RELEASED: March 19th 2021 – April 25th 2021
DISTRIBUTED BY: Disney+
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Malcolm Spellman, Kari Skogland, Nate Moore, Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso & Kevin Feige
WRITTEN BY: Malcolm Spellman, Michael Kastelein, Derek Kolstad, Dalan Musson & Josef Sawyer
DIRECTED BY: Kari Skogland
MUSIC BY: Henry Jackman
STARRING: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, Danny Ramirez, George St-Pierre, Adepero Oduye, Don Cheadle, Daniel Brühl, Emily VanCamp, Florence Kasumba & Julia Louis-Dreyfus
REVIEW: Ever since Marvel Studios announced their new swathe of Disney+ shows, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been the one I’ve anticipated the most, and I’m very happy to say it did not disappoint.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follows Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, when Steve Rogers left the superhero life behind and bequeathed his shield to Sam. Now, as Sam struggles with whether or not he can (or even should) wield the shield, he and Bucky are drawn into a conflict with a bunch of rogue super-soldiers called the Flag Smashers. But with the aggressive new government-sponsored Captain America, John Walker, trying to take control of the situation, Sam and Bucky must enlist some unlikely allies to resolve the conflict with as few casualties as possible.
From the moment The Falcon and the Winter Soldier bursts onto your screen, it’s clear that Marvel Studios have gone all out in bringing the cinematic experience to television. From the big blockbuster action, to the incredibly crisp and detailed visuals, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a thrilling experience.
The action, like that of the Captain America trilogy before it, is often excellently choreographed; brutal, real and creative. In particular, the ways those behind this show utilise Sam’s wings to keep him going toe-to-toe with people who physically outmatch him are inspired and believable (y’know, within the context of this series) and really makes you buy into why these characters deserve a place among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Henry Jackman returns to score the series, and once again delivers a great soundtrack, reusing some themes from the Captain America franchise, but folding in some new twists that help highlight these character’s uniqueness.
Another thing that that makes this show stand out is how it is unafraid of examining some more serious issues than other Marvel properties. In the same way WandaVision shone a light on the Scarlet Witch’s mental health, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier leans into things like the black experience, systemic racism, corruption and the flaws with the United States government. The struggle that Sam would face as a black man potentially dealing with a legacy that represents the whole company isn’t brushed away for the sake of a crowd pleasing series of superhero action, and instead, the show takes time to flesh out what the relationship between superpowers and black Americans actually is.
By introducing new characters such as the forgotten black super-soldier Isaiah Bradley and Sam’s financially struggling sister Sarah, the series is able to show you some interesting parallels to the real world, and highlight that being a hero is a very different experience for black and white characters. This often leads to some of the most poignant scenes in the series, and also lays a solid foundation for future stories to build from.
Of course, the show isn’t entirely about race, and there are many other elements of the show that shine too.
Bucky Barnes’ struggle to move past his actions as the Winter Soldier are depicted brilliantly by Sebastian Stan, who really gets the chance to show off his skill as an actor here. Also returning is Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo, who often steals the scenes he’s in with his much more lavish and humorous take on the character.
Similarly, newcomer Wyatt Russell gives an amazing performance as the new Captain America, John Walker. His struggle with the impossible legacy he must live up to, and the increasingly flawed steps he takes to prove himself are excellently written, making for a character you both love to hate, and yet whose position you can understand and at times, even respect. Another one to look out for in the future.
It’s not all perfect though. At times, the show feels like it wants to tackle more topics than it’s limited episode count will allow for, and more egregiously, Marvel’s villain problem rears it’s head once more in the Flag Smashers.
There are rumours going around that the Flag Smashers’ story originally revolved around some sort of pandemic, but was rewritten (for obvious reasons). Now, whether that’s true or not I do not know, but what we’re left with is rather lacklustre.
This assemblage of villains is bland and unfocused. You’re meant to see the good in what they do, but a lot of the nuance has been lost in the writing process, so instead, you get characters whose point of view is muddy and hard to understand, and whose remaining actions lean more evil than the intended ‘shades of grey’.
I don’t blame the actors for this, as Erin Kellyman and her peers clearly give it their all and have fun with it, but the character’s lack of fleshing out is problematic to the extent that her scenes with Anthony Mackie, where he (as the Falcon) tries to see the good in her, make him come off as a bit stupid.
However, there is some redemption for that plot, and I have some things to say about the finale of the show as an extension of that, but to do that I have to go into spoiler territory.
If you’re interested, click HERE to reveal the rest of the review.
The Flag Smashers’ poor execution still lingers in the finale, and at times, becomes even more apparent. But in a way, that is offset by the fact that the Flag Smashers are sort of a means to an end.
In the final episode, we finally get to see Sam step up and become the new Captain America. So having an ideological foe like the Flag Smashers allows for Sam to prove himself not just as a superhero who swoops in and saves lives, but to live up to the legacy of Captain America and become a champion of morality.
He gets to have his own unique Captain America action sequences, but also give a Captain America speech – one that not only highlights his values and his spirit, but also partially redeems the Flag Smashers and helps realign them on the moral spectrum, and in the process cements himself as not just a hero, but an ideal to strive towards. To have a black man fill that role is something that just doesn’t happen all that much in the comic book world, and is certainly a rarity in the world of comic book movies, and as such, it speaks to me as a black comic book fan (and many others, I’m sure) on an emotional level.
In this regard, despite the fact his ascension is tied to flawed villains, I still loved it. It still felt like an achievement.
Cap is not only back, but Cap is black. And I can’t wait to see more of him.
All-in-all, I give The Falcon and the Winter Soldier…
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