With the debut of WandaVision on Disney+ at the beginning of 2021, the Marvel Cinematic Universe made its greatest leap yet: onto televisions in episodic format. The series kicked off a new frontier for the MCU, taking A-list superheroes (and the A-list stars who play them) from the big screen and placing them in sprawling, multi-part narratives delivered straight to your living room. Iterative episodes with greater long-term character investment has always been a benefit television has had over film, and with its new slate of original MCU series, which will be interwoven with its upcoming films, Disney is trying something that has never really been done before.
The second of the MCU’s Disney+ series will be The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which will bring Steve Rogers’ two well-loved sidekicks into their very own spotlight. After a frosty first encounter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a begrudging alliance in Civil War, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes now find themselves on their own as villains both new and familiar rise in a post-Endgame world. Can these fractious frenemies come together to save the day? Here’s everything we know about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
What’s the release date for Falcon and Winter Soldier?
While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was originally announced alongside the rest of Marvel’s Phase 4 offerings with a vague release date of "Fall 2020," the series has since been shuffled around numerous times, moving back and forth until finally settling on a release date of March 19, 2021. This makes it the second of Marvel’s new Disney+ series, premiering just a couple weeks after the final episode of WandaVision is set to drop.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will be the second of a whopping six post-Endgame streaming MCU releases in 2021; after its six episodes finish airing, the series will be followed up by Loki in May of 2021, What If…? later that summer, and Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel toward the end of the year. This is in addition to Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and the as-yet untitled third MCU Spider-Man movie all currently set to premiere in 2021. With all of the shuffling around of Marvel’s Phase 4 schedule, it’ll be interesting to see how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier fits into the MCU’s interwoven timeline, and to consider what how the next wave of Marvel storytelling could have played out if the series had been permitted to kick off the television side of Phase 4 as originally planned.
Anthony Mackie flies again in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Anthony Mackie will, of course, be reprising his role as Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Though Steve Rogers bequeathed Sam his shield at the end of Endgame, it isn’t clear yet just how or when he will be adopting the mantle of Captain America. In an interview with MTV News, Mackie teased about going to a costume fitting for his own Cap uniform, offering a cheeky "it looks good" to whet the collective appetite.
Falcon is not inherently super-powered and up until now, has utilized his wicked-cool birdlike jetpack system and Redwing drone to accompany his serum-enhanced supersoldier buddies. But that’s no weakness: it creates a new, interesting dimension and added complexity for our new Captain America. To quote our favorite avian-themed hero in The Winter Soldier: "I do what he does, just slower." You have to get creative when you can’t lift multi-ton I-beams and casually take bullets.
Sebastian Stan: Armed and (less) dangerous
Sebastian Stan will also be reprising his role as Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier. After some time spent quite literally chilling with King T’Challa, followed by a blip to the afterlife and back, we have a new and frankly untested Bucky to meet. He’s lucid, his luscious hair is shiny and conditioned, his goats back in Wakanda are thriving. Nothing can stop this psychologically-recovered former assassin … or so we hope. What the Falcon lacks in superpowered brawn, Bucky more than makes up for with his fresh Wakandan-made prosthetic arm.
Curiously, both Mackie and Stan took turns holding the iconic shield at the SDCC panel announcing their show and its release date. Is it a tease of things to come? Both Sam and Bucky are well-known for having worn the mantle of Captain America on the comics page at one point or another, and both have been shown on-screen to be competent in wielding the shield as a death frisbee, just like Steve.
Daniel Bruhl returns to scheme against the Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Daniel Bruhl will be reprising his role as the cunning Helmut Zemo, last seen in Captain America: Civil War. At he moment, we do not know if Zemo was "blipped," per the term introduced in Spider-Man: Far from Home, but he has a new look! Longtime fans may know that original-flavor comics Zemo had a bag accidentally glued to his head (yeah, it’s a whole thing). We doubt his screen costume will have origins quite so silly, but Bruhl posted a teaser image on his Instagram from the SDCC 2019 presentation featuring him in that iconic purple mask and goggles.
Bucky in particular will have a bone or two to pick with him after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Will he be safe now from the special trigger words Zemo used on him before? And what has he been up to in the interim, blip or no blip? When we last left him, King T’Challa had stayed Zemo’s suicidal hand, ensuring he would stay alive and imprisoned for his multiple crimes — not the least of which being the murder of King T’Chaka.
