Shifting gears with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier

Gretchen Lee—Staff Writer 

Contributed Photo

After the smashing success of WandaVision, Disney faced the challenge of following it up with a show that would even remotely touch the excitement people had for their first Marvel show. Two weeks after the WandaVision finale, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (TFATWS) began, not with a bang, but with a whisper that still drew applause.

The story picks up right where Avengers: Endgame left our new main characters, Sam Wilson (The Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (The Winter Soldier). Steve Rodgers has passed the mantle and shield of Captain America to Sam. Feeling uncomfortable with the idea of becoming Captain America, Sam gives the shield to the Smithsonian and continues to serve as The Falcon while helping his sister with their family business. Bucky, on the other hand, has been going to therapy and is attempting to make amends for the crimes he committed as The Winter Soldier. 

Tensions worldwide begin to rise as the Flag Smashers—a radical group of refugees displaced by the return of the people who were killed by Thanos with the infinity gauntlet—begin attacking cities. In order to combat this tension and track down the radicals, the government decided a new Captain America is needed. Upset that Steve’s legacy is being passed on to someone Steve did not know, Sam and Bucky team up to track down the Flag Smasher’s leader themselves.

Despite the significantly different tone of this show, it is enjoyable and entertaining. Bucky and Sam have an excellent character dynamic that makes their interaction on screen feel organic. The audience can easily believe these two knew each other through a mutual friend and, now that that mutual friend is gone, they are grudgingly growing close. Each character compliments the other in a way that truly helps drive the plot. Sam helps Bucky through processing his trauma and the crimes he has unwittingly committed, while Bucky’s loyalty to Steve’s legacy helps Sam have the confidence to overcome hesitancy over his role as a hero.

The show also touches on the topic of racism through the story of Sam in a way that is unmistakable, but still serves to help propel character and plot development. This sub-plot is incredibly timely, and it is striking to see social issues like this affect a character that fans have learned to love long before seeing this show.

The antagonists are interesting and well-written. John Walker, the new Captain America, is deliberately written as the antithesis of Steve Rogers right from the start and is a character everyone can love to hate. Baron Zemo is, shockingly, quite amusing and more of an anti-hero than an actual villain. The Flag Smashers serve as a sympathetic force, even though their ends do not justify their means. Each antagonist has a separate purpose in the plot while still being intertwined with the lives of the other characters in a way that makes sense. 

One criticism I have of this series stems from a fault I find in many Marvel movies. Oftentimes, I feel that Marvel is event and action focused, which means their movies are a string of happenings strung together to make a story. One thing that I liked about WandaVison that made me hopeful for the next stage of the MCU was the fact that it was more character driven. The plot was still well-planned and interesting, but had a strong focus on characters. TFATWS feels a bit like a step back into action-driven writing. It still has some character development, but not nearly to the extent that I would like to see it accomplish. I would say it is better than past Marvel projects, but it still has significant room for improvement.

Other than that, however, this show is golden. It has excellent action, interesting characters, a unique plot, and timely ties to real-world events that do not make the show feel message-heavy. I am excited to see where Sam and Bucky end up in future projects, and I hope this is not the last we have seen of many side characters as well.

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