Following immediately onwards after WandaVision, Disney and Marvel released their next MCU series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I didn’t know what the plot was about, I just knew it was going to involve Falcon and the Winter Soldier teaming up to deal with something, simple enough. Overall I liked it, much more than I was expecting to, even if looking back on it there are at least a couple of notable issues.
There are going to be a lot of comparisons between WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier a number of times in this review. With regard to overall quality though, WandaVision has higher highs and does more special things, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more consistently good and generally doesn’t really have a notable drop in quality throughout. Compared to WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is much shorter at 6 episodes instead of 9. However, each episode also lasts between 50 to 60 minutes. That means that you have enough in each episode, so you actually feel like things are happening. There are no points where you feel cheated when an episode cuts to credits. To a degree, it does feel like a Marvel movie just at 3 times the length. So in a way like Wandavision, it’s a show that really could’ve benefited from having all the episodes released all at once and watching a number of them at a time, but in a different way. For WandaVision, it is because the episodes are short and for Falcon and Winter Soldier, it’s because they are all part of this one story and so they all felt continuous (not to mention every episode follows on directly from where the previous episode finished). That could lead to the question of “why didn’t they just make it a movie?”. However, if it was a movie it wouldn’t have gotten into much depth as it did, whether it be the plot, the characters, or the themes. The plot was stretched nicely across all 6 episodes, something is always happening, and it also makes sure to slow down for important character moments and development. The plot had me quite invested, every week I was looking forward to watching the next episode of the show.
The first episode is really more setting the stage of things to come, with a glimpse of the antagonists, and establishing the current lives of the lead characters. After that point though, it really picks up, and you’re locked in with this story. It doesn’t do anything special necessarily as far as the MCU goes, it’s mostly familiar territory. Many of the twists weren’t that surprising, but I learned to not place too much stock or anticipation into those twists and just follow the story for what it was. There are some surprise appearances from other MCU characters that actually gelled well with the story instead of just being there to remind you that they exist. The actual conclusion as to be expected is another MCU climax, but this actually feels in line with the rest of the show. Something worth noting about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is that it actually touches on topics. including politics and racism. The results are a bit of a mixed bag (see the Flag Smashers for more on that), and quite often it just dances around the politics. There are some moments where it does work, mostly when they stop and actually be direct about it instead of being vague. Looking at the series as a whole, it doesn’t really say anything meaningful by the end, and its own politics is pretty confused. Generally, it didn’t bother me and again some parts were done well, it’s just something where you notice more issues the more you think deeply about it. The tone is a little over the place, at times quite dark, and at times very humorous. It’s not terrible but it is noticeable from time to time. I am actually curious to see where many of the characters and the plot continues on from here. Just so you know, the last two episodes have mid credits scenes that are worth sticking around for (or fast forwarding to at least).
The acting from the cast is quite strong. First you have Anthony Mackie as Falcon/Sam Wilson, and Sebastian Stan as Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes, both of whom are showcased much better here than in their past film appearances, and you get to learn much more about them. In the first episode alone, you get to see more of their lives and it does a great job at showing you that these characters have a lot more to them than just being the sidekicks of Steve Rodgers. With Sam Wilson you get to learn about him and his family life, and you also see his conflict after the end of Endgame in which Steve Rodgers gave him the Captain America shield. It’s in the first episode so it’s not much of spoilers, but he gives up the shield, and as a result someone else is made Captain America. You can probably tell what happens with him by the end of the season, but I think it was a great arc for him, and it was probably the show’s strongest aspect. I liked him much more as a character after seeing him in this show, and I’m actually looking forward to his next appearance. As for Bucky Barnes, you also learn more about him as a person. You actually see that he’s still haunted from being the Winter Soldier and trying to make amends, at the same time he has much more personality now beyond just being ex-Winter Soldier. I also liked Bucky much more as a character after this show. Mackie and Stan play off each other quite well. They have the quips and banter that you would expect in an MCU project, but by the end of the show, you do buy the friendship between the two characters.
