After over a year since its first footage was shown, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is finally here!
Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes's global adventure promises to continue the Captain America legacy, introduce viewers to a fleshed out, post-Blip world, and redefine what it means to be a hero. With WandaVision kicking off Phase 4 to high praise from fans and critics alike, this star-spangled series has that expected Marvel gold standard to live up to.
Without further ado, let's dive into what The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's premiere episode accomplished.
From the jump, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier establishes itself as a completely different story from WandaVision.
The days of the "superhero genre" are long gone. Since Phase 2, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made genre-based projects that just so happen to include superheroes. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera. Spider-Man: Homecoming was a coming of age film. Just as they've been doing for a decade, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier separates itself from WandaVision by wowing with high-energy action and infusing rich political themes into their espionage tale.
Just as Elizabeth Olsen was able to really dive into Wanda Maximoff's psyche in WandaVision, Anthony Mackie and Bucky Barnes face the luxury of an extended runtime, allowing the two leading men to really explore what makes Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes tick.
Specifically looking at Barnes, this series is promising a deep dive into his mental state. As seen in this episode, Bucky is tormented by nightmares of his past actions, emphasizing that Captain America: Civil War line where he mentions how he remembers all of his victims. His opening scene as the Winter Soldier teased fans that Bucky had returned to his masked mercenary jobs, but was revealed to be a flashback haunting Buck during his sleep.
Going forward, expect more honed-in focuses on Bucky's trauma. Despite having a very similar situation to his old war buddy, Bucky doesn't get the fairy-tale ending Steve Rogers does. The two are both displaced super soldier loners who have only felt at home in battle. While Steve gets "some of that life" Tony talked about, Bucky is left with a severe case of guilt, trauma, and PTSD.
This is specifically explored in his date with the waitress. Bucky is very socially awkward. His interactions are blunt. As far as fans know, Bucky's last real date was when he took those girls out dancing at the Stark Expo in 1943. Integrating into modern society wasn't easy for Steve, but at least he had the advantage of being without decades-worth of murderous memories.
As for Sam, fans got to see what the Falcon is like without the wings. As Steve used to say, "You're a good man, Sam," and he proves it in spades in this episode. 'Uncle Sam,' as his nephews call him (get it?), makes it his mission to help out his sister at the family business, even if it's not as easy as suspected. Apparently Avengers still have the same financial struggles as everyday citizens.
Looking at the Falcon side of things, Sam appears perfectly content in staying with his current alias. As a cameoing James Rhodes asks, "Why didn't you take on the mantle?" Sam notes that the shield belongs to Steve, and he didn't feel right carrying on the legacy. Is this because Sam feels pressured by the star-spangled name? Does he genuinely want the Captain America concept to retire with Steve Rogers? Could he change his mind?
Speaking of Steve Rogers, this episode leaves the future of Chris Evans's character very much up in the air. Torres makes points about how there are "conspiracy theories" about Steve's whereabouts, including that he's on a secret moon base. Steve is very clearly not active anymore, but they never once mention him being dead. This is far from confirmation that Old Man Cap could make a return to the MCU, possibly even to give Sam and Bucky advice later this season, but Kevin Feige has purposefully left that door open.
While the first episode does not give much away in terms of the greater narrative, it does offer significant hints as to where we're going. The anarchist group known as the Flag Smashers are described as those who "think that the world was better during the Blip." In short, these guys are Thanos sympathizers. Religious zealots that look at the Mad Titan's genocide as something of prophecy.
Also worth noting is that members of this rogue faction have some sort of enhanced strength, which many believe to be the result of super soldier serum. Considering the serum has been around for 80 years canonically, it's not unreasonable to think a couple of chaos-driven bad guys could've got their hands on it. After all, there was a five-year gap that likely saw a lot of lawless behavior. The world seemed pretty stable by 2023 in Avengers: Endgame, but there's every chance that anarchy reigned early in the half-decade Blip.
The episode ends on the reveal of the country's new Captain America, who comic fans know as US Agent. Wyatt Russell's John Walker is introduced as the new Cap while Sam watches from a TV in Louisiana. Worth noting is Sam's expression, which appears more let down than shocked, almost as if he was expecting something like this would happen. Will this be the push he needs to take on the Stars and Stripes?
An Anthony Mackie-led Marvel project has been long awaited, and the winged man himself makes that very clear.
Mackie's charisma throughout the episode is palpable. His energy is appropriately paced throughout, showcasing his swagger in action scenes while also bringing a suave confidence to his grounded moments. Like any great actor, Mackie elevates those that he shares the screen with.
As for Sebastian Stan... buckle up. This series is set to explore that cyborg brain of the Winter Soldier like we've never seen before, and Stan's subtle expressions convey decades-worth of pain, regret, and distress. Aside from a brief scene with Alexander Pierce in the bank vault during Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a pained "Where's the fight?" in Avengers: Infinity War, audiences have yet to really get a deep glance into the first-hand consequences that Bucky feels after his years as an assassin.