Emily VanCamp returns for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
A bigger surprise than the return of our two heroes and their nemesis is the revelation that Emily VanCamp is reprising her role as Sharon Carter, a.k.a. Agent 13, in the cast of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, though in how deep a capacity is unknown. Sharon didn’t feature in Infinity War or Endgame at all, and VanCamp currently stars in the medical drama The Resident on Fox. She’s kinda busy, and her presence may end up being intermittent (even if Disney technically signs both of those paychecks).
Nonetheless, her character’s inclusion in the cast is interesting. We don’t know whether Sharon was affected by the blip, or how she has been coping since then, five years hence. With Sharon no longer in the CIA after providing Steve Rogers with classified information in Civil War, we’re filled with questions about what she’s been up to since twice siding with Captain America over her former employers (the first being her taking a stand against the HYDRA-infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
In the Falcon and the Winter Soldier Super Bowl trailer, Sharon looks as though she may still be on the lam, lurking in the shadows and engaging in a brutal brawl with a group of foes. This seems to track with some of the official merchandise for the show, which features a wanted poster of Sharon’s face, raising the question of whether Sharon will defy the law for Captain America yet again — albeit with someone new bearing the shield.
Wyatt Russell joins the fight
Disney’s big D23 Expo in August 2019 dropped some tantalizing news for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, including the addition of a brand-new character to the MCU. Wyatt Russell will be playing John Walker, a.k.a. U.S. Agent.
Walker is, in simplest terms, a kind of politically opposite Captain America, often functioning as an anti-hero antagonist rather than an outright villain. His costume even looks very similar to Cap’s. In the comics, he exists to discredit Cap and works as an avatar of the U.S. government, falling in line where Steve Rogers famously refused to comply. For example, during the original Civil War comics event, Walker was in favor of the Superhero Registration Act that Steve Rogers fought against. Walker’s presence suggests that Sam and Bucky could have a fight on their hands in defending Steve’s vision for superheroes, and may wind up having to defend not only innocent civilians, but the very idea of what it means to be Captain America.
Don Cheadle will be making an appearance as War Machine
Having two Avengers in a series already felt like an embarrassment of riches, but in early 2021, Don Cheadle told BroBible’s Post-Credit Podcast that James "Rhodey" Rhoades, a.k.a. War Machine, will also be making an appearance on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Rhodey has technically been around from the very beginning of the MCU, although during his first appearance in Iron Man, he was played by Terrence Howard. Cheadle came aboard the franchise in Iron Man 2, taking over for Howard, and has been Tony Stark’s right-hand man in the MCU ever since.
Now, with Tony gone, it appears as though Rhodey will finally be stepping into the spotlight as the star of the upcoming MCU Disney+ series, Armor Wars, which will see Rhodey dealing with a threat arising from some of Stark’s tech falling into the wrong hands. We don’t know if his appearance in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will help set the stage for Armor Wars, or if Rhodey will be showing up solely to help out his fellow Avengers in whatever problems they face. "That’s some of the fun of the MCU," Cheadle said, speaking to BroBible, "that we all get to show up in each other’s stories, and there are ways that we’re cross-platforming these characters, and they become storylines, sometimes, in the movies. And then these storylines in the movies become storylines in the shows."
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will introduce a number of new characters
In addition to the return of Emily VanCamp, Daniel Bruhl, and Don Cheadle, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will also be bringing back another familiar face with Georges St-Pierre reprising his role as Georges Batroc, a.k.a. Batroc the Leaper, the same character he played in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. St-Pierre’s role in The Winter Soldier was small but memorable, with the character engaging in an impressive martial arts-heavy one-on-one fight with the Captain himself. Last we saw him, he was being interrogated by S.H.I.E.L.D., but what happened to him after the organization went under, or how he’ll cross paths with his former foe’s best buds in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, is anyone’s guess.
As far as new characters go, in addition to the introduction of Wyatt Russell’s John Walker, the cast will include a number of fresh faces, including Erin Kellyman, Adepero Oduye, Desmond Chiam, Miki Ishikawa, Noah Mills, Carl Lumbly, and Danny Ramirez. It’s clear from the trailer that Kellyman will be playing one of the Flag-Smashers (although it’s possible her role may be more complex), but none of the other new actors’ official character names or roles have been revealed.