Daniel Bruhl returns to the role of Zemo from his last appearance in Captain America: Civil War. Zemo in Civil War was a decent enough albeit underused villain, unique in just being a normal human without any powers but still being able to break apart the Avengers. Getting this out of the way, he’s not the villain of this series and he’s in a different sort of role. His dynamic and interactions with Sam and Bucky are great, and Zemo himself turns out to be an entertaining and interesting presence, especially with his mindset and perspective. He definitely steals just about every scene that he’s in. There’s definitely potential for him to have future appearances in other MCU projects, and I’m looking forward to them. Wyatt Russell plays John Walker (also known as US Agent in the comics), the new Captain America, who is surprisingly one of the most interesting characters in this show. While at first it seemed like the show would have him as just Evil Captain America or something else cartoonish, this show actually shows him as a complicated person and more someone who is not right for the role rather than being the absolute worst. Russell plays the character quite well, and in the hands in a lesser actor he could’ve come across as rather 2 dimensional. I’m interested to see more of him in the future too. Emily VanCamp also returns as Sharon Carter from the previous two Captain America movies. She’s not in this show a ton, but enough to play an important part. She was a decent inclusion, and it was nice to see her actually be somewhat relevant to the plot, interested to see what role Carter plays next in the MCU.
The biggest standout problem with the show is the villains. The villains are a group called the Flag Smashers, and here they are yet another one of those villains who have good intentions, but use bad methods to do them, Disney particularly likes using that trope a lot. Honestly for the first few episodes I thought there was going to be some twist in which it turns out that they aren’t really the main villains of the show but no, they’re the antagonists after all. The Flag Smashers don’t have a clearly defined ideology, just vaguely leftist and anti-government. It honestly does feel like the writers were trying to position them as the Antifa stand-in (which doesn’t work on multiple levels never mind them not even being an organisation or group really). In the first episode, Sam’s military friend gives some exposition about what the Flag Smashers believe in, and it’s something about how they believe in a world without borders (which was written with the intention that this is somehow bad?). Literally the only thing about the Flag Smashers that are bad is just that they are violent and take their stance “too far”, it’s nothing inherently about their ideology. A lot of their actions especially towards the end of the show that result in the harm, death, or danger of innocent people seems very contrived and forced, and were just hard to buy. The random acts of violence really did feel like the writer’s wrote themselves into a corner by making their goals too reasonable and so just added them in just to make sure that we don’t like them too much. Erin Kellyman plays Karli, the leader of the Flag Smashers, she does perform the role quite well and the character did seem to have some complexity and conflict especially with the interactions with Sam in the middle part of the season. However, she and the rest of the Flag Smashers are kind of held back by the writing. I was willing to give them a pass for most of the season because I thought there would be some kind of further development in them or the plot, but when it got to the finale it was pretty clear that they weren’t going to change. By the end, the Flag Smashers were by far the weakest part of the show. As it turns out, supposedly a lot of their plot got re-written and edited because it originally revolved around a bio weapon or virus… and given COVID they changed it. It is quite unfortunate, because I’m pretty sure that keeping that aspect might’ve at least added some further depth or development to these characters that are meant to be the antagonists to the main characters.
On the whole, the show is directed quite well, with Kari Skogland being the director for all the episodes. It is shot like a big budget Marvel movie, which was actually quite distracting when watching it at home on the small screen. The action sequences are great, and actually more intense than expected, certainly on the higher end of the PG-13 rating. Henry Jackman who composed the scores for the last two Captain America movies return to compose the score here, and once again its pretty good.
There’s some faults to be seen in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier thinking back on it. Some of the themes and topics it doesn’t quite nail the landings on, and the main villains weren’t handled the best. However, on the whole I quite enjoyed the show. I enjoyed most of the characters and performances, I was engaged with the plot, and there were some thrilling and satisfying moments. With the ending, unlike WandaVision, it seems like the show could have another season. Whether it be through a second season, a different show, or a new movie, I’m looking forward to seeing the story and these characters progress further.