The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Series Review: Mediocre writing puts paid to Marvel’s admirable intentions
This highflying action extravaganza is no WandaVision in the story department
After Thanos' now-famous snap became the most defining moment of the franchise, Marvel, in this ‘post-Blip’ world is now once again in the process of creating new stories that are rooted in emotion and sentiment. After the fantastic WandaVision, we now have The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that works better as a ‘larger than life’ story than it does as something relatable. In a moving moment at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers hands over the mantle of Captain America to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) by giving away his shield. When Wilson tries it on for the first time, Rogers asks him how it feels, and he replies, “Like it's someone else's.” Now, six months after those events, Wilson is still finding it awkward to slip into Captain America’s red, blue and white shoes; he’s instead happy to be the friendly neighbourhood Falcon. James Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who nodded in approval when Rogers trusted Wilson with the shield, is now a pardoned man attempting to make amends for his time as the brainwashed assassin, the Winter Soldier.
The two incompatible heroes team up when trouble comes in the form of The Flag Smashers, a team of anarchists who oppose nationalism and believe that life was better during the Blip. Led by Karli Morgenthau, the group consists of power-enhanced individuals, made so by the faceless Power Broker. The titular duo also has to watch the horror of their government handing over the shield to a new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell). Chosen by the Global Repatriation Council (GRC) to handle the post-Blip revolutions, Walker, however, is a disturbed soul who isn’t exactly capable of selflessness.
Director: Kari Skogland
Cast: Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, Daniel Bruhl, Emily VanCamp
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, at its core, touches aspects that Marvel rarely paid attention to in its earlier years. What does it mean for an African American to carry the shield of Captain America? What about the financial strain a hero's family endures? How bad do things have to get for you to search for help? The mini-series, in its first few episodes, asks such incisive questions. It’s in the answering though that it feels like the makers have bitten off more than they can chew.
The best part of the series is when we are introduced to Isaiah Bradley, a war veteran who has been imprisoned and experimented on for 30 years. Despite having a rich character history in the comics, the series does not spend as much time as it should have on him. The same can be said about Helmut Zemo who, at one point, even dons the traditional purple mask from the comics. We get glimpses of his king-sized life as a Sokovian baron as well as brief dance moves in a Madripoor nightclub. Following requests from fans, Marvel has even released a one-hour extended cut of the dance sequence that has garnered six million hits on YouTube. Even the fictional Southeast Asian island of Madripoor, which has been the epicentre of many historic events in the comics, does not get the importance it deserves. It feels like the makers are simply ticking off a checklist of cameos and references without putting in heart.
On the other hand, Wyatt Russell’s John Walker is a character we love to hate in this series. When he commits murder in broad daylight, not only do the event and its repercussions make way for one of the most interesting characters from Marvel's comic book stable, it also serves to take the franchise into dark territories that Marvel has kept away from thus far.
The Flag Smashers, labelled terrorists, show the potential to be among the best villains in the franchise. However, the series reduces them to serum-powered teenagers who are mere puppets in the hands of the not-so-mysterious Power Broker, whose identity is revealed in the season finale. While on reveals, one of the characters gets a wardrobe makeover in the final episode and unlike most costume choices in the films, this one is loyal to the comics at the expense of practicality. The much-parodied yellow-top-and-green-trouser-wearing Aquaman got a brilliant refashioning, but here, we are subjected to ski goggles!
For a show that's just six episodes long, there’s plenty going on, and the titular heroes feel like kids strapped on a rollercoaster. They seldom show control over the events, and are forced to react, not act. It’s during the action sequences that these heroes seem really at home. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is groundbreaking in how it has redefined action for the small screen. Falcon's flying capabilities and Bucky's bionic arm are a treat to watch in the action sequences and are often even better than what we have seen them do in the feature films. The banter between the two misfits makes for some effective comedy too. Though some of their antics, like when one tells the other to stop flirting with his sister, are sure to remind you of the chemistry between leads of films like Bad Boys, Rush Hour, Shanghai Knights and Hobbs & Shaw, it’s their personal struggles that make us wish we got more of them.
On the whole, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels like terrific sights that you are getting glimpses of through a telescope. It’s a series that struggles to match up to the lofty standards set by WandaVision. Despite scratching the surface of a lot of material that will surely be mined for much content in future seasons of the show, this first season has got to be judged as a mediocre origins story. Perhaps the second of this series, that is off to a shaky start, can be more entertaining? When Wilson picked up the shield from Rogers, he said, "I'll do my best." Let's hope we can see this from the makers next time around.