as if it is part of the MCU.
With that said, the series is by no means perfect. The series felt very rushed and disjointed at times. It could have used at least one or two more episodes to better flesh out its plots. There are rumors that the show needed to be reshot to remove a storyline about a pandemic for obvious reasons, and this could be seen with quick references to vaccines and Karli’s mentor dying from tuberculosis, which seemed odd. Karli was trying to find medical help from a scientist that re-created the super soldier formula. Wouldn’t it be easier to find medical help from any other doctor?
As for Karli and the Flag Smashers, they are one of the weaker MCU villains because their cause is a situation of show don’t tell. They keep talking about how great the world was before the Avengers brought back half of the world’s population. But we never see this so it is difficult to understand their cause. Marvel Studios should have shown this or released a film or TV show set in this time period so that at least fans could see for themselves. The Flag Smashers came off as just generic bad guys and cannon fodder for our heroes to go through.
The adversaries that outshined the Flag Smashers were Zemo and Walker. They basically stole their thunder with their more interesting development and nuanced nature. Things are not black and white when it comes to Zemo, while Walker became more of an anti-hero.
Hopefully we’ll see more of those two and of course, Sam and Bucky in the followup to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or rather Captain America and the Winter Soldier.
Now let’s get ready for the return of our favorite God of Mischief in Loki!