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Hot on the heels of the surprise hit WandaVision, Disney+ dives back into the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with their second show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, the show picks up with Sam Wilson, played by Anthony Mackie, facing a difficult decision. Steve Rogers had just given him his shield, giving Sam his blessing to take on the role of Captain America. Sam makes a difficult choice in surrounding the shield, as he sees problems with a Black man representing a country that still doesn’t treat people of colour fairly. At the same time, Bucky Barnes, played by Sebastian Stan, is trying to reconcile with his actions as the brainwashed assassin, the Winter Soldier.
The two are thrust together after an argument over Sam giving up the shield, as the government has given it and the title of Captain America to John Walker, played by Wyatt Russel. The two heroes do decide the work together to fight against the Flag Smashers, a group of super-soldiers who fight for open national borders lead by Karli Morgenthau, played by Erin Kellyman. Sam and Bucky must try to stop this group of super-powered anti-patriots, but also must deal with John Walker, who lets the title and legacy of Captain America go to his head.
After a mind-bending mystery of a show like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a much more grounded and realistic show, especially surrounding its central theme. The issue of race in America is put front and centre from the very first episode of the show. Throughout the show, the theme of race is shown in many different facets, from financial inequality along racial lines, racial profiling by police, and even inferred reference to real world events like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. These themes are brought to the forefront in the final episode during a monologue performed by Sam Wilson.
The show’s performances are wonderful. Anthony Mackie as The Falcon is always a highlight in any of his character’s films, but after this show, he has become one of my favourite characters in the MCU. Furthermore, Sam Wilson is the perfect pick for the role of Captain America, not because of his skill but because of his strength of character. He always tries to settle a dispute as peacefully as possible before resorting to force, proving himself worthy of the shield.
Sebastian Stan is probably the most tragic character in the series: he is still trying to make amends for his actions as the Winter Soldier. He constantly struggles with the idea that he’s irredeemable, which pushes him to butt heads with Sam after Sam surrenders the shield. They aren’t good friends who’ve fought alongside each other, but their antagonistic relationship makes for some of the best jokes and scenes in the show, especially when they truly come together in the final episodes.
John Walker walks the line between ally and enemy for Sam and Bucky. As the government-sponsored Captain America, he may have all the skills and abilities that the “star-spangled man with a plan” requires, but he lacks the true heart and strength of character that makes Steve such an effective hero. Throughout the series, John deals with his inadequacies when compared to Steve Rogers, but he also lets his position as Captain America go to his head believing he has a sort of authority just because he carries the shield and name.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been missing on the superhero action we’ve come to expect with summer blockbusters. The overall lack of action in WandaVision left quite a lot to be desired, but it was not an action show so that would make sense. The action and set pieces in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are absolutely fantastic. From the first scene of the series, the show reveals much of what it has to offer, namely high flying action that, while sometimes dependant on CGI, is mostly hand-to-hand combat, in my opinion much more personal and exciting than the special effects extravaganza of the Avengers movies.
A few downsides of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier include the antagonistic Flag Smashers, or more specifically Karli Morgenthau and Emily Van Camp’s Sharon Carter. Erin Kellyman does a fine job in portraying the anti-nationalist, the show tries to put her in a positive light in fighting for the downtrodden, yet she is often doing unquestionably evil things. It is difficult to sympathize with an antagonist when they are blowing up buildings full of people. The Flag Smasher’s motto seems empty and hollow since they are slaughtering people who are not exactly a threat to them. As well, Sharon Carter’s first episode in the series is awesome, and I was excited to see how she affects the events of the series. However, it seems like the writers had no idea what to do with her character since she hardly appears after her first episode and at the end, there’s a twist to her character that I think raises more questions than it answered.
Overall, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a fun superhero show that raises serious issues in a medium one might not expect. It gives Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan a great story to flesh out. It also develops the characters that have been second-stringers to Steve Rogers in the past MCU movies and solidifies their place in the future of the MCU.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier gets 5 stars out of 5.