So ends the second project in Marvel’s Phase 4 line-up. With WandaVision setting a high bar for many, was The Falcon and the Winter Soldier able to compare?
The answer is yes, without a doubt. In fact, it might just be better. The Direct breaks down exactly why that is.
THE DETAILS: PLOT, PACING, SOUNDTRACK
Taking place about six months after Avengers: Endgame, the titular heroes, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, are still having trouble adapting to life after their returns during The Blip. Sam is having family issues that he doesn’t feel caught up on or equipped to handle, while Bucky is having nightmares and sleeping on his empty apartment’s floor. Life isn’t so grand, despite their victory over the Mad Titan, Thanos.
That’s one of the interesting tidbits that the show gives viewers right off the bat. The bigger-than-life Avengers’ heroes living their normal everyday lives—something that wouldn't likely fit into a film. In that way, the show does a great job of building a close connection to Sam and Bucky, two characters that, in all honesty, viewers don’t really know. Thankfully, coming out of the show, that’s no longer the case.
The story told throughout the six episodes was, for the most part, paced well. The first four episodes in particular were very well put together and engaging through and through, right until the moment the credits rolled. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the final two episodes.
It’s that final stretch where the show started to unravel a bit. While not bad by any stretch of the imagination, Episode 5 found everything coming to a screeching halt as the story chose to spend some quality time with Sam and Bucky who made some personal decisions. The episode produced some great stuff, but that sudden stop was jarring.
Then, there was the finale where things start off very suddenly—in fact, it’s not clear at all where the story is or what’s happening. That information is quickly filled in, of course, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that everything went from 0% to 110% just like that, the opposite of what the previous episode did. The pacing wasn’t the only thing wrong with Episode six, but more on that later.
It wouldn’t be an MCU project without a little fighting. Thankfully, the action scenes in the show were top-notch, and one would be hard-pressed to notice the difference between them and the ones in MCU films. In particular, the show started off with its best: the helicopter chase sequence in the canyon during the opening episode. It was a phenomenal piece of work, one that contained fantastic choreography and was highly creative in how it was executed. It was a perfect way to start off the show.
Another stand-out sequence was the 2v1 fight between Sam, Bucky, and Walker. The show had built to this moment, and everything was emotionally charged—the absolute best thing to have for any fight sequence (something in which the show excelled in). There was a sense of tragedy in the air as these men fought over Steve’s legacy. The shot with the three laying on the floor and the shield between them all was ripe with poetry.
Then, there was the music which was absolutely fantastic. The show brought back previous themes multiple times, including the Winter Soldier’s from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the key melody “Civil War” from Captain America: Civil War . Those aren’t the only ones, but it’s great that the show put the effort to go back and reference them, playing into the entire show’s theme of Legacy.
IT’S A BIRD! IT’S A PLANE! IT’S CAPTAIN AMERICA!
Being one of the titular characters, it comes as no surprise that Sam Wilson exits the show as one of the most developed characters in the MCU. The easy path for Marvel Studios would have been for Sam to take the shield and mantle the moment he got it. Steve Rogers gave it to him—he isn’t going to say no.
Except, he did—and that was the best move the show could have made. Instead of the easy out, the series gave viewers a deep dive into what that shield means and the very legacy that follows it wherever it goes. Exploring that choice with Sam is easily one of the highlights of the show.
Even better was watching how other people took that. The government went behind Sam’s back and chose their own Cap while Bucky reunited with Sam under the guise of resentment. The scene between the two during their “therapy” in the second episode was one of the duo’s best and provided an incredible look at their strained relationship—with Bucky winning when it came to the most heartbreaking line.
For any that doubted Sam’s worthiness, it’s likely that this show turned those thoughts around. There was a moment in the show where Sam's character arc clicked more than any other—and that’s Sam’s heart-to-heart with Karli in “The Whole World Is Watching.” It was a perfect Captain America moment while also reminding audiences of Sam’s past as a grief counselor. Sam’s instincts are to talk first and maybe fight later—a great mentality for the next Captain America.
Let’s talk about that suit. It’s fantastic, and it looks as if it’s been ripped straight out of the comic books. It was also a great touch to have it Wakanda-made. It also comes with a new and improved Redwing, something that's sure to thrill Bucky. Marvel did a fantastic job at showcasing Sam’s new move set as well, giving fans several cheer-worthy moments.
Someone can’t be Captain America if they can’t do speeches. So, naturally, Sam does get his speech, which he rightfully earned. It was a pretty good speech, except for the part where he says the Flag-Smashers aren’t terrorists—which could be debatable to some despite their “noble” intentions. That aside, the speech was also a bit long and verged on a little too much. But, it’s easy to let all of that slide just a bit. It is Sam’s big moment after all.