Shoutout to Georges St. Pierre who made his long-awaited return as Batroc the Leaper, still up to the same pirate business he was conducting in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Fans will recall that movie revealed Nick Fury actually hired Batroc in order to have an excuse to board that cargo ship, which then allowed Natasha Romanoff to download classified intel about Project Insight. Batroc's purpose in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier felt much more self-motivated, but keep an eye out for a bigger agenda. The cameras also made it a point to show Batroc survive his helicopter's explosion, so expect GSP to return once again later on in the series.
Similar to Iron Man 3, this show looks primed to dive into how Bucky will cope with his traumatic past while attempting to live a normal life moving forward.
From the action to the various locations, Kevin Feige clearly cut no costs when producing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The action set-pieces feel as theatrical as they come, and jumping from location-to-location makes this narrative feel all the more like the global adventure that the show's synopsis promised.
As evident from the trailers, the Falcon's tracking shots are absolutely gorgeous. Despite being twenty-four projects into the franchise, the MCU still finds innovative ways to display their heroes. Considering Sam Wilson was never more than a supporting character in his past MCU appearances, most of his fights and flights came in ensemble scenes.
This series gives Falcon the solo spotlight the hero has been waiting for. Sam Wilson gets the chance to flex those wings in glorious fashion, mixing in a number of little tricks that make his expertise feel all the more apparent.
While Marvel has mastered a number of production techniques, one often-overlooked aspect is their music. Because the universe is two-dozen projects deep, the MCU has the novelty of bringing back familiar scores when they want to hammer home a nostalgic beat. Even if it goes unrecognized, viewers are subconsciously transported back to familiar feelings when these music cues hit.
Thanks to the return of Captain America's legendary composer Henry Jackman, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is riddled with themes and scores of MCU past, perfectly hitting those reminiscent beats. This comes specifically with the Winter Soldier flashback, as the eerie screech theme makes its return. There's something chilling and unsettling about Bucky's glitchy score, and its return here brings back all those memories of his attack on Nick Fury at the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the infamous Cap/Bucky fight sequence on the streets of Washington, D.C.
As director Kari Skogland promised, this show is peppered with hints and nods towards the MCU's past.
The opening scene contains an Endgame line from Steve Rogers himself. As Sam looks at the shield, he hears,"How does it feel?", the exact words Steve asked him when he passed him the vibranium defense weapon at the Stark cabin.
When the two stop for coffee in Tunisia, Joaquin Torres mentions that Sam Wilson has "Stark-level tech," an obvious nod towards the late Tony Stark. Another Iron Man-related Easter egg comes in the form of James Rhodes himself, who cameos during the retirement ceremony for Cap's shield. While subtle, Rhodey's solo stroll with Sam through the Cap exhibit gives next generation vibes, as these are the two closest sidekicks to Tony and Steve, respectively. Seeing the two best friends of the two biggest pillars of the MCU side-by-side was special, to say the least.
The Cap exhibit itself is littered with Easter eggs, most coming in the form of events from Captain America: The First Avenger. Steve Rogers's likeness is used on enlisting posters, war bonds ads, and beyond.
Looking towards Bucky, his Green Arrow-esque vengeance list contains a gallery of baddies, including one "H. Zemo." This is Helmut Zemo, the antagonist of Captain America: Civil War and the expected big bad of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. While fans expect Zemo to burst onto the scene with some sort of violent attack, his presence on Bucky's list might mean the Winter Soldier is going to track him down himself.
When in therapy, Bucky mentions that he "had a little calm in Wakanda," a nod towards his time as a refugee in T'Challa's home nation.
Tony Stark also receives one final name-drop during the Wilsons' negotiations with the banker, who asks, "Did Stark pay you when he was around? My condolences, by the way."
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's debut rewards fans for their long-term investment, while also carving out its own unique niche. From the very first frame it establishes itself as a very different tale from WandaVision in the best way possible. While most fans came around on WandaVision after a couple of weeks, it did require viewers to be patient.
For the MCU fan that craves the trademark intense action, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's premiere episode delivers.
Bigger picture plot points are still being kept close to the vest, but expect them to surface sooner rather than later. With Mackie and Stan getting six episodes in their Disney+ series compared to Elizabeth Olsen's nine in WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's narrative will likely unfold at a much more consistent pace.
In essence, this was a very strong reintroduction to two of the MCU's most beloved heroes, and a welcomed change from the contained world of WandaVision. With characters like Zemo and Sharon Carter still in the arsenal and yet to be seen, as well as locations like Madripoor being introduced soon, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's already high-energy pace is only going to increase from here.