The newest Disney+ miniseries from Marvel Studios is “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and Marvel’s transition from “WandaVision” to this is like watching the witch comedy “Hocus Pocus” and immediately following it up with the James Bond flick “Skyfall.” The show centers on Sam Wilson, or the Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker,” “The Adjustment Bureau,”) and Bucky Barnes, or the Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Once Upon a Time,”) dealing with the passing on of their friend and super-ally, Captain America, aka Steve Rogers. Despite being the second miniseries from the super movie conglomerate, there are a few kinks they still need to work out.
I think the best place to start when talking about this show is the characters and the chemistry of the two leads, the titular Falcon and Winter Soldier: Sam and Bucky. I think they are pretty goofy together and work very well like a couple of good pals. There are moments of light humor that quickly shift into some good fighting chemistry and sometimes end with both of them dealing with what happened in serious conversation. Sam and Bucky, and by extension Mackie and Stan, have good on-screen chemistry that started in the movies and is definitely the reason they were given this show. Next is an incredibly important character, Isaiah Bradley, who I really want to talk more about but I think it is best to watch his story for yourself and just experience him and why he is important. He is an important piece of not only the MCU but is also an important reflection of what real world historical images are created and what is hidden. HBO’s limited series adaptation of the graphic novel “Watchmen” does this as well and they do it incredibly well, but I would say the history of Isaiah Bradley is a more gut-wrenching and emotionally poignant story. Without spoiling much, his tale holds up a mirror to America’s history of systematic racism in a way only a superhero story can.
Just as much as this show tackles very serious subjects like race and institutional corruption, it also brings a refreshingly silly comic relief to many of its character moments. The cinematography also lends to the situation, being impressively animated during action scenes, but showing that charm and silliness of the characters when they quip or joke around. For example, because of some of this camera work I had a running joke with my roommates while watching that Anthony Mackie had a GoPro strapped to him at all times because the series constantly cut to a close up of his face while doing stunts aptly titled “Mackie Cam.”
Anyone who is in the pop culture space on Twitter has seen the video of Baron Zemo dancing in the club, so it is not much of a spoiler to say that returning from his only other appearance in the MCU in 2016’s “Captain America; Civil War,” is Baron Zemo, played by Daniel Brühl (“Rush,” “Inglourious Basterds”). Rather than being the show’s antagonist he is the “knows everyone and everything” character that helps the two leads get to the places they need. Brühl as Zemo is a delight. I liked him more as a villain in “Civil War,” but his help in progressing the story made it pretty interesting at times, taking them to interesting places like the fictional South Eastern Asian city of Madripoor.
Another additional character that brought a lot to this series was former Captain of the United States Army, John Walker, played by Wyatt Russell (“Overlord,” “22 Jump Street”). I really liked Walker in every episode he was featured in. Walker is initiated by the United States military as the new Captain America despite the role originally being intended for Wilson, showing that they would rather choose a white soldier as America’s role model than a Black superhero. Fantastically portrayed by Russell, he starts off as a very unwanted character who then stems into someone you feel a little bad for and enjoy watching. But, in his final stretch you either really root for him or you really want him to fail. I personally rooted for him the whole way and without giving away his story, I think Marvel has some incredible potential with Walker in the future. He is cocky and charming yet not a complete jerk, and Russell’s performance is so good I am officially creating my second petition targeted towards Marvel to give a miniseries or movie series specifically for Wyatt Russell as John Walker in the future. My first petition is to give “Daredevil” a proper finale and fourth season, but I digress. Finishing off the list of notable characters is the antagonist, Karli Morgenthau, leader of the terrorist group The Flag Smashers. I don’t think it’s a hot take to say her story was very bland, rushed, unfinished and uninteresting. Erin Kellyman as Karli was fine at best. Her plot was really just a generic “villain wants to take over the world and anyone against us is bad” kind of story. I could not find any kind of interest in her story with the only exception being a conversation she has with Wilson about oppression and resistance.
I went into this show not very excited because everything else Marvel had been putting out was big budget sci-fi focused, but for them to step back to espionage as their next step was a little strange. It is not very hard to get interested in this show, luckily. There are plenty of substories going on that quickly become “filler” content, although some of it is just fun. For every story that drags on there is one that is interesting and cool enough to keep you wanting to see the end. The finale is both a ‘hit’ and ‘miss’ episode that is a good amalgamation of all of the things the show was: fun, rushed, action-packed, long and filled with good character moments. I want more John Walker, I wish there were less subplots and I liked what I got. There is enough referential comic content to keep the nerds, like me, happy and enough visual spectacle to keep casual viewers interested. The story itself is fine and a bit predictable at times, the pacing is occasionally frustrating and the dialogue gets pretty dumb and irritatingly cliché at times. I found a lot to like and a lot to dislike out of this and I am still not sure which I prefer between “WandaVision” and “TFATWS” but I do think this was a step in a good direction for Marvel. I realize my grading system has always been horribly confusing thus far with the Collegian, so to simplify it I’ll just use letters. “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” is a light to decent “C.”