THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER Series Review
Marvel’s second Disney+ series, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is more familiar to Marvel Cinematic Universe fans than the surreal and experimental WandaVision. Not that that is a good or bad thing.
The Falcon and The Winter Solider follows the story of Sam Wilson a.k.a The Falcon and James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, formerly The Winter Soldier, post the events of Avengers: Endgame. Bucky is still recovering from his traumatic life as a brainwashed assassin for Nazi off-shoot, Hydra. Sam has refused the mantle of Captain America, gifted to him by Steve Rogers, for personal reasons. As a result, the US government creates their own Captain America to fight The Flag Smashers, a group of super enhanced extremists attempting to ‘unify’ the world.
If that synopsis seems like a lot, then that should demonstrate how many storylines this series tries (and fails) to tell. TFATWS’ biggest failing is not the ideas it presents; each on their own is compelling and worth exploring; but more the fact that they are not given the proper time to develop. Bucky’s story of self-healing starts strong initially, before being pushed to the background to make way for his buddy-comedy adventure with Sam. By the time of the finale, Bucky’s story, like many others, is so briskly concluded that it leaves audiences unsatisfied.
On paper, most of the series stories and themes work, especially the series’ depiction and discourse on racial tension in America and its treatment of black people, which is its high point and is comparable to Black Panther. Sam’s justification for abandoning the shield of Captain America is apt and has real world implications for how people of colour are forced to go above and beyond white people in the same field to stand out. As well as the constant outcry from small-minded “fans” when a person of colour is cast as a typically white character or replaces a white character. When he meets Isaiah Bradley, a man with connections to the Super Soldier Program, Sam’s idealism for the future of America clashes with Isaiah’s pain and suffering at the hands of the US government. It is these heart-wrenching moments that are one of the few storylines that is beautifully resolved in the finale.
The rest of the series is on par with the MCU, with forced inclusions of characters that serve only as set-up for future properties and the MCU-style of humour as our heroes’ bicker between one another. Return of Marvel characters including Sharon Carter and Baron Helmut Zemo are fun inclusions that add another dynamic to the Sam-Bucky buddy-comedy.
Series villains, John Walker and Karli Morgenthau, are certainly more nuanced than other Marvel villains. Wyatt Russell’s performance as John Walker is smarmy and smug enough to make Walker an easy villain to root against. Walker’s story mirrors that of Steve Rogers in subtle ways like how Walker presents himself as Captain America or obvious ones like the two Captain’s response to loss. As much as Walker is the twisted Cap, he still has strong morals like Rogers to protect innocents, making him a compelling character to see more of.
Karli Morgenthau starts the series as a sympathetic anti-hero, much like Killmonger in Black Panther, as she fights against the injustices dealt by politicians and bureaucrats. In a mature scene, Sam confronts Karli not as The Falcon, but as Sam Wilson, the military veteran and therapist. The two opposing views don’t punch their arguments into one another but try to talk it out. And it almost works, before the superhero genre’s tropes rears it heads and a punch on ensues. From that scene on till the end, Karli reverts to an aggressive radical with no story link between the two.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is a flawed series with some bright sparks at its centre. Carried by the chemistry between Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan as the respective titular characters, the series’ soars when it focuses on the central characters and tackles mature topics regarding race, extremism and abuse of power.