Heavy is the hand that bears the shield.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier wastes no time in centralizing the idea of legacy and the burden it brings; that Steve Rogers and his shield are impossible to live up to. Within the show’s first minute, we already know the burden Sam Wilson feels by simply holding the physical symbol of Cap’s legacy. Even for Bucky Barnes, it’s an issue of legacy. Compared to Steve’s, Bucky’s legacy on the world is as harrowing as it comes. His sins as the Winter Soldier continually creep up on Bucky in his nightmares and it’s up to him on how he makes up for his legacy.
The world hasn’t moved on from the Blip. In fact, the Blip has complicated things in unexpected ways. Instead of fixing the world back to what it was before the Snap, the Blip has only upended the status-quo of the last 5 years of the MCU. Perspectives have changed; an organization called the Flag Smashers wants a pre-Blip status quo for the world. One without borders or governments. Down to the minutiae, laws have changed: Sam Wilson can’t get a loan for his sister because everything went under for 5 years. Fans who’ve been yearning to see the true effects of the snap will be happy to watch this show.
This episode has yet to introduce the full ensemble. Zemo and Sharon Carter are nowhere to be found in this episode so it’s mostly relegated to just the titular duo. However, we do get to meet a new sidekick in the form of Joaquin Torres, played by Danny Ramirez. Comic fans will recognize Torres as Sam Wilson’s successor to the Falcon mantle in the comics . Torres, an intelligence officer in the MCU, is Falcon’s man-in-the-chair. Ramirez plays him with a Hardy Boys-charm that a lot of fans will like.
The episode’s strengths are in these character-heavy moments and it’s up to Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan to bring life into these moments that could be otherwise dull if mishandled poorly but man, do these two bring it. The beauty of these long-form stories is that they allow so much room for depth for each character. In this first episode alone, we see sides of Sam and Bucky that we’ve never seen before. Whether it’s Sam going to Louisiana to reconnect with family or Bucky having lunch with a friend, it’s all character gold. Just like how Wandavision humanized Vision by having him go on social calls with the neighborhood watch, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier brilliantly gives us lovable human moments with these titular characters. Who knew superheroes in their downtime could be so great to watch?
I’ve always felt that Stan always had the short end of the string when it came to sharing the screen with Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie at the same time and understandably so. Evans’ presence alone lights up a scene with his stoic gravitas while Mackie oozes charisma and charm. It’s almost inevitable to get upstaged by those two. Stan, for the most part, never got to do much in the shadow of the larger stories of the MCU and the intrinsic likability of his scene partners.
So as far as first episode performances go, I think Sebastian Stan gives a more noteworthy performance here. He brings a freshened sense of excitement to the role, despite inhabiting it for a decade now. Stan finally gets to have fun with the character and gives him range. There are inevitable moments of darkness for Bucky but also surprising moments of happiness and Stan deftly shifts between the two.
And of course, you have the action. Raving about Marvel Studios’ action feels trite so I’ll keep it to a minimum. Right from the get-go, they serve up an action sequence that’s on par with the helicarrier third act of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There’s an awe-inspiring cinematic precision as to how they’ve managed to pull this off on television.
Henry Jackman’s score here really stood out for me and can only expect to be blown away in upcoming episodes. As a huge fan of what Jackman did for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, hearing him revisit some of his motifs from those two films but in a new context is chilling. If he brings back more themes from the last two Cap films, I’ll be beyond happy.
Without going much into spoilers, there are parts of this episode that feel clunky. There are premises and beats that don’t feel as polished as the rest of the episode’s high-quality aspects. Some moments have a bit of tonal whiplash wherein the subtext is meant to be serious and somber but the execution makes it seem unintentionally comedic. I have a lot of questions about Bucky’s road to redemption, which in concept is super intriguing, but in execution feels safe at the moment. Granted, there are 5 episodes left that could change these nitpicks of mine but as it currently stands, the episode flaws made it feel like a mixed bag as soon as I finished watching.
Overall, this show is gonna be one hell of a ride and the first episode is clearly just a taste of it. In retrospect, WandaVision being the first out of the gate feels very beneficial for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. After all the discussion WandaVision‘s mystery box generated, the outrage it garnered from its twists and turns, and heartwarming emotions that it elicited from fans, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier feels like the ideal follow-up. It’s a safe return to form in many ways but it’s also one that fans might need after all the Mephisto craziness. This is Marvel returning to what it does best: fist-pumping entertainment with a dose of depth.