TV Writer Emily Wallace feels the newest addition to the Marvel Universe attempts to achieve too much in its short screen time, but is still a fun and enjoyable watch
Marvel’s latest offering to the TV world, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, follows Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) AKA The Falcon, and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), The Winter Solider, in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. The first episode establishes what their lives are like now, particularly with the absence of Chris Evans’s Captain America, a character closely tied to both protagonists of the show. Indeed, the mantle of Captain America and the legacy of what that means is one of the primary focuses of the show, which begins with Sam donating the iconic shield to a museum, only to find the government passes it on to former soldier John Walker (Wyatt Russell) at the end of the first episode.
The idea of legacy is perhaps the most important theme of the series. For Sam, this is tied in with the idea of Captain America and whether he feels deserving of and wants the role that was left to him, particularly with his position as a black man in America. This is further complicated when he meets Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), an old man who had been involved in a secret project of African American supersoldiers which had a vastly different reception to the original project with Steve Rodgers. For Bucky, his journey is coming to terms with his past as the Winter Soldier and the harm he caused even if it was beyond his control, and these two individual arcs for the protagonists worked well alongside each other.
At the start of the show, Sam and Bucky are living very separate lives, however, they are soon drawn together after the announcement of John Walker becoming the new Captain America. They also face the threat of the Flag Smashers, a militant organisation led by a teenager, Karli Morganthau (Erin Kellyman), who is fighting for a world without borders and believed life had been better during ‘The Blip’ (an event that took place within Endgame in which half the population vanished for 5 years before being brought back). Although Kellyman’s performance was excellent, I felt that the Flag Smashers’ plotline was quite disjointed at times and their aims and motivations were not always clear. While this may have been the result of the disruptions and delays to filming that happened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it would have been better to see a more coherent storyline for them.
One of the strengths of the series, however, was the partnership between Sam and Bucky. Fans who follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe will know that Mackie and Stan have always been a wonderfully comedic duo off-screen when in interviews together, and their characters have provided moments of humour onscreen too, so the decision to centre this series around them worked very well. Their journey from begrudging allies to good friends across the six episodes was a joy to watch, and there was a good blend of bickering between them alongside more heartfelt moments.
The ability to revisit characters from previous films in the Captain America franchise and expand on them in the TV format was another aspect I liked The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo stole many of the scenes he appeared in, while Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) was criminally underused within the series, although her ending implies this will not be the last we see of her within the Marvel universe. This also worked well alongside the introduction of new characters into the MCU, such as John Walker. Walker’s journey with the Captain America title served as an interesting parallel to Sam’s and indeed Steve Rodgers, while also providing one of the most chilling scenes of the series at the end of the fourth episode.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was an enjoyable watch, with the development of the characters being the strongest aspect of the show. I also appreciated Marvel’s attempt to incorporate real-life issues such as racism and the refugee crises, however, six episodes did not feel like enough time to develop these properly. This issue could also be seen in the overall plot, which perhaps tried to include too much and therefore wasn’t able to give all the storylines a satisfying conclusion. That being said, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was a fun return to the Marvel universe for these characters, and fans will be eagerly awaiting their appearance in future projects.