When I first finished Wandavision, Marvel’s first project to air straight to Disney+, its high quality left me with high hopes for the show immediately following it, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The series’ titular characters, played by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan respectively, are two of my favorites in the MCU, and with Avengers: Endgame leaving the fates of Sam and Bucky (the respective real names of Falcon and Winter Soldier) ambiguous, it seemed like the possibilities were endless for this show. However, while a fun action-packed buddy cop, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier drops the ball on many aspects, including its characters.
Despite having both characters in the title, the main character of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is arguably Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Throughout the season, Sam struggles with the weight of being the next Captain America, beginning solidly as the Falcon and ending the season as a new kind of Captain America. His arc is satisfying if simple, with Sam demonstrating multiple times throughout the season why he deserves the mantle, such as offering mercy and negotiating with the antagonists of the show, the Flag Smashers. However, the time spent on Sam and his development, as well as the plot in general, takes away from time that could have been spent with Bucky, who begins the season in solitude, struggling to reach out and move past his trauma. It’s an intriguing setup, but one that’s dropped for the entire rest of the season in favor of Sam’s arc and the overall plot, leaving Bucky stagnant until the season finale, where his arc is rushed to an unsatisfying conclusion.
Unfortunately for Sam, Bucky, and the show at large, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s greatest strength lies with its side characters. The show introduces John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell), a soldier chosen by the US government to become the new Captain America. He presents a morally grey, pessimistic version of the mantle, contrasting him both with Steve Rogers, his predecessor, and Sam, his soon-to-be successor. Walker is frequently shifting between ally and enemy to the titular heroes, rendering Walker a fascinatingly ambiguous–though admittedly slightly inconsistent–character only strengthened by Russell’s brilliant performance. The show also reintroduces Helmut Zemo (played by Daniel Brühl), one of the MCU’s most riveting antagonists. Interestingly, like Walker, Zemo is treated as more of a morally grey protagonist, once again brilliantly contrasting him to the relatively pure Sam and Bucky. The downside to these characters is that the brilliant writing behind them makes the decent-at-best characterization of Sam and the lackluster writing of Bucky even more apparent.
Nonetheless, the show’s biggest issue is its inconsistent and sometimes jarring sense of morality. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s main antagonists, the Flag Smashers, are presented more as misguided antiheroes than villains, with Sam even defending their leader, Karli Morgenthau (portrayed by Erin Kellyman). Admittedly, the Flag Smashers do fight for an arguably benevolent cause: the abolition of borders, making it, as their slogan goes, “one world, one people.” However, they wantonly murder to achieve their goals; at one point, they even burn down a building full of innocent civilians they intentionally left in there. This bizarrely positive treatment of the Flag Smashers is only emphasized by the show’s presentation of John Walker. According to the show, the worst action anyone takes is when Walker, in the heat of battle and after watching his best friend get killed by Flag Smashers, beats a Flag Smasher to death. While obviously not an applause-worthy action, this one act by Walker should pale in comparison to the mass murder of innocents, but it doesn’t. As such, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier suffers from a confusing and contradictory moral compass that ultimately renders Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers one of the worst, most strangely written antagonistic groups in the MCU.
Overall, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier falls squarely into Marvel’s list of mediocre productions. On the surface, the show is a fun action-comedy featuring two established fan-favorites. For the most part, the performances are superb, with actors like Anthony Mackie and Wyatt Russell remaining charismatic machines on screen no matter what they’re doing. However, the show’s titular characters suffer from mediocre writing, with Sam’s writing somewhat acceptable and Bucky’s arc hastily completed without much development. The show’s bizarre morality also renders it confusing at times, and its antagonists are possibly the weakest-written villains of the MCU. In short, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is an enjoyable watch, if you don’t think too hard.
Picture Source: Disney / Indie Wire
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