Review: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Spoilers ahead.

Cast your mind back to April 2019, when Disney+ was unveiled and it’s many upcoming treasures announced – one of these being The Falcon and the Winter Solider. It was originally meant to be the first Marvel show for the streaming service (which ended up being WandaVision) and we were meant to have already seen the forever-delayed Black Widow film before seeing this… what a different world it was back then.

And whilst it has been a long wait, I would argue that this was the perfect time for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to be released.

Sebastian Stan & Anthony Mackie. Image by Gage Skidmore available on flickr

I was originally sceptical that six episodes was not going to be enough to properly explore and dissect all the questions the show was raising: from the dialogue of racial issues in America, migration, and displacement (seeing it tied into a post-blip world was nice), America as a global superpower and what that means, inter-country relations, mental health – just to scratch the surface. Given the times we live in, with the Black Lives Matter movement, the trial of George Floyd, the migrant crisis and the presidency in America, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier couldn’t have been better timed to supplement and continue these conversations.

And, to paraphrase Sam Wilson himself, the show did the work.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier successfully combines the Marvel action and set pieces we’ve come to love with current affairs and apt social commentary, which at times was especially moving. However, the show also gave us hope, as we continue to move forward and bring about change for the better.

All the characters in this layered world act within a grey area. From Zemo to Sharon, John Walker and the Dora Milaje (who were a delight to see pop up in this corner of the MCU), Karli and the Flag Smashers, and even Sam and Bucky themselves; no one is ever presented as being totally right or wrong. At points you could even make the case that Sam and Karli were two sides of the same coin: similar ideals, just with very different methods. This is likely how the show avoids the pitfalls it so easily could have fallen into, such as making the villains one-note or becoming nothing more than a mouthpiece for social commentary, which other MCU projects have not always so successfully swerved. This is one of the beauties of the Marvel Disney+ shows: there is ample time for all of these interesting aspects of comic book storytelling to be explored.

The Falcon and Winter Soldier is also a show of character studies. Naturally, we have Sam and Bucky, but I found John Walker particularly interesting to watch. Portrayed extremely well by Wyatt Russell, he is a character who we very much love to hate, but who remained fascinating as he walked the line between political pawn and autonomous antihero. Furthermore, the question of whether Steve Rogers should have given the shield to his loyal right-hand man Sam Wilson or long-time best friend Bucky Barnes has always been debated – but this show perfectly explains to us why Sam was the right choice (even if Bucky got to pick it up once or twice during the show!). From his background as a counselor to his time in the military, these six episodes convince us why Sam is the right choice. Bucky is his own character on his own journey, and their chemistry as a buddy-cop duo was just delightful to watch. However, Isaiah Bradley was arguably the best addition to this show: any scenes with him were gold standard. Particularly that scene in Episode 5, which words cannot do justice. Please go and watch this show and discover for yourself.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Image by Gage Skidmore available on flickr

It was a nice surprise to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the surprise cameo in Episode 5. I even uttered a slightly startled “Elaine?!” when she was revealed as Val (Seinfeld fans like myself will likely understand). As much as I believe her to be a comedic genius, not all of her jokes landed for me in Episode 5 – though it could be because her character was meant to be revealed in Black Widow, with an original release date prior to this show. However, by Episode 6 she seemed to have settled into the role, and I look forward to seeing her inevitable return, almost certainly leading some form of the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers (I’m hoping for Madam Hydra but we’ll have to see on that one).

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t perfect– but no show is. I would have loved it to have been a little longer, Bucky’s final ‘redemption’ scene was clumsy, and the teases for Patriot (Elijah Bradley, Isaiah’s grandson), Val and Torres as the new Falcon were a little lacking in my opinion. But The Falcon and Winter Soldier delivers where it matters: in sophistication. It is both beautifully directed by Kari Skogland and expertly written, especially by Malcolm Spellman and Dalan Musson. I was satisfied having witnessed the journey of these characters. And I cannot deny there was a big silly smile across my face when Sam became Cap, with the title of the show changed accordingly at the end – it’s the little details that make these Marvel Disney+ shows. Is it still a superhero show? Yes. But, ultimately, I was more than satisfied: it is a superhero show at its very best, pushing the limits of the MCU to produce some of its most thought-provoking content.

So what’s next? Apart from the new characters and heroes I’ve already mentioned, Sharon Carter is definitely on the cards for an inevitable second season, possibly as a full-on villain now that she’s infiltrated the government as the Power Broker. I’m sure Zemo will return too after becoming part of the Thunderbolts – any excuse for Daniel Bruhl to be involved (though the whole cast were fantastic). As previously mentioned, I love how Sam is now officially known as Captain America, but I’m surprised that Bucky is still known as the Winter Soldier, since his entire arc throughout the show was making peace with that part of his life. Perhaps the White Wolf will emerge properly out of a second season? And of course, I couldn’t not mention the just-announced Captain America 4 starring Sam Wilson in the title role, with many of the creative team on this show returning – so perhaps there will be no season two, and instead a jump to the big screen for these characters? Kevin Feige clearly has a lot of faith in this excellent cast and crew, and with good reason; this has been Disney+’s most successful show to date (according to Nielson numbers).

I could talk about how great this show is, and how important I believe it to be, for days. But I’ll leave you with this: one of the many points The Falcon and The Winter Soldier raises is how symbols and messages are more than and endure beyond a person’s life, from the Captain America shield to the beliefs of the Flag Smashers. I hope, however, that this show and its themes resonate for years to come – I have a feeling they will still be as relevant as they are now.

 

Feature image by Gage Skidmore available on flickr

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