Much like WandaVision, the first of Disney+’s Marvel shows, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has a lot of its good work undone by too much ambition.
Both shows have worked as a second chance at an origin story – Wanda became the Scarlett Witch and Sam Wilson becomes Captain America – and, no doubt, both of these arcs are the strongest aspect of both shows. WandaVision works more impressively because its primary focus is always Wanda; everything that happens in the plot affects or is dictated by her in some way, and allows for a true deep-dive into her character. This is why, even with the show losing its way in its final episode (the episode that was more concerned with setting things up for the MCU down the line), I could get over this misstep. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, though, is not so lucky.
The problem and answer are simple. The problem is that there is too much going on in the show – Sam dealing with the consequences of become the first black Captain America, Bucky trying to redeem himself for decades of murder as The Winter Soldier, John Walker going from fresh-faced Captain America to the lazy sequel-bait that is US Agent – none of it compliments each other as it should, thematically, tonally, or otherwise. Instead of a strong ensemble, there is this constant feeling that Sam and Bucky’s stories are getting in the way of each other. It’s only in an episode that takes a break from the superheroics, where the two actually spend some real time bonding, that feels momentus. Sam and Bucky are a good team, but the structure of the story often has one or the other taking a back seat, and that feels like a shame when both Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie bring something so fun to the screen.
I told you the answer is simple, and it is. This should have been entirely Sam’s show. The most important storyline is Sam’s reticence to take up Steve’s mantel; the racial optics and politics involved in such a decision brings about some of the strongest themes, episodes, and characters in the show. Take the character of Isaiah, a black super-soldier who the American government jailed and experimented on for years; the fact that the American government experimented on black superheroes was also briefly explored in the first season of Luke Cage, and it’s something the show could have explored more. As much as I love the appearances of Sharon Carter and Zemo, they feel more like fan-service than the real depth that could have been lent to the show if they had scrapped them and given me a flashback of Isaiah’s history instead.
This is a show about symbols and iconography, but through Isaiah, and through the difference of Sam’s treatment (the only reason why the police let him go after stopping him and Isaiah’s grandson for no reason is because he is recognised as an Avenger), it could have been better used as a piece of popular entertainment to shine some more light on what America thinks the iconography of a hero should look like. I’ll admit that I’m definitely being unfair to the show’s cast and crew. After all, here’s me saying that I wish the show had done more when it’s a miracle that the conservative Disney (I mean that in the sense that they want to alienate as little of the audience as possible) allowed them to include any of what they did.
And I think it’s fair to say that Bucky should have had his own show – or at least could have supported one of his own. I genuinely feel like Bucky appearing as a guest star in The Falcon would have had the same effect as his final iteration; Bucky’s redemption arc is just waiting to be explored in detail in a story that has room for it. Before, we have really only seen this character through the eyes of Steve Rogers, so this was the first time we got Bucky on his own. There is enough here for six episodes of TV all to himself. You keep Zemo, you keep Sharon, and you have a lot more of his time in Wakanda, and his villain should be John Walker. Bucky is sidelined in favour of Sam, which is fine if this was just The Falcon, but his role in the end fight felt less like a valuable member of the team and more like when Darcy crashed her bus into the fleeing SWORD director at the end of Wandavision.
At the end of the day, though, Sam is the most successful thing about Falcon and the Winter Soldier. His first appearance as Captain America is suitably iconic, and even if his speech was a little long, these are things that need to be said. Steve Rogers had the look, but he was a man out of time, so much so that Bucky admits that he and Steve had a joint “I don’t see colour” moment when wanting Sam to wield the shield. All Cap had to do was punch Hitler; Sam’s job is much more complicated. And, in the right hands, could have been a lot more interesting – but as it stands, leaves plenty to be desired.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via marveluniversesinematografia.com)