The Boys Are Back: “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” Soars onto Disney+
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Nearly three years after whispers of the series were first heard, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” has finally made its record-breaking debut on Disney+. Set six months after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019), the series deals with the aftermath of the return of half of all life after five long years. More importantly, it finds our heroes, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), trying to find where they fit in the ever-expanding Marvel universe. After parting ways following the defeat of Thanos, Sam Wilson and Barnes are together again, this time going up against the Flag-Smashers, a group of rebels fighting for global unity and a return to the way things were before the “Blip.” However, the pair is forced to team up with Baron Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), the terrorist responsible for breaking up the Avengers in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). Only time will tell if Sam Wilson and Barnes can stop their bickering for long enough to become the crime-stopping team that the world needs.
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” delivers classic Marvel action, but the serialized format also allows for a much more in-depth look at the characters and story as a whole. Every episode is jam-packed with plot and much-needed character development. Each character is rife with personality that provides hours of analysis in a way that simply isn’t possible with a single movie. The pacing can feel a little slow at times, and each episode seems to leave more loose ends than it resolves, but it will be exciting to see how everything ties together in the final two episodes and what problems will remain for future MCU projects.
Now, it’s no surprise that a show about Captain America is going to have political overtones. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) and “Civil War” have shown us that much with their in-depth criticisms of global surveillance. However, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” brings much more pressing social and political issues to the forefront of the plot, which, for a Disney property, is completely unexpected but wholly welcome.
The closing scene of “Endgame” saw Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) handing his legacy, the mantle of Captain America, to Sam Wilson. Sam Wilson is the perfect choice for the title, as he represents what America should be to the world. However, the series opens with Sam Wilson donating the shield to a museum. To Sam Wilson, the legacy of the shield isn’t just his friend but a representation of America as a whole. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” unabashedly explores the different perceptions of the American identity and how those perceptions have repeatedly ended up hurting millions of people around the world. It delivers some absolutely bone-chilling scenes eerily reminiscent of real world events in a poignant political and social commentary unlike much else on television. However, it is important to note that the series is not fully trailblazing political commentary, and much of its message is steeped in military propaganda. The series is entertaining and provides an amazing story, but it is important to watch with a critical eye and keep in mind a bigger picture.
For a story about superheroes, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” does a fantastic job of humanizing its characters, taking the time to give them agency and personalities outside of its quippy action sequences. This development is long overdue for both Sam Wilson and Barnes, who have been standing in the shadow of other “main” Avengers for years. For Sam Wilson, this progress means the audience finally gets to learn more about his personal life. We learn about his home, family, and how he and his sister, Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye), are struggling to keep their family business afloat. We see him wrestle with the legacy of his parents and symbols of his family while also maintaining his responsibilities as a hero.
Meanwhile, Barnes is a free man for the first time since Pearl Harbor. Barnes has suffered more than almost any other character in the MCU, having been tortured and brainwashed for 70 years and forced to be HYDRA’s killing machine, the Winter Soldier. Barnes is completely alone to navigate through a strange new world and confront his trauma. For the first time in 10 years, Barnes finally has a real personality. It’s hard to have any real attributes when you’re a brainwashed soldier, and now that he’s free, we finally get a taste of the real Barnes for the first time since “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011). He’s extremely vocal about his opinion on how Sam Wilson simply “gave up” the shield, not yet understanding his reasons. But while Barnes is being more childish about how he deals with it, his feelings toward the shield actually create a perfect parallel to Sam Wilson’s struggle with his family. They’re both holding onto objects for legacy’s sake without realizing that they’re not alone in their struggles with the past. It is exciting to see both of these characters interact with the world around them and fulfill their potential that was left so unexplored by previous MCU media.
Take it from someone who has been excited for this series for years: it exceeds expectations. “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” does an exceptional job of balancing humor, social commentary, and action into one wild ride of a series. It bridges the old action-driven MCU format with what is looking to be a new, much more grounded character-driven franchise.