The final episode of Marvel’s second ‘official’ tv series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier dropped at the weekend, wrapping up what has been a rather different and more subdued experience than what we saw with WandaVision.
It’s difficult not to compare The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to WandaVision, but the two couldn’t be more polar opposites. WandaVision was packed full of spectacular special effects and an impressive reality-bending storyline, whereas The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a lot more grounded and low-key. While there are many that won’t appreciate such a change in pace, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is just as good a watch.
Following on from the final scenes of Avengers: Endgame, in which Steve Rogers handed over his shield to Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the series opens with an impressive action sequence with Sam working as a government contractor. In between government contracts, Sam is trying to help out with the family fishing business ran by his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) which is in financial difficulties and despite his Avenger status, the banks are unwilling to help Sam and Sarah. Meanwhile, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is trying to adjust to life in the 21st century and freedom from his Hydra past. He’s in therapy, struggling with the guilt of his past crimes and murders and trying to atone for his actions.
Sam and Bucky are brought together by the rise of a revolutionary group calling themselves the Flag Smashers, whose goal is to unite the world without borders and help those that have been displaced by the Snap. Led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), the Flag Smashers are soon revealed to have taken the super-soldier serum to help their movement. Determined to track the Flag Smashers down, Sam and Bucky enlist the help of former enemy Baron Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) and exiled agent Sharon Carter (Emily Van Kamp). However, due to Sam relinquishing Steve’s shield to the government, they also have to deal with the new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and his rather questionable tactics.
As plots go, this is fairly by the numbers. Despite being a show about Avengers and superpowers, this doesn’t feel very superhero-y. It feels instead like an action thriller similar to the likes of The Bourne films, but with added super strength. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it does bring a completely different tone to what we’re used to with Marvel and it doesn’t feel like the spectacle we’ve come to expect. That said, the fight and action scenes are pretty brutal and impressive. The main issue with the plot is that it’s very slow in parts – the first episode especially concentrates far too much on Sam’s family issues, although it does pick up when Sam and Bucky finally get together in episode two. It also fails to develop some plot points to their full potential. Wyatt Russell’s John Russell is brilliantly turned into a tortured and morally questionable Captain America over the space of the series, however, the resolution to his storyline in the final episode is almost brushed over and a huge letdown.
Despite the concerns over the plot, this is still enjoyable to watch and this is wholly down to Sam and Bucky. It is especially good to see more of Sebastian Stan as Bucky, who has been rather sidelined in the recent Avengers films. He brings a great deal of heart and emotion to every scene that he’s in, and the scenes that show Bucky dealing with modern life and atoning for his sins are both funny and heartbreaking. And then there’s the budding bromance between Sam and Bucky, who are very likeable leads. Their argumentative bickering may be a little predictable and cliched, but it brings a great deal of humour and laughs to what would otherwise be a rather serious storyline. Their most memorable moments include a discussion around “the big 3” (androids, aliens and wizards) and a joint therapy session, which had me nearly crying with laughter. Adding to the hilarity is a rather brilliant turn by Daniel Brühl as Zemo, who is given a chance to break out from his rather underutilised role in Civil War. I just wish they’d kept up this level of humour across the later episodes.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t perfect. While it may have a lot of the humour that was lacking from WandaVision, the superhero spectacle here is noticeably missing. However, despite its slow pace, it was still highly entertaining and has satisfyingly resolved the question of what happens to Captain America following Steve’s departure. Just don’t mention Sam’s new suit.
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