Some worried that the COVID Crisis would bring the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a standstill, with their formerly unstoppable movie juggernaut coming to a halt, but Disney+ has risen to the occasion and has already shown two high-quality TV serials (with a third, Loki starring Tom Hiddleston, just around the corner). The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision are two very different beasts, but if we still lived in the days when big-budget American TV shows were repackaged for the European cinema market, you could easily edit either of them into an (admittedly rather long) film that would look right at home on the big screen. This is fantastic material, and it bodes well for Marvel’s future in the twenty-first century.
Following up on the success of their first MCU television series, Disney+ has released something completely different. I mean, it had to be, right? WandaVision was so one-of-a-kind that there was no way they could follow it up with anything even close to it. It’s a risky strategy, but it’s also a brilliant one because it establishes the basis for a Marvel TV universe where anything can happen, which is the same method they’ve used on the big screen for years. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (a very literal title that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue) is a 6-part series starring Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier; two lesser-known but still beloved characters from the Captain America and Avengers films.
The plot picks up where Avengers: Endgame left off for Sam Wilson, who has been gifted Captain America’s vibranium shield and must decide whether or not to take up the mantle. He thinks that the duty is too great for him and lends the shield to a museum for display. He is, however, dismayed to learn that the shield has been removed from display and given to the government-approved ‘New’ Captain America John Walker (Wyatt Russell). Unfortunately, it’s evident from the start that John Walker isn’t Steve Rogers; he’s a wayward cannon with significant anger management issues who is kept in check only by his assistant Battlestar (Clé Bennet). This is a reversal of events from the comics, in which John Walker was a fiery-tempered US Agent who later became Captain America.
At the same time, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier have unenthusiastically teamed up in a quite unpleasant yet funny way in order to track down a super-powered anarchist group who call themselves the ‘Flag Smashers,’ dedicated to creating a world without borders and opposing a new international policy that aims to deport thousands of immigrants back to their home countries. Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) leads the group, which is depicted in many shades of grey — what they stand for is actually extremely understandable, albeit naive and idealized, but their approach is highly problematic. There is a lot of disagreement among the ranks, with Morgenthau seeking to portray them as terrorists and others supporting a more moderate stance.
The serial’s central issue is power: who should have it and how it should be used. The Flag Smashers have a lot of authority, but they abuse it. Power is a commodity elsewhere, with the super-soldier serum that produced Captain America on the international illicit market for the highest bidder. Some individuals are concerned that selecting a black man Captain America will give him too much power, so they choose a blue-eyed all-American jock who proves to be emotionally unsuitable for the post. Sam Wilson, who is emotionally equipped for the job, refuses to accept it because he is afraid of the ramifications of holding too much power, and he has seen what happened to the last African-American super-soldier, Isiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), and how the government treated him.
There is a lot of political criticism in this series, even if it is done subtly. Captain America, played by John Walker, is a national hero in Trump’s America, with 80 percent swagger and a jingoistic display of intent but only 20% genuine qualification for the position. Walker is blatantly nationalistic, and his swaggering lack of consideration about how he behaves in other countries makes America appear awful on an international level. They take great pains not to represent him as racist, giving him an African-American assistant and a wife who are both African-American. Is he a nefarious character? Well, it’s a grey area; he does murder someone savagely as a form of vengeance, and none of his acts assist the worldwide issue. At the end of the day, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as mismatched as they are, are the heroes America deserves.
Although they appear to loathe each other at first, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan play the odd couple heroes to perfection; they end up working well together. The plot is grim at times, but there is a lot of hilarity, especially in the sniping repartee between the two main characters. Daniel Brühl plays Helmut Zemo; while he doesn’t look anything like the comic book Baron Zemo, he does don a woolly mask at one point, bringing him cheekily closer to his comic strip counterpart. Other minor characters from the MCU make cameo appearances in varied quantities, the most notable of which is Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, Agent Peggy Carter’s niece, and a figure who isn’t whose first appear to be. Overall, I love this series, the transformation of Sam Wilson from the Falcom into Captain America, and the process of redeeming himself that Bucky Barness endured in this series, is a journey worth watching.