Some have speculated that Alias alumnus Lumbly may be playing Isaiah Bradley, a.k.a. the Black Captain America. Not only would including Bradley fit with the historical and racial themes Jackman promised would be present in the show, but the character is also the grandfather of Young Avengers member Elijah Bradley, a.k.a. Patriot. With WandaVision introducing Billy (Wiccan) and Tommy (Speed), Hawkeye bringing on Kate Bishop (Hawkeye), Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania including a teenage Cassie Lang (Stature), and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness introducing teen hero America Chavez (Miss America), we can’t help but notice that the MCU seems to be laying the groundwork for an eventual Young Avengers team, and including Isaiah Bradley in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier seems like a natural early step toward that goal.
Who will be directing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?
Kari Skogland will be directing all six episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. She is most lauded for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale, earning an Emmy nomination and winning a BAFTA for the Hulu series. Many of her other directorial credits are either tense political thrillers or dark genre fare, with episodes of The Borgias, Boardwalk Empire, and The Walking Dead under her belt. If her apparent specialized skill set is going to be exercised, that would be something of a tone change for the MCU.
However, after the political intrigue of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the interpersonal quasi-Shakespearean tragedy of Captain America: Civil War, it shouldn’t come as a shocker to anyone that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier also promises to tackle some tense and weighty themes. The show’s composer, Henry Jackman, has described it as a "psychological drama," saying, "there’s very much serious issues, now more than ever, about what it means to hold [Cap’s] shield and what kind of a person should ultimately be holding that shield, and with the history of this country, and how African Americans would feel about being Captain America or not. It’s still entertaining, but it touches on less comfortable things that give rise to some really impressive performances. It’s a great balance of entertainment and writing [centering] around more weighty issues."
It would seem that Skogland’s track record of balancing similarly weighty issues with taut storytelling and thrilling action makes her the perfect fit for the Marvel series.
Who will be writing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?
The first chief screenwriter attached to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier back in 2018 was Malcolm Spellman, previously most recognizable for his work on Fox’s music industry familial drama Empire. Early in 2019, the project also landed Derek Kolstad, original creator of the character John Wick and co-writer of the genre-changing series of glitzy, high-octane action films. It is unknown if these two writers will be working collaboratively across all episodes, or if their efforts will be designated to individual installments.
According to series star Sebastian Stan, what the show’s writing team has come up with feels cinematic in its tone. Stan told The Hollywood Reporter, "What I loved about [the show] was that, tonally, it was very much in the same world that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was, which was one of my favorite experiences that I’ve ever had, period. So, in a sense, it was grounded and very much in the world as we know it. But, it’s also really jam-packed with a lot of massive, massive action scenes mixed with deep focus on character. These characters are getting so much more mileage for all of us to explore them. We can put them in situations that we’ve never been able to put them in before because you now have six hours as opposed to two."
Stan’s promise of a grounded, character-centered tone interspersed with giant action scenes makes total sense in light of the writing team, who should be able to deliver on each of those elements in spades.
Catching up with the Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The last we saw of Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson was in the final minutes of Avengers: Endgame, when an elderly Steve Rogers passed off his trademark shield to Sam while Bucky approvingly looked on. As far as we know, Steve Rogers is still alive in the MCU, but he’s now retired. However, in early 2021, Deadline revealed the surprising news that Chris Evans was supposedly in talks to return to the MCU in some capacity. We don’t know yet what form Evans’ alleged return would take, or whether it would be on the big screen or one of the Disney+ series. It still seems unlikely he’ll be appearing in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, since that may undercut the dramatic weight of Sam taking on the Captain America mantle, but we can’t rule it out entirely.
Outside of whether Steve Rogers might make an appearance, there are some other big questions we may see addressed in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Although WandaVision was originally scheduled to follow The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s now preceding it (and may have always been intended to be taking place concurrently, or earlier), and we can’t help but wonder if the reality-bending events of the former may bleed into the latter in some way. As for Sam and Bucky themselves, in addition to Sam stepping into the role of Steve’s successor, the two antagonistic allies will also have to learn how to work effectively with each other — which may be much easier said than done, since the pair has never really gotten along, and won’t have Steve there anymore to mediate.
