After WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finds two more superheroes in dire need of counselling
If the season premiere is any hint, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is going to be a lot more conventional in terms of its storytelling and structure than WandaVision
Wanda Maximoff just, barely, got through her grief therapy masquerading as a sitcom in WandaVision. Now, Bucky Barnes must deal with his own trauma in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In the season premiere, Bucky opts for a more traditional CBT approach to unpack the emotional baggage that comes with being a stone-cold assassin for half a century. His therapist has recommended he make amends for his homicidal past. Turns out, you can't just go back to normalcy after being brainwashed and turned into a killing machine. Not to mention being Blipped and fighting multiple wars to save the world.
In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, both Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) must face up to the realities of a post-Blip world. Sam is still struggling with the pressure of Captain America handing him the mantle. If you remember when Cap hands the shield to him in Avengers: Endgame, Sam says, “It feels like it belongs to someone else.” The show clarifies it's a comment less about whether he deserves to be the next Captain America, but more about if he should fight for a country that won't fight for him.
"Symbols are nothing but the men and women who give them meaning," Sam says. The show's creator, Malcolm Spellman, made a great point in an interview: "That symbol means something very different in Sam’s hands than it does in Steve’s." Spellman doesn't underplay America's racial dynamics even in a world populated by superheroes. When Sam tries to get a loan from a bank to save the family business, the manager is excited to be in the presence of an Avenger. But he still refuses him the loan. It mirrors the reality of mortgage discrimination in the US.
One of the benefits of the cross-pollination between the shows and the movies of MCU is it imbues the once side-lined characters with a sense of interiority. That's what the show has going for it more than anything else: the way its superhero story is rooted in personal struggles, family and community. Being superhuman doesn't free them from human constraints. Falcon can fly in the air, engage in mid-air fisticuffs and stop bullets with his retractable wings. But Sam is grounded by the same struggles as any other government employee trying to make a living.
Despite Shuri's best efforts to deprogram him, Bucky still suffers from nightmares of his HYDRA missions. But we also get to see a different side to Bucky. The 106-year-old man, who as he himself confesses hasn't danced since 1943, goes on a date in one of the episode's more tender moments. Sam and Bucky are yet to meet in the show. The next episode will no doubt correct that. Couple the action with their banter, you've got another fun trek through MCU's familiar folklore. Emily VanCamp's Sharon Carter, who's been MIA since Captain America: Civil War, will too join them at some point.
If the season premiere is any hint, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is going to be a lot more conventional in terms of its storytelling and structure than WandaVision. But it doesn't lack ambition. In terms of espionage and action, it harnesses the same kind of excitable energy as Captain America: Winter Soldier. The opening aerial sequence of a hostage rescue mission is the centrepiece. The camera swoops up and down, following Falcon in full flight as he evades missiles on his tail. Although the sequence may seem lo-fi in comparison to the movies that preceded the show, it's still great use of CGI to simulate realism.
Based on the first and only episode provided by Disney+, what remains unclear is the plot. There's reference to a militia group called Flag Smashers, and we get a glimpse of them in the same kind of purple mask worn by Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) in Civil War. In the comics, Flag-Smasher was one of Cap's adversaries, an anti-nationalist (not the kind who inconvenience Modi & co.) who hoped to liberate the world by destroying the concept of nations. It will be interesting to see how Spellman will update his villainy to a modern context. With Zemo having somehow escaped after being imprisoned in Civil War, there's little doubt over who might be pulling the strings again. In one of the trailers, he does speak of having “no intention of leaving my work unfinished.”
Having become so used to consuming shows in one go, the Disney+ shows offer a nice change of pace. WandaVision's weekly rollout ensured a longer cultural shelf-life. Episodes felt like episodes, driving fresh conversations week after week. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should keep social media busy for the next six weeks at least. WandaVision is already a bonafide cultural phenomenon. We'll wait and watch if The Falcon and the Winter Soldier makes it two in two for Disney+'s Marvel chapter.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premieres on Disney+ Hotstar Premium on 19 March, with new episodes to follow every Friday.
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