THE WOULD-BE BLACK CAPTAIN AMERICA
One of the biggest surprises that the show offered up to viewers was the inclusion of Isaiah Bradly, portrayed by Carl Lumbly, who did a phenomenal job with the character. He knocked it out of the park with every scene that he was in. While his tragic backstory added to the MCU mythos, Bradly was also an integral part of Sam’s journey.
The show’s steadfast approach to addressing the topics of racial/social/systematic issues was bold and perfectly implemented within the series. It would have been dishonest to create a show about a Black Captain America and not explore what that means not only to society but to the person holding the weight of that mantle.
While Steve will always be important to Sam, it was a fantastic move to put Bradly in that mentorship role for him. It showed an entirely new perspective to the audience, one that is important and needed to be heard (yes, even in a Marvel streaming show). Anyone opposed to political messages in a Captain America-focused project probably shouldn’t be watching in the first place.
THE WINTER SOLDIER REFORMED
This show marks the very first time that Bucky has gotten to just live . Every moment since he fell off that train, he has been fighting someone’s battle, not getting much chance to breathe. Making that transition isn’t easy, as he learned while having to endure the government’s questionably qualified psychiatrist.
While many have rightfully called into question the psychiatrist’s actual skill in her field, her scenes with Bucky were still fantastic. They gave audiences more intimate time with Bucky, being able to sit down and learn what was going through his head. Having to cope with mindlessly murdering hundreds without having a choice isn’t something that is easy to do.
When Zemo came into the show, it should have been obvious that the Wakanda connections would show up. Yet, it was still a surprise that Marvel was able to incorporate them. It was great, and because of it, viewers were given one of Bucky’s most stand-out sequences in all the MCU: the moment in Wakanda where he realized that his conditioning was gone and held no more control over him. Sebastian Stan did a phenomenal job showcasing the immense wave of emotion washing over Bucky.
Another heartbreaking tidbit that the Wakandan’s left Bucky with was the fail-safe hidden in his arm—something that shows they never fully trusted him. It would have been nice to see that notion explored a little more, but at least Marvel is expanding upon the relationship between Bucky and Wakanda. Maybe Bucky will be the source of everyone’s costumes in the future since he has the in; he did it for his new best friend, so what’s to stop him from doing it for more?
When it came to Bucky’s growth by the very end, he was in an entirely new place. He had never really been a hero, at least, not on this scale. Never had he personally saved people. So, when he saved citizens from burning vehicles, he can’t help but be thrown off by all the praise and thank you’s coming from each one of them. No longer is Bucky an assassin—he’s a hero. That culmination of Bucky’s journey throughout the show was pulled off perfectly.
LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE FORMER CAPTAIN AMERICA
John Walker had a bad hand dealt from the beginning. The moment he appeared on screen, audiences hated him. He had something that wasn’t his—and fans did not take too kindly to that.
Thankfully, the show gave viewers Wyatt Russell who did a fantastic job with the character; he portrayed the U.S. war hero turned Captain America excellently. A perfect soldier, but not a perfect man—a mantra fans often used to describe him. This is something that played a big role in how he reacted to his newly acquired Super-Soldier Serum.
Before his big break, viewers were shown an honest man trying to do his best with the mantle given to him. The first scene of Episode 2 with Walker in the locker room provided a perfect glimpse into how the character felt about the mantle that was thrust onto him—and just what was going on in his mind.
This set up a perfect sympathetic character, one with the aim of becoming the tragic character that is John Walker. Make no mistake, Walker is just that: a tragic character. A war hero, having seen some of the worst things imaginable, thrust into the spotlight under a mantle that carried with it an unimaginable weight. As Walker says several times in the show, he is simply trying to do his best, to be the best Captain America he can be.
While he tried, that pressure became too much. His violent past came out, and with it came the public execution of one of the Flag Smashers.
The character had fantastic development set up for him, and his trajectory throughout the show was great. That is, until the very last episode, where it all seemed to get thrown out of the window. Walker suddenly leaned quickly into heroics. He even became a perfect team player by throwing quips with Bucky.
It didn’t make sense and didn’t fit with the Walker seen before the finale. Either way, he has a new title now in U.S. Agent. Who knows what the future holds for Walker, though he’s likely to lead whatever group Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine is putting together.
THE PRE-BLIP BELIEVERS: THE FLAG SMASHERS
Let’s talk Flag Smashers. Right off the bat, what stuck out about them were their motives—which were also an incredibly creative way of interweaving the MCU’s status quo into the show. Trying to visualize the positives of a world during the Blip was insanely intriguing.