Falcon v. United States of America
A reported rumor suggests an overarching plotline in the series will be the idea that the U.S. government doesn’t approve of Sam becoming Captain America. Even after Steve Rogers was instrumental in reversing the blip and defeating Thanos, it would seem that Captain America is still persona non grata to the United States government, as he was following the events of Captain America: Civil War. Add in composer Henry Jackman’s comments about how the racist history of the United States will weigh into the public perception of a Black man as Captain America, and the presence of Wyatt Russell’s U.S. Agent, and it’s safe to say that Sam’s path toward acceptance in his new role won’t be an easy one.
Additionally, Bucky is still considered an enemy of the state. He may have joined in the final battle against Thanos’ forces at the Avengers compound, but the world at large wasn’t there to witness it. Manipulation of public opinion is a growing theme in the MCU, and has always been a problem for Bucky during his journey towards recovery. Zemo was, after all, the original architect of the fake news about Bucky’s dangerous ways in Civil War, and he’s back as a full-blown supervillain in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. All of this seems to add up to Bucky and Sam not necessarily being welcomed back into a post-blip world with open arms.
Thunderbolts … assemble?
Though this isn’t a rumor so much as a possible suggestion based on Zemo’s comics history, it is very much worth noting that the supervillain did try to start his own Avengers-like organization once upon a time: the Thunderbolts. Originally, they intended to gain public trust via fake aliases and then "turn" evil. Eventually, everyone turned on Zemo as their fake personas became publicly beloved, and they chose to walk away from the duplicity.
The original character roster for the Thunderbolts is extremely obscure and unlikely to be used directly, but the concept of someone trying to fill a power vacuum post-Endgame with a new pseudo-Avengers isn’t a bad one at all. The Zemo of the MCU has already exhibited the necessary skills as a master manipulator to accomplish this kind of mass public disinformation, and the movies have featured plenty of surviving but mostly-forgotten antagonists — including the Abomination, the Leader, Batroc, and Justin Hammer — who could conceivably be recruited in a vendetta against the new Captain(s) America.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that another canonical member of the Thunderbolts roster — Taskmaster — will be showing up as the main villain of the Black Widow movie, which originally was scheduled to precede The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, although it will now be premiering after the series ends.
New duds for our favorite mugs
To celebrate the start of filming of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier back in 2019, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan did what several of their MCU co-stars have done in the past — they took over the official Marvel Studios Instagram account and posted about the first day of filming. The series of small clips on the account’s story featured some light banter between the two ex-sidekicks as they stepped into their new leading roles, which we know from the trailer will definitely be bleeding over into the series.
Along with that, we were treated to concept art of the duo’s new getups when Disney+ went online in November 2019. Launch day for the streamer included a short documentary entitled "Marvel Studios: Expanding the Universe," which gave a short rundown of what we can expect from all the MCU miniseries coming to the streaming service in the next few years. Once Marvel dropped their extended first look at the series in late 2020, followed by the full trailer in early 2021, those drawings came to life before our eyes, giving us our first live-action glimpses of Sam’s patriotic new wings, Bucky’s tough new all-black ensemble, redesigned looks for Sharon Carter and Zemo, and a fleeting look of the back of John Walker’s U.S. Agent uniform.
The trailer shows Sam and Bucky still haven’t worked out all their differences
Although Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes have reluctantly fought on the same side in several films now, they’re still far from being each other’s favorite. And while many of the MCU’s superheroes had five years following Thanos’ snap to get their priorities in order, Sam and Bucky spent that time as pile of dust, so their irritation with each other is still pretty fresh. It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that although they’ll be teamed up together in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, the first full trailer for the series begins and ends with them in a scenario that most closely resembles couples counseling.
"Mr. Barnes, why does Sam aggravate you?" their therapist asks, as the pair sits sullenly on the other side of her desk. The trailer then cuts to numerous scenes of Sam and Bucky alternately working together and fighting side by side, all while pushing each other’s emotional buttons, before ending with them back in the therapist’s office, their chairs turned to face each other as they glare at one another in an impromptu staring contest. "Just blink!" the exasperated therapist says, snapping her fingers in front of their faces. "How old are you?"
Of course, as MCU fans know, the answer to that question — at least when it comes to Bucky — is a lot more complicated than she might think.