Marvel Studios The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is here to save us from MCU withdrawal following the conclusion of WandaVision. It’s almost hard to fully appreciate the good fortune of Marvel fans in 2021 to have had 9 weeks of incredible WandaVision episodes, and then just two weeks later get the premiere of another MCU show.
More importantly, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which was initially planned as the first MCU show on Disney+, is more than worthy to carry the torch that WandaVision lit with truly compelling TV.
To be clear, the two shows can’t really be compared as they are so different from one another. It’s only fair to evaluate them separately and appreciate them for the unique stories they’re telling. The only element the two shows have in common is that the quality of both rival any tentpole feature film.
On its face, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier seems to be a more conventional MCU superhero story. And while it certainly offers genuine superhero action, writer and showrunner Malcolm Spellman and director Kari Skogland seem to be planning an emotionally nuanced and character focused story that will provide depth and richness to the characters of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes.
This review is for the first episode only. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premieres exclusively on Disney+ on Friday, March 19th! Light spoilers below!
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes the first few minutes to establish, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Marvel Studios considers its Disney+ shows to be on the same level as its films. The show opens with a pulse-pounding action sequence featuring The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) that can hold its own against any feature film. In fact, it’s so awe-inspiring that it really looks like an IMAX 3D film. And I’m not talking about those faux IMAX screens that just paid for the branding. I’m talking about the IMAX at the California Science Center designed to make you feel like you’re flying in space or deep sea diving and make you a little sick. The investment is clearly there.
After the opening scene blows your mind, the rest of the first episode takes a deep breath and delves more deeply into the civilian lives of our two protagonists, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). We see the two superheroes having to face the real world and pick up the pieces post-Avengers: Endgame. The show seems to want to explore what it means to “move on” for heroes who just fought an apocalyptic war and have to go back to living, while carrying the trauma from those events, and the reality that life didn’t just stop while they were gone.
For Sam, he first has to deal with the inheritance that Steve Rogers left him – the shield. After that, we see Sam return home to New Orleans, where his sister Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye) has been managing their family business and assets on her own. Like any hero, Sam thinks he can accomplish anything, but he finds that the battles of the real world can’t be fought as directly as he did with the Black Order. People recognize that Sam is The Falcon, and they like The Falcon, but they also see Sam as a Black man. Mackie is so good as a bombastic, overconfident hero who is smacked with the unexpected realities of the world that still affect him.
Bucky’s adjustment back to civilian life is no less awkward than Sam’s, considering that he’s over 100 years old. MCU fans absolutely adore Bucky Barnes, and they’re going to eat this show up. We’ve never seen Bucky like this before. He’s…very human. Here, Bucky is trying to deal with his trauma in a healthy way, struggling to maintain a friendship from his past and even striking up some romance. Stan’s performance in this episode is fantastic. He’s the deliberate calm to Mackie’s bursting energy, and plays Bucky with such a vulnerability that it really draws you in.
There are two cameos that I absolutely loved, and were handled perfectly. Both occur early on in the episode, and I won’t ruin them. I’ll only note that I was happy to see both characters appear and greatly hope to see them again later in the series.
We don’t get to see Sam and Bucky together in the whole episode. That’s really surprising for a show that is obviously leaning heavily into the buddy comedy theme. In some ways, I respect the slow burn of keeping the two characters apart for the first hour, but I think fans might be disappointed. I assume the eventual reunion will be that much more sweet when we get there. I’m also curious if the show will tell us what happened to the duo immediately after the events of Endgame because it seems strange that the two would simply part ways.
Other notable absences from the episode are Baron Zemo and Sharon Carter.
Frankly, there isn’t too much to complain about with this premiere episode. It was excellent.
I’m extremely eager to see what Malcolm Spellman has planned for Sam’s story. In an interview with TVLine last month, Spellman stated that he believes “that Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a nice progression with the mantle that [Black Panther director Ryan] Coogler and Chadwick [Boseman] left us.” It’s clear that Spellman has a specific story he wants to tell with Sam, and based on the seeds planted in the first episode, we’re going to get the chance to more fully explore the idea of a Black superhero in the U.S.
Beyond Sam Wilson, the show is full of diverse characters all around the two heroes. Sam’s primary contact with the U.S. military is a Latinx military intelligence officer who is investigating the rising activity of a group of potential terrorists. Bucky’s best friend is an older Japanese-American man, whose son died under some mysterious circumstances which teases a connection to Bucky.
Most notably in the first episode is the character of Leah, played beautifully by Miki Ishikawa (Terror: Infamy). Bucky and Leah go on a date (!) and their scenes together spark with incredible chemistry. Leah has an easy-going coolness to her that perfectly complements Bucky’s awkward uncertainty. The two have an instant connection and it’s fun to see Bucky grapple with romance. We definitely need to see more Leah and Bucky…or…”Lucky?”
THE RATING – 4.5/5 Pocky
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.