The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Review – The Land of the Free isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

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I sometimes wonder what Kevin Feige is like: the Marvel Studios head-honcho is in command of arguably the largest media property on the planet, but what’s really going on beneath that baseball cap he wears? By all accounts, Feige’s a nice guy—which is good to hear considering he could buy a majority stake in our entire planet and barely bite into his piggy bank. His efforts seem less focused on tyranny—for the moment—and more on producing entertaining streaming series. WandaVision won me over, and a few weeks after that concluded we were thrust straight into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: a second toe dipped into the water of Marvel’s Disney+ series and the one that I’d argue could have been the safest. Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie have chemistry that would put Heisenberg to shame, and the premise is very easy to sell as middle-of-the-road Marvel action. However, despite Feige and Co. having a very easy foundation, the rest of the series builds upwards in some unexpected ways.

Set weeks after Endgame, Sam Wilson has decided not to step into the star-spangled shoes of Captain America, and his decision to retire the shield inspires ire from Bucky Barnes—the former Winter Soldier, now a guilt-ridden civilian. But as the government takes advantage of Sam’s reluctance and introduces their own Captain America (played with understated depth by Wyatt Russell), a new group of steroid-swigging super soldiers emerges, and the titular heroes must reluctantly partner up, and in the process embark on a walking tour of the post-Endgame MCU. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier enjoys giving its two leads the centre stage, providing them both with pathos that was hard to achieve when both were playing second-fiddle to the original Cap.

The show isn’t afraid to politicise its material, either: in a world where a raccoon helped save the universe and someone unironically calls himself “Batroc the Leaper”, the idea of a Black Captain America still inspires vitriol. Halfway through an episode, the action is put on hold in order to introduce us to Isaiah Bradley, one of the most important additions to the comics canon in decades. The inclusion of this censored super-soldier takes the series in a fascinating direction, reflecting America’s very real medicalisation and experimentation on Black soldiers, and I thought foregrounding him in the often-whitewashed alternate history of the MCU was an unexpected but incredibly important addition to the series.

That’s not to say the show isn’t without its flaws. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier spins a great many plates, and it’s no surprise that some of them fall. The middle of the series feels incredibly cluttered, with the half-dozen overlapping plot threads fighting for attention. One scene in particular, where half the Marvel Universe is crammed into a living room, feels in service of spectacle rather than story. Because of this, a lot of other interesting ideas aren’t given the breathing room they need. The “Flag Smashers”, a faction of baby’s-guide-to-Marxism revolutionaries looking to destabilise the world order, start as an interesting faction but trail off into bland and underdeveloped punching-bags; spouting stock bad-guy phrases and sinister schemes. This culminates in a finale that delivers an emotional and engaging ending, especially for Sam and Bucky, but lacks that same consistency overall.

Verdict: The Falcon and Winter Soldier is a satisfying, if sometimes messy, chapter of the MCU. With all the elements it juggles, the series finale struggles somewhat to tie off loose ends whilst still packing a satisfying punch. But if there’s one thing this show does well, it’s punch. 4/5

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