‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,’ Marvel’s latest not-very-thrilling political thriller
‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ thinks it’s a meaningful show about racism and PTSD and grief. But the first 10 minutes of the latest TV entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe features The Falcon, a guy with robot bird wings, racing helicopters and parachute-suit-wearing terrorists through some naturally occurring arches in Northern Africa, all of which explode. That’s far and away the most exciting scene in the opening episode. The other good scene comes when a small-town banker denies the Falcon, who is Black, a loan. Also, there’s a decent cliffhanger.
For those of you coming to this 375-hour Marvel plot line late, The Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie, is a soldier named Sam Wilson who was good friends with Captain America. Now because of some time shenanigans, Captain America is either dead or very, very old. The opening episode doesn’t reveal his final fate. Now The Falcon has Captain America’s mighty vibranium shield, which he donates to the Smithsonian. No MCU fan is going to say The Falcon is their favorite character, but he’s all right. He has robot wings and a cool robot bird that comes off his robot wings and goes pew-pew.
But they call this show ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.’ So unfortunately we have to deal with The Winter Soldier, even less compelling than The Falcon. The Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes, who was Captain America’s best friend in the 1940s, and then became a super-powered long-haired evil killing machine in the employ of the sinister organization HYDRA. Now Bucky is a short-haired Good Guy, but he has mental problems because he murdered so many people. Sebastian Stan, a handsome fellow, plays Bucky, but Sebastian Stan is not a good actor. The Winter Soldier looks tired, like he just drank too many White Claws after a day of trading #stonks.
The opening episode of ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ features a long, dull therapy session for Bucky, badly intercut with a scene where he makes “amends” for his crimes. It’s clunky and confusing. He also goes on a silly date with a woman who runs a sushi bar, out of a favor to an old Japanese man whose son he murdered when he was a Bad Guy. It’s too much plot, with corny dialogue, and not nearly enough action.
Meanwhile, after the initial barn-burner in the mountains, the Falcon retreats to Louisiana, where his family apparently runs The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. He has conversations with his sister about money, which was tough to come by after half the world mysteriously blipped away for five years. This is an attempt to “humanize” the man with robot bird wings.
The series also features a guest appearance by Don Cheadle, otherwise known as War Machine, far and away the worst character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so that’s not exactly a draw. And meanwhile, a mysterious coalition of villains lurks. One of the villains beats up a character named “Torres”, a soldier who appears to be left over from an old episode of NCIS. We hear some talk that these bad guys, called the Flag Smashers, believe in a world government without borders. So this makes me think, is The Falcon and the Solider a left-wing show? A right-wing show? Or a show that casually floats political concepts and realities without actually committing to any of them? Only a monster would smash a flag, even though flags are already flat.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe suffers when people try to proscribe greater meaning to its product. WandaVision wasn’t a parable about COVID-era grief, even though people desparately wanted it to be. It ended with a fireball fight, a laser android battle, a sexy witch costume, an alien reveal, and a snarky scientist driving an ice-cream truck into an armored vehicle. It wasn’t about anything, other than itself. Watchmen, for all its pretension, dealt heavily with the legacies of America’s racist past. ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ can’t afford to drive away one single viewer, so it refuses to commit.
‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ seems to be going for the vibe, more or less, of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘, which vaguely resembled a paranoid 1970s political thriller but didn’t quite get there not only because it features superheroes, but also because the politics in the Marvel Cinematic Universe don’t mean anything. The show is a contextless parade of decent CGI action, limp drama, and a long-teased series of buddy clips once The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s storylines meet. Finally, they will be able to answer the questions. Who will be the new Captain America? Who are these mysterious villains? What is the future of the MCU? And, most importantly, do you even lift, bruh?