The Falcon and The Winter Soldier feels like a new Captain America film but stretched out to six hours. In a lot of ways this is good, the two titular characters have more development here than they ever had in their film appearances, but sometimes it was a little bit too slow for its own good. What ratio from good and slow is it? Let’s find out!
Six months after half of all life returned from the Blip, Sam Wilson, who was given the mantle of Captain America by Steve Rogers, struggles with this idea and decides to give Rogers’ shield to the U.S. government for a museum display. Meanwhile Bucky Barnes, who was recently pardoned, attends government-mandated therapy, where he discusses his attempts to make amends for his time as a brainwashed assassin, the Winter Soldier…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Okay this is Zemo and The Winter Soldier, but you know… close enough?
There are several different narrative threads running through the series but the main one is the idea of Captain America, what that symbolises and who should carry on the mantle. Falcon / Sam (Anthony Mackie) decides he’s not worthy and gives the shield to be displayed as a museum, an act that angers former Winter Soldier Bucky (Sebastian Stan) as he knew how much that shield meant and that if Steve Rogers game Sam the shield then he was ready for it. By coincidence the two end up working a mission together and get caught in trying to bring down a terrorist group known as the “Flag Smashers” (more on them later!) and much to their respective dismay a decorated war veteran is chosen to become the new Captain America, shield and all. John Walker (Wyatt Russell) is the new man in charge and he starts off earnestly trying to live up to the mantle and attempting to get on the right side of the original Cap’s friends, but it doesn’t go too well and he instead relies on his old friend Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett), who is soon dubbed “Battlestar”.
While all this shield-related tension is building we also take a long look at the world post-Blip, where half the population of the world suddenly came back to life. The aforementioned “Flag Smashers” are a group of people who have used a black market version of the super soldier serum not for terrorism but to try and return the governments of the world to how they were pre-Blip. Apparently during those five years countries dropped all borders and welcomed anyone who wanted to come and help out with open arms, it was pretty much a world without borders or “one world, one country”. Once half the population came back old habits started to re-emerge, people who were declared dead found it hard to find homes and people who were in foreign countries freely were now being told to go back home. This led to countries having large refugee-style camps for “displaced people” and a “Global Repatriation Council” to help them get back on their feet. The Flag Smashers, especially their leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) are only trying to help the displaced people find their way in this old style world and hopefully bring back their lost freedom, a noble goal that gives them global support and therefore quite the movement behind them. I have to say that in the comics “Flag Smasher”, a single male person, was someone me and my friends routinely made fun of for having a crap name and an even worse organisation name (ULTIMATUM, or “The Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind”) so it’s quite amazing to see that concept turned into such a good live action thing…
Certainly not the most intimidating villain in the MCU’s history, but that’s not a bad thing!
Sam discovers a horrible US secret in Isiah Bradley (Elijah Richardson) who was injected with prototype super soldier serum during the Korean War and then this “black Captain America” was thrown in prison and experimented on for 30 years, all his accomplishments expunged from the public records and his daughter told he was dead (which she didn’t believe but died before seeing him) So… not very nice. Isiah rams the message home to Sam that America will never accept a black man as Captain America over a couple of meetings. On the lighter side Bucky breaks Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) out of prison due to his knowledge and contacts, not to mention his desire to rid the world of superheroes would mean he’d also want to stop the super soldier-led Flag Smashers, and soon Sam, Bucky and Zemo head to Madripoor (X-Men reference! *GASP!*) to find the “Power Broker” and the scientist who recreated the Super Soldier Serum. They find the latter, plus Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who is now an enemy of the state and on the run, and Zemo kills the scientist to make sure he doesn’t replicate it any more (and then takes out some goons in his comic-accurate purple balaclava, before never wearing it again…) This is the highlight of the show as the trio make a great comic threesome, the Wakanda Dora Milaje arrive to arrest Zemo and during a fight with the Flag Smashers Battlestar is killed and that sends a now super solider serum’d Walker on a rage-fuelled attack where he crushes someone to death with repeated blows from the shield, a moment that’s recorded by on-lookers.
Sam and Bucky take out Walker in a great fight sequence before things slow down a bit, our two titular protagonists make personal discoveries and properly bond with each other (plus Zemo is taken to The Raft prison, for the record), so when the Flag Smashers along with Batroc the not-so-leaper (once again played by Georges St. Pierre, who also appeared in the opening sequence also for the record) directly attack the GRC Sam appears in his full Captain America gear and uses the shield, accepting the responsibility, while both Bucky and even Walker put aside attacking their enemies to save innocent lives. Sharon Carter joins them and ends up killing Karli Morgenthau to bring the conflict to an end, something the new Cap isn’t a big fan of, being able to understand her point of view, even if she was going about it the wrong way. Sam gives a big speech about acceptance and responsibility and soon everyone goes their own ways, including Sam making sure Isiah is honoured for his service, Bucky accepting his time as the Winter Soldier is in the past and can stop trying to make amends, Sharon apparently being the Power Broker all along and Walker becomes USAgent like in the comics, led by the mysterious Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who I’m sure will play some major role down the MCU line…
So it’s a good story overall, lots of emotional beats and some really good, high-budget action scenes.
This was bad in the really compelling TV way!
While I understand the story they’re trying to tell, seeing Sam and his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) struggle to keep afloat and not be able to receive a loan despite the Falcon playing a part in saving half a population in the universe was a bit much to take. The whole displaced people thing and the Flag Smashers’ gripes were logical (in an illogical scenario!) but you’d think America would still look after a literal hero… This is also a problem when SOME of the scenes based around everyone repairing the Wilson family boat were a bit … dull? Some of them developed Sam as a character really well and even Bucky benefitted from these scenes as someone who is becoming more at ease, but there were some moments where it was a bit… well, as I said, dull.
Ending with the Falcon himself, or rather Captain America himself…
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier showed us some major spectacle and some really interesting, grounded story telling. Sam and Bucky have never been so well fleshed out, and the villains had a legitimate and interesting reason for fighting which is always so much better than “I want money and/or power”. Throw in Walker’s emotional journey and there was a lot more to like than not, even if it isn’t flawless…