After WandaVision largely delighted critics and fans alike, does Marvel Studios’ second TV show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, keep up the momentum?
Editor’s Note: Minor Episode 1 spoilers follow.
Set around six months after Avengers: Endgame, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has the two titular heroes (and the world at large) wrestle with the void left behind by Captain America and the overall implications of The Blip. The show cleverly takes its time to establish the lives that Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) have in a way that the feature films haven’t done so far.
It pays dividends. Beyond the otherwise big and entertaining action scenes – of which there are some – the best moments see the protagonists struggle with who they are and reflect on what they should become.
New heroes for the times we’re in
Interestingly, the show takes the decision to not even have its two protagonists share a scene in this debut episode, instead focusing on their respective character arcs and timelines. This generally works well as it provides greater emotional depth and as it recontextualizes both characters as the heroes of their own stories rather than playing second fiddle to Captain America. This series, then, very much like WandaVision, seems poised to turn secondary characters into potential new fan-favorites. Credit must also be given to Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, as their history with and understanding of the characters that they play truly shines through their performance.
Beyond continuing the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s changing of the guard with the reinventions of Sam and Bucky, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier digs even deeper into comic history to bring altogether new heroes into the fray. Torres (Danny Ramirez), for example, is a youngster in the Air Force who works together with Falcon to stop the emergent threat of the Flag Smashers – a terrorist organization that believes that the world was better during The Blip. Danny Ramirez gives an effusive performance as yet another Marvel whiz kid and it seems like he may be here to stay for in the comics, his character eventually becomes Falcon himself. Whether or not this will prove to be the case, time can only tell, but Marvel is definitely laying the groundwork for what is to come.
‘The world’s broken’
However, despite the emergence of new heroes, by the end of this first episode, it is clear that the world is more broken than ever. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier carries on themes from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War as the show touches on racial injustice, corrupt figures in power, and the diminishing meaning of Cap’s shield in an increasingly twisted America. There are poignant scenes and surprising cameos which will not be given away here, but suffice to say that this episode pulls no punches in showing how institutional, systemic racism robs Sam, a Black man, of opportunity and of his potential.
It becomes Sam and Bucky’s mission, then, to make reparations both in their superhero and personal lives. It is certain that they will eventually band up to combat the likes of the Flag Smashers, presumably led by Civil War’s Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), but it is perhaps more interesting to see how the two reconcile with life beyond the fighting. Now that Sam’s returned from the blip, how does he make amends with his sister Sara (Adepero Oduye) and the rest of his community? And now that Bucky has been pardoned, what will he do with the chance he’s been given?
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 1 sets up a show which goes beyond the legacy of one of the MCU’s most important characters and which successfully breathes depth into two of the franchise’s most underutilized heroes. Whereas more standard-fare MCU than WandaVision, The Falcon and Winter Soldier Episode 1 sets up another hit show for Marvel’s golden age on the silver screen.
The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is available now on Disney+.