THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER Season 1 Review; “A Hard-Hitting And Action-Packed New Chapter In The MCU”
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier‘s first season concluded on Disney+ yesterday, and after reviewing the series on a weekly basis, we’re now sharing our verdict on all six instalments as a whole…
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was supposed to be the first Marvel Studios Television project to hit Disney+, but the pandemic meant we got WandaVision first. That hasn’t really affected how we viewed this series, but the Scarlet Witch’s story definitely never varied as much in terms of quality on a week-by-week basis (a sign perhaps that Jac Schaeffer was a stronger showrunner than Malcolm Spellman). As a result, it’s fair to say that this team-up has been an inconsistent experience, even though every episode has been either great or very good. However, while The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is by no means perfect, it does achieve what it set out to do by finally bringing some hard-hitting real-life themes into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and effectively exploring what it means to be a Black Captain America in today’s world.
"New World Order" kicked off with a superb extended action sequence that immediately made it clear Marvel Studios is looking to make as significant an impact on the small screen as the big one, while its exploration of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes’ lives away from The Avengers helped add some much-needed depth to them both. The ideas in this premiere would have been glossed over had we jumped straight into a Captain America 4 with the two heroes, and a compelling cliffhanger got us hooked right from the start. "The Star-Spangled Man," meanwhile, might have been The Falcon and The Winter Soldier‘s best episode. It was a major departure from Spellman’s sombre opener, but Michael Kastelein brought some big laughs, and the sort of interactions between Sam and Bucky we wish this series had delivered more. John Walker immediately intrigued us, and the Flag Smashers impressed in terms of being a formidable threat to Sam and Bucky (that’s about as good as things got for them).
Derek Kolstad wrote the middle two chapters of the six-part series, and while "Power Broker" glossed over Madripoor far too quickly, it more than made up for that with an awesome new take on Baron Zemo. Yes, the retcons were a tad on the nose, and we’re still not sure what the mask achieved beyond simple fan service, but this fresh interpretation of the villain has helped cement his place in the MCU as a possible anti-hero. As for "The Whole World Is Watching," the spotlight was put firmly back on the new Captain America for an action-packed effort that saw the Dora Milaje shine, while delivering a final scene that, quite honestly, we’ll never be able to shake. However, while all that worked, the problem with Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers persisted, and the villainous group were as directionless here as they were in the premiere. Sam’s conversation with Karli was great (anytime those two were on screen together was a plus), but there was nothing here or in the penultimate instalment that really redeemed them or helped elevate the villains beyond being the MCU’s most underwhelming antagonists.
Dalan Musson delivered a solid penultimate episode that, while filler in some respects, expertly handled some key moments, including Walker’s breakdown, Sam’s decision about his future, and a major addition to this shared world in the form of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Crucially, "Truth" helped cement the friendship between its two leads, and if you weren’t on board with them as "co-workers" by this point, you probably never will be. The finale, which has proved to be surprisingly divisive, delivered a satisfying and impactful ending to the series despite wrapping up the story arcs of some characters far too quickly. The Power Broker reveal landed with a thud, and Bucky making amends off screen…well, he deserved more than that, especially as we’d all become so invested in seeing the former assassin move on from his dark past as the Winter Soldier. On the plus side, Malcolm Spellman and Josef Sawyer’s "One World, One People" went some way in making the Flag Smashers feel like a credible threat, and did a good job of putting Walker in a position where we know he’s a hero, but like The Punisher, one who might not protect the world (or America in this case) the right way. Most importantly, the finale of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier made it clear that #SamWilsonIsCaptainAmerica with some fantastic dialogue, big budget blockbuster visuals, and a touching ending.
So, different writers meant the series was a mixed bag at times, but it was definitely a smart decision to have director Kari Skogland calling the shots behind the camera from start to finish. The filmmaker proved herself a dab hand at action and those important character moments, and we’d be 100% on board with her taking the helm of Captain America 4.
Another consistent throughout The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was the performances. Anthony Mackie has always been a fun addition to the Marvel Studios movies, but here, he proved himself every bit the leading man. Through his incredible work, the actor created a role model that people of colour could relate to. Beyond that, he was also someone who could educate everyone else on what it meant to be in his shoes and asked to wear the colours of a country that doesn’t exactly have a good track record with how people who look like him are treated. Sebastian Stan matched him from start to finish, and the sheer level of emotion he put into his performance led to some heart-wrenching, beautiful moments that gave Bucky the depth he was often sorely lacking in previous appearances. Daniel Brühl was clearly having a blast as Baron Zemo, and while he was far from one-dimensional in Captain America: Civil War, he added more new layers to this "villain" and made him a character we cannot wait to see more of. Emily VanCamp was fine as Sharon Carter, but wasn’t exactly working with the strongest material, and that Power Broker twist…well, short of the reveal that she’s a Skrull down the line, it didn’t really work.
Talking of things that didn’t work, the Flag-Smashers are right at the top of the list as we’ve already mentioned a few times here. Erin Kellyman did her best with the material she was given (her chemistry with Mackie was off the charts), but this certainly wasn’t the sort of performance guaranteed to make her a star. Wyatt Russell, on the other hand, has put himself on the map because his take on the new Captain America was simply phenomenal. As a man clearly suffering from PTSD and other mental health conditions his superiors had failed to recognise after a traumatising tour of duty in the Middle East, the pressure of wielding the shield broke him, and the super soldier serum only served to enhance that. There were lots of layers to the actor’s performance and some subtleties that made it clear he’s a very special talent. For proof of that, look at the way he twitches when he suits up as U.S. Agent. It’s a tiny moment in the finale, but one that makes it clear he’s still struggling and is likely to continue doing so for a long time to come.
After six episodes, we can’t describe The Falcon and The Winter Soldier as another Marvel Studios masterpiece, but have no issue with singling this out as still being something very special from Kevin Feige and company. By putting those real-life themes front and centre (Isaiah Bradley’s arc was terrific as was Carl Lumbly’s performance), it feels like the MCU is taking diversity seriously, and not just putting people of colour in lead roles because that’s what is expected. Now, Sam Wilson’s becoming Captain America feels right, as does his decision to initially not want to wield that shield. The series serves as a bold step forward for this shared world, and the timely and relevant ideas that are put to the forefront here will resonate with us for a long time to come, even if certain other aspects of the show don’t.
Inconsistent storytelling and weak lead villains aside, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is a hard-hitting and action-packed new chapter in the MCU mythos which delivers an insightful and impactful exploration of what it means for a Black man to be Captain America.
Check out our reviews of each episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier below: