Find out if Marvel’s next series lives up to the hype…
Here we are again, with nary a couple weeks since the end of WandaVision, to talk about another Disney+ show. This is the new normal, isn’t it? Well, you won’t hear me complaining – if the first episode of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier is anything to go by, Marvel are on track to maintain the same level of quality they got started with.
Set six months after ‘The Blip’ (I still cannot believe that’s the official name), the series follows the two BFFs of Captain America, former Avenger Sam Wilson AKA The Falcon and former assassin Bucky Barnes AKA The Winter Soldier, in the wake of Old Cap passing on his shield to live a normal life. Antagonising the buddy-cop pair are a group of terrorists called the Flag Smashers, a government-backed replacement to Cap known as US Agent, and returning Civil War villain Baron Zemo.
‘New World Order’, the first episode of the series, does a pretty good job of establishing the world that we’re in and the characters we’ll be following, setting up greater conflicts to come. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan do a perfectly serviceable job playing the titular characters, though through no fault of their own they both have the same tough-guy gruff action hero personality, with only a few nuances to separate them. I’m hoping that when the two are finally on screen together some more of their individual personality traits will come out.
As a premise, Bucky going through therapy and making amends for his past wrongs as Winter Soldier is extremely compelling stuff. He’s been plenty active in the plot before, but he’s mainly been held up as a mirror for other characters to shine (Cap in Winter Soldier; Tony in Civil War). There’s been little in the way of human character development for Bucky individually, so this feels like a moment in the limelight long overdue for him – not to mention another good move for a Disney+ show that can give that kind of not-quite-protagonist the time of day.
It does surprise me that they went with Sam and his sister struggling to make ends meet as an angle. Superhero films haven’t really done that since Raimi’s Spider-Man (and I guess Ant-Man); these ones have never really had money concerns to fret over. It would be an interesting setup if it weren’t completely baffling how a former Avenger could be wanting for cash. Maybe The Boys has poisoned my idea of superheroes, but would it be all that morally compromising of Sam to just take a Nike sponsorship deal or something? Once my confusion wears off, I’m sure I’ll start getting invested.
The action is as good as it ever was in the films, a substantial improvement on the sometimes dodgy-looking effects in the latter-half of WandaVision. Undoubtedly production costs were substantially lower for this one, being mostly set and filmed in modern Atlanta, with no need to switch between about 7 different filming styles, so I think they had more to put into the action. It’s still Marvel action though, so good choreography and badass moves are buried underneath rapid cuts in the hand-to-hand fights. Thankfully much of Falcon’s opening scene was mid-flight, meaning mostly CGI, leading to one of the more inventive and smooth action sequences in Marvel’s catalogue that feels right out of a Brad Bird film.
Some of the dialogue is a little naff, particularly in Bucky’s arc, featuring the world’s worst therapist and a truly awful date (“hey let’s play Battleship and talk about your neighbour’s dead son!”). Conflict and awkward situations are natural but those ones kind of took the biscuit. Other than that, besides Stan’s excellent performance in the therapy session and the date, all the dialogue and the way it’s performed is very straightforward – no one means more than what they’re saying, and they express the one emotion they’re required to express in that scene. It’s not bad, just shallow.
Besides cool fight scenes, what I’m mostly hoping to see in this show is some direct confrontation of the issues these characters are facing. I don’t know if I’m reading something into it that’s not there, but to me it’s implied that the government wants Sam to give up the shield because he’s black. Bucky’s overt character arc is dealing with personal trauma and confronting his past actions. I’d love to see both of these adversities take centre stage, but I suspect that’s going to remain the B-plot in favour of the A-plot in the Flag Smashers and Zemo, not least because Marvel get a lot of support from the US government and military, and I doubt they’d co-sign on a project that acknowledges the systemic racism and dismissal of the mentally ill in the US. No doubt, all the evil in the show will be perpetuated by a select few who will turn out to be secret Nazis or something.Nevertheless, The Falcon & The Winter Soldier is still set to be an exciting instalment in Marvel canon. It remains to be seen whether it will rise to become something truly meaningful, but one thing we can guarantee is it’s sure to be entertaining.