The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

3 out of 5

Created by: Malcolm Spellman

covers season 1

As with Wandavision, this sophomore outing on Disney+ for MCU shows struggles with being its own thing, and not just feeling like an addendum to its big screen sorta-kinda peers. But with this second incident of that, it suggests it’s somewhat purposeful: this isn’t the more isolated Netflix / Hulu type show that begs for more seasons; it’s intended to be considered as another “event” and puzzle piece in Marvel’s phases. And The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, while maybe less original overall than Wandavision, is actually stronger in that regard: while it has plenty of asides and cameos and subplots, it sets its sights on what it’s doing at the start – transitioning someone else into the Captain America role – and it accomplishes it in a more straightforward fashion than WV, thanks to an overall shorter runtime.

Unfortunately, we’re not quite brave enough yet to make a multi-million dollar thinkpiece on what it means for a black man (Anthony Mackie – Sam Wilson / The Falcon) donning the starred-and-striped outfit and to become a representative of an “ideal” American and America’s ideals. The show plays at it, and brings in Isaiah Bradley, from Robert Morales’ Truth miniseries – a fascinating early 00s book that used the super-soldier serum as a twist on the Tuskegee Experiments, leading to black supersoldiers – and has some conversations around it, but it needs a lot of sound and fury to shake that up. So in addition we get Captain John Walker, a corn-fed white guy who temporarily takes the Cap mantle; The Flag Smashers, a group led by a woman named Karli (Erin Kellyman) which is fighting for something vaguely anti-government; and Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), who’s there to help our two leads – Sam and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) – track down Karli and dodge Walker. Worthwhile plot threads are all up in this, with The Flag Smashers a jumping off point for discussing class and social discrepancies, which surely has crossover with Isaiah Bradley, and Sam Wilson discovering that life back in Louisiana hasn’t been made any easier by his superhero status; Bucky’s road to recovery from being an assassin in his past life is also wended throughout. But we’re very often just touching on these things inbetween sudden chases that bring Sam and Bucky closer to The Flag Smashers, with occasional big-budget fights sprinkled throughout, and constant reminders that John Walker is a crappy Cap, and surely The Falcon would be a better fit… Baron Zemo’s role in this gets rather lost, and even Karli’s “mission” feels pretty unclear, until some sharp speeches in the last couple of episodes help to shape some of the ideas churning ‘neath the surface.

The series is impeccably shot – the action sequences are on par with any scuffles we’ve seen in other MCU efforts – and though I’m criticizing the overall lightweight handling of the show’s various concepts, it’s still good that we’re moving in the general direction The Falcon and The Winter Soldier does – it would’ve been unthinkable a decade back for a tentpole brand to play in some of the grey areas the show prances toward, and the film-level quality of these shows means we’re not just shunting them off to TV land because they’re easier to deal with there – it’s all official; it’s all canon.

And yeah, spoiler, we get to our new Cap. It’s an entertaining enough journey up to that point, with some interesting – if surface level – conversations had along the way. But just like Wandavision, I am sort of hoping these shows do get the chance to become their own things as well, and not just act as clear linking material from one project to another.