There was also the fact that, morally speaking, what they were doing wasn’t entirely bad or evil. Their cause was borderline just. It was all in the grey, and it made for interesting conversations. It’s great when the villain of a story has complex motives to the point where one considers that they might not be entirely wrong.
But, then Karli killed a bunch of innocent people by choosing to blow them up. That’s when that morally grey area quickly filled to black—no question, she was in the wrong. This undermined the show’s attempt to frame this group as people who weren’t villains but potentially doing good things. There was no longer much of a discussion; they were no good.
A key issue for the group was their lack of direction in what they were trying to accomplish. There was no real indication of what their end goal was or what they wanted to happen—at least, for a majority of the season. By the last episode, it became clear that they wanted to stop the GRC Council before they could vote. Yet, this wasn’t something known, with viewers not realizing what they were aiming for up until it happened.
Now, let’s talk about Karli’s end. It was an oddly rushed moment that felt like the writers thought needed to get out of the way. It was a shame, and frankly, a baffling move, not allowing Karli’s final moments to have space to breathe. Even her apology before she died felt off because of it all.
In the end, the Flag Smashers are likely to fade from audiences' memories. Had the show stuck the landing better, then maybe they’d be remembered more. But, with the pantheon of villains that the MCU has to pick from, they’ve certainly done better.
ZEMO: SOKOVIAN ROYALTY
The last time viewers saw Daniel Brühl's Zemo, he had beaten the Avengers—one of very few to do so. Cut to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier , and he’s now teaming up with Sam and Bucky to get rid of the potential for more super-soldiers. Who would have guessed?
One of the first promises of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was that fans would be getting Zemo’s iconic mask. Marvel delivered on that, and the mask was fantastic. However, it’s hard not to wish that the show explored where it came from and why it exists in the first place. It was almost certainly there only for fanfare and not for any plot significance.
The Zemo audiences spend time with this go-around is very different from the last time he was seen. He’s the king of dry humor and throwing around quips, a refreshing change of pace. Zemo’s jabs at Sam and Bucky for their lack of caring about Sokovia was great as it continues to bring the consequences of their actions (and their friends) into the spotlight.
Thankfully, the show never strayed too far from Zemo’s true character. It was always clear that he was several steps ahead of everyone with a scheme at play at all times. Zemo has the true potential to be not only one of the MCU’s best but also a villain that can reoccur throughout different projects.
It’s worth mentioning again how great the connective tissue was that the Wakandans were on top of their game the moment Zemo was freed—immediately hunting him down. Even though they ended up doing so, clearly, Zemo will be back at some point.
Not only did he kill the remaining Flag Smashers, but it’s also likely that Zemo may end up being on the team she is forming.
THE POWER BROKER: SHARON CARTER
Oh, Sharon. While Emily VanCamp's Agent 13 was hardly a character in Captain America: Civil War , she got a little more to work with here. The problem is, in the end, it wasn’t all too interesting. Audiences meet her in Madripoor as she’s made herself at home due to never having gotten a pardon—which is a little ridiculous to think that she wouldn’t have gotten one or even tried. Though that could be because of the show's “big” twist: Sharon is the Power Broker.
The problem with the reveal, is, for one, that right after meeting her, it was extremely obvious that her trajectory was likely leading to that point. Secondly, the show didn't give fans anything about the Power Broker. What is her motive? To collect weapons and items to then hand out? There just isn’t much of interest there yet.
Furthermore, the subplot of the Power Broker’s identity was low-key and never fully got the spotlight. So, when Sharon was revealed, it was kind of like “oh, alright I guess.” To add to that, the moment of her reveal was rushed and then immediately shoved under the rug. It was also strange how coming out of the show, Sam and Bucky still have no idea. With how things played out, Sam probably should have heard something or at least been more inquisitive.
Nonetheless, it was still great to see her again and catch up with Sharon. Most of the issues with Sharon in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier come down to how she was handled towards the end. At the very least, she did get a kick-ass fight scene in the shipping yard.
THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER HITS THE MARK
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is an incredible piece of storytelling to add to the ever-expanding MCU—though there’s no avoiding the fact that several characters were severely short-changed by the finale. Not only is the show an integral part of the cohesive universe, but it also has important messages to tell and new perspectives to show audiences. That is to say, there's plenty to make up for any shortcomings.
With a new bromance at full power in Bucky and Sam, it will be interesting to see that partnership evolve going forward. There are also all the teases for the Thunderbolts (or Dark Avengers?), which seemingly already has two members in Zemo and U.S. Agent. Needless to say, Captain America 4 can’t get here soon enough .