‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Review — The Burden of the Shield (and Episodic Storytelling)

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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Review

We’re in the midst of a unique cultural shift with the advent of practically every media conglomerate unveiling their new streaming services with exclusive brand content. It’s corporate synergy, baby! With the launch of Disney+, the Mouse House has been ramping up production on a number of Marvel Studios series for the streamer, with Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige taking over the realm once overseen by Jeph Loeb when Marvel shows were streaming on Netflix. While those shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones appealed to fans, they were narratively overextended and the budgetary constraints were all but impossible to overlook. That’s not the case anymore, as Marvel Studios are pulling out all the stops in backing Disney’s new streaming service, enlisting its movie stars for its new spectacles slathered in pricy CGI that used to be reserved for the big screen. First up for Marvel Studios was WandaVision, which just wrapped up its lone season just a few weeks ago. And just like that Marvel returns with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

It’s gonna be a wild week in the streaming wars with HBO Max unveiling Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Disney+ dropping their latest Marvel series. The difference between the two – much like the difference between the recent slate of D.C. and Marvel movies – is quite notable. Snyder takes a much more serious approach to his characters, likening them to gods in mythology. Marvel, on the other hand, sticks with the formula that has proven to be successful – breezy entertainment that doesn’t always fully follow through on its themes. This review of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is based solely upon the series’ first episode, the only episode made available for review ahead of its debut.

Whereas WandaVision unfolded over nine half-hour episodes, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will unfold over the course of six one-hour episodes. While I enjoyed WandaVision, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that the series had its share of issues, most notably in the first three episodes where the series was really focused on its sitcom homage gimmickry than really advancing and expanding the plot. This might be the new Marvel Studios formula as the inaugural episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has some of the same problems as the start of WandaVision – namely, establishing the premise doesn’t get the plot rolling right away.

Since the end of Avengers: Endgame, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), aka the Falcon, has struggled with the burden of inheriting Captain America’s mighty shield. Rather than take up the mantle of the next Captain America, Sam opts to donate the iconic shield to the Smithsonian. Just because he’s not Captain America doesn’t mean that he’s still not the Falcon. Working covertly with American armed forces, Falcon takes on Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre), last seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s an action-packed opening that really lets Falcon fly in a way that he’s never been able to in the movies, and once again illustrating that Marvel isn’t skimping on the cost of these new series.

After the violent fray, Sam is provided some new intelligence on a new underground movement taking root from a young soldier (Danny Ramirez). As Sam returns to the United States, Joaquin will continue to monitor this new mysterious group. Back home, Sam faces familial troubles as his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) struggles to maintain the family fishing boat. Though a member of the Avengers, Sam is unable to use his superhero celebrity to secure a new loan. These scenes give us a look at Sam Wilson as we haven’t seen him before, no longer a sidekick but his own revered hero, and a deeply caring sibling.

Meanwhile, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), aka the Winter Soldier, is struggling to reacclimate to society. He’s haunted by his past actions as the Winter Soldier, Hydra’s famed assassin. For his heroism in fighting Thanos and his close friendship with Captain America, Bucky has been pardoned for his past crimes and as a condition of his pardon he must visit with a therapist (Amy Aquino) to discuss his feelings, not exactly easy for 100-year-old formerly brainwashed super soldier. We’ve seen Bucky Barnes emotionally tortured before, but never without his best friend Steve Rogers there to help. I’m curious to see how the rest of the series tackles this part of Bucky’s tragic story.

Based upon a single episode, it’s hard to get a real read on where The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is going. That’s because its first episode is entirely setup. Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), shown in the promotional materials, doesn’t materialize. Nor do we get to see Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) once again. Since their first scenes together in Captain America: Civil War, Falcon and Winter Soldier formed a kind of superhero Odd Couple, with the two somewhat competing against each other for Captain America’s bromantic affections. Now that Cap’s out of the picture, there’s plenty of room to further explore this friendly rivalry. Unfortunately, the two eponymous heroes don’t even share a scene together in first episode – meaning the promise of a superhero Odd Couple will have to wait at least another week.

True to Marvel form, though, there is a pretty killer cameo from an old favorite in the earlier parts of the episode and then the episode concludes with a pretty big reveal. Does it matter? It’s impossible to tell after a single episode, though Marvel’s hit-making track record has earned them the benefit of the doubt for the most part.

Director Kari Skogland delivers plenty of solid Marvel action as series creator and writer Malcom Spellman lays the foundation for this latest chapter of Marvel’s Phase Four. Will it pay off? We’ll know after five more episodes. But for the first episode, I was genuinely entertained for an hour and I will return to the show next week. Marvel Studios has been making episodic stories with their movies, so it makes the transition into episodic television almost seamless. This time, you only have to wait a week to see if the latest big tease pays off.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
  • Overall Score
3.5

Summary

After an inaugural episode full of setup and loose ends, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stays true to Marvel’s house style with lots of action and a wry sense of humor, but we have to get deeper into the series to see if all the setup actually pays off.

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