“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” Series Review


Courtesy of Julie Vrabelova/Marvel Studios

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is the most recent Marvel series on Disney+.

Matthew Gaetano, Staff Writer

Who will wield the shield? That’s the question at hand in “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,” the latest MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) series to make its way onto Disney+. Following in the footsteps of its streaming service predecessor, “WandaVision,” the series serves as a return to more traditional superhero storytelling for Marvel. Like “Wandavision,” the show picks up in the wake of “Avengers: Endgame,” and as such, the mantle of Captain America is up for grabs: a mantle that audiences last saw passed down to Sam Wilson, better known as The Falcon. In spite of this, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” reveals that the question of who will continue the Captain’s legacy is more complicated than audiences were led to initially believe.

In the series, Wilson (Anthony Mackie) grapples with his own stake in holding the title of Captain America – a nom de guerre that itself holds the weight of turning one into America’s living, breathing symbol. When Wilson turns down the shield at the beginning of the show, the U.S. government finds itself fit to select a candidate who they believe is suitable in representing the country. That person is John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a decorated soldier who is presented with the shield and mantle of Captain America, a mantle that Walker struggles to live up to throughout the events of the series. Disappointed with Wilson’s decision to give up the shield, the second titular character of the show, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) works to reclaim his friend’s signature weapon while also wrestling with his own tormented past as the assassin, The Winter Soldier.

Given the serialized episodes of the show as opposed to the one-and-done format of MCU films, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” boasts a number of storylines that surround and intertwine with the efforts of Wilson and Barnes to take back the shield. Serving as the primary antagonists to Falcon and Winter Soldier are The Flag Smashers, a superpowered anti-nationalist group that seeks to return the world to how it was before the blip, an event that restored all life after being erased by franchise bad guy Thanos. Former MCU antagonist Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) also joins in the chaos as he helps the titular heroes track down the mysterious Power Broker, the one who provided The Flag Smashers with their superhuman abilities. All the while, Zemo himself is being tracked down by Walker and other familiar faces from the MCU. 

Perhaps the storyline that distinguishes “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” most from past Marvel media comes in the form of its efforts to tackle American race issues through Wilson’s struggle to represent the nation. In his efforts to become Captain America, Wilson learns of Isaiah Bradley, a former African American super soldier whose history has been erased by the U.S. government. In learning of this, Wilson also comes to terms with the fact that there are people in the United States who will not accept him as Captain America simply on the basis of the color of his skin. Significantly, this notion reflects real life backlash from hateful moviegoers who were angered by the choice of the shield being passed down to Sam. This real-world parallel makes the storyline especially relevant, and though the show explores this with little subtlety, there is no Marvel property with a greater claim to American social-political commentary than one based around the characters of Captain America comics.

Like all Marvel projects, the basis for “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” is in the comic books where the characters made their initial pop-culture debuts. In regard to what the series adapts, there is a lot for die-hard Captain America fans to enjoy here. Many aspects of the story are taken straight from Mark Gruenwald’s legendary run on Cap with bits and pieces mirroring the short lived run by Roger Stern. The inclusion of characters that were once deep cuts, now in major roles, like The Flag Smashers, Battle Star, Power Broker and more, make for a pleasant surprise to knowledgable viewers. Despite these characters and concepts being adapted in abundance to the screen, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” lacks a certain faithfulness in its approach that isn’t always needed when adapting a story, but could have been beneficial here.

The major way that the show differs from its comic book counterpart is in its pacing. Storylines that had time to breathe over years in the source material are now condensed into six 50-minute episodes. As a result, things feel very rushed: particularly in regard to the character arc of John Walker, whose personality changes drastically with each episode. Overall, the time the show did have could have been utilized to a much better effect. Rather than balancing characterization and narrative simultaneously, it feels as if the show suddenly stops all plot points for the purpose of adding scenes of characterization. The best example of this being the fifth episode of the show, an episode that is almost entirely filler. The creative decision of stopping the momentum from episode four truly hinders the pacing of the series and leaves it so that things peak in the middle rather than with the finale.

At the same time, the characterization that the show does include is in large part its greatest facet. The characters of The Falcon, Winter Soldier and Zemo, while no means boring before, are made vastly more interesting through their interactions with one another. Mackie and Stan play off of one another with both dry wit and boundless charm that makes for a thoroughly entertaining bromance to enjoy on screen. Brühl is only a supporting character in the show, but when he is present as Zemo, he almost always steals the scene with his eccentric offbeat brand of villainy. The enhancement of these characters by the show also plays into its shortcomings due to Brühl and Stan’s characters falling to the sidelines by the series final act. Ultimately, it will be this same investment in Barnes and Zemo as well as a new found stake in The Falcon that will bring audiences back for more when their stories do continue.