Director: Kari Skogland Cast: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Don Cheadle Distributor: Disney+ Running Time: 47 min.

The benefit of saddling the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a miniseries format can allow for better breathing room and more experimentation. It’s the perfect vehicle to give the sidekicks of Captain America more dimension. For the past few films, the characters of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes felt like little more than the one with the mechanical wings and the one with the robot arm. Surely there’s more to a character who has felt unworthy of following Captain America and someone who is haunted by his manipulative past. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier pumps the brakes to let that story build.

The first episode is very much a slow-burn, despite opening with an incredibly exciting sequence of Wilson dashing through canyons. Sam (Anthony Mackie) spends his time off duty trying to help his sister with their fishing boat that is struggling to stay afloat. We get to see a whole new side of the usually scowling soldier here, the way Sam tries to be serious yet affectionate with his sister and struggles to find just the right way to help without being imposing. There’s a brilliant balance between the public perceptions of him as a hero and how familiar problems still crop up, best showcased in a scene where he tries to help his sister out with getting a loan. The loan officer is excited to finally meet an Avenger but less so when adhering to his bank’s strict rules about lending money to people who were snapped out of existence for five years.

Meanwhile, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is suffering PTSD from his many assassination missions that were orchestrated by Hydra. Seeking closure, he tries to make amends to the people he has hurt with his brutal killings over the years. Yet it never feels like enough for Bucky. His therapy sessions are rocky and his conversation with the public finds him struggling to get around talking about his past and his robot arm. Redemption may still be possible and there may even be love in his future but that’s a long road for Bucky to walk.

What’s at the forefront of Sam’s mind throughout the episode is how the world will carry on without Captain America. Even though Steve Rogers passed on the iconic shield to Sam at the end of Avengers: Endgame, he still doesn’t feel it’s a good fit for him. The constant questioning of whether or not Sam will become Captain America is sure to be an arc for the season, proving that Wilson won’t need some super-soldier serum to be the hero America needs. If this is where the series is headed, it’s a great path to take the character, even though the comic books pretty much telegraph that Sam does become Captain America.

The slower build is sure to become aggrivating for someone who have been used to the Marvel movies being so breakneck in thier pacing. Within the first episode, we’re given a taste of the secret villain organization and the government’s response to a Cap-less world. It’s sure to increase in future episodes and there’s plenty of questions left lingering. For the moment, I’m fine with the series taking smaller steps in action to take bigger leaps in character development. I already feel like there’s been more compelling arcs for the two characters in a 40-minute episode than they’ve had over the course of the four Marvel movies they appeared within. I also really dug how there’s an Avengers cameo that doesn’t feel as though it needs a grand reveal. We’ve seen this character before and having him show up to chat with Wilson about his current situation has a certain ease to it, opening up more about how much the world has changed since past Avengers films.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is sure to garner some visual whiplash for some, the way audiences went from the surreal weirdness of WandaVision to this more tactile and grounded action saga. It also appears to be a slow-burn from its first episode that is no doubt going to once more breed impatience among its viewers who must wait week-to-week for new episodes. Sam and Bucky haven’t even crossed paths yet which may dismay some who came aboard for the buddy element the show has been pitched as featuring. As it stands, this first episode is a solid direction to take the characters in a longer narrative. Hopefully, it leads to somewhere better than WandaVision’s muddier tale of grief.

You may also like