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‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ explores an icon’s complex legacy

By Anthony Herring The Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially entered a new era of storytelling. Having utilized feature-length films for 11 years straight, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that the MCU would venture into the world of television. At Comic-Con in 2019, he revealed that these shows would be released on Disney+, starting with five: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, What If…?, and Hawkeye. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was scheduled as the first show to be released, with a tentative date of Fall 2020. Everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Every MCU show was delayed, resulting in the schedule being shuffled around to accommodate production changes. As a result, the first show to be released on Disney+ was WandaVision (back in January 2021), with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier following suit on March 19th. The show—part of the MCU’s Phase Four slate—manages to tell a compelling and timely story, despite a few stumbles here and there.

Two peas in a pod

Image from The Mary Sue
Set six months after Avengers: Endgame, Sam Wilson (played by Anthony Mackie) struggles with the fact that Steve Rogers chose him to be the next Captain America. Rather than take up the mantle, he decides to give it away to the U.S. government—a decision that backfires. What ultimately makes Wilson’s arc gripping is not only due to Mackie’s insanely likable performance, or that Wilson proves himself worthy of being Captain America time and time again—but because the show chooses to discuss how he is a Black man in America. He gives up Cap’s shield for this reason, as he believes that there’s no way that the country will accept him as this symbol of Americanism. The inner conflict presented here is portrayed well, and ultimately has a satisfying conclusion.  The second half of this duo is none other than Bucky Barnes, played by Sebastian Stan. Before this show, it can be argued that Barnes didn’t really have any discernible character traits. The best I could give you regarding that is that he was both Steve Rogers’ best friend and the Winter Soldier. (Infinity War and Endgame did him no favors, as Barnes had barely any screen time in those films.) Thankfully, the show actually takes the character’s past and uses it in impactful ways, demonstrating how he seeks redemption for his crimes as the Winter Soldier. Not only that, but he feels like a real character, as there are multiple facets of his personality on display, such as his remorse and personal growth. The chemistry that Stan shares with Mackie is wonderful too (which is great, or else the show’s premise would’ve fallen flat).

The Star-Spangled Man without a plan

Image from USA Today
One of the show’s newest characters is John Walker, who is played by Wyatt Russell (the son of Kurt Russell, who was also in the MCU as Ego the Living Planet). The U.S. government chooses Walker—which goes against what Wilson wanted when he gave the shield away. To make matters worse, Walker is shown to be the perfect soldier: brave, in peak physical condition, and highly decorated—but not a wholly good man, which is in stark contrast to Wilson and Rogers. As a result, he is revealed to be emotionally unstable and slightly insecure, making dangerous and reckless decisions at the worst possible times. Russell does an incredible job showing these aspects of Walker’s character, so much to the point that many have thrown hate towards him. (Frankly, that hate should be thrown at Walker, not Russell, he’s just doing his job as an actor.) Despite all that, there are moments where the character expresses his humanity, which ultimately makes him a rather compelling anti-hero instead of a full-on villain. 

Chillin’ with a villain(s)

Image from Deadline
Speaking of villains, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has a group of them in the name of the Flag-Smashers. They are led by Karli Morgenthau (portrayed by Erin Kellyman), and their goal is to make the world how it was during the Blip (the five-year period between Infinity War and Endgame). While their goals were clearly illustrated, Morgenthau and her accomplices as characters themselves were pretty uninteresting and unmemorable.  Thankfully, the same cannot be said for Daniel Brühl’s Baron Helmut Zemo (who returns from Civil War). While it can be argued that Zemo didn’t have to be in the film—the Sokovia Accords provided enough for the Avengers—he definitely was one of the highlights of it. Zemo is one of the better MCU villains we’ve gotten, and it was delightful to see him return. The show reveals more about his backstory, gives a deeper insight into his hatred towards superpowered individuals, and manages to do the impossible: turn him into a meme. (That last part is a sight to behold.) Lastly, Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter returns as well (with her last appearance being in Civil War). Unlike the more benevolent portrayals of the character in the past, she is instead cast in a more suspicious light. She lives in the city of Madripoor (a staple from Marvel’s X-Men comics) and partakes in very mysterious dealings. Without getting into major spoilers, it is an interesting route to take Carter—considering that she’s the niece of the heroic Agent Peggy Carter.
Sources: The Verge, Entertainment Weekly, CBR, IMDB Images: The Mary Sue, USA Today, Deadline Featured Image: MediaScrolls