Saturday, May 8, 2021

TV Review: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+)


The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TV Mini-Series 2021) - IMDb

I heard that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to be the first MCU TV show on Disney+, but that the pandemic shifted the schedule around so that WandaVision came out first.

This turned out to be a good choice.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is not a bad show.  In fact, there are parts of it that I really, really liked.  But whereas WandaVision, understood how the medium of television works differently that feature film and used that to its advantage, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels like a regular MCU movie stretched out over several hours.

The story picks up after Avengers: Endgame.  Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) decides that instead of taking up the mantle of Captain America from his friend Steve Rogers, he hands the shield back to the US government.  Rather than sit on the shield, the government decides to give it to their new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell).  In the meantime, since the Avengers brought back half of the world's population in Endgame, there has been chaos.  Many of the people who were not snapped away have been pooling resources, living in empty houses, and ignoring national boundaries.  Now that half the world returns, these people are being kicked out of their years-long living arrangements.  There is now scarcity and a refugee crises.  This brings out the "Flag Smashers," a terrorist group that wants things to go back to the way they were before everyone came back.  They are led by Karli (Erin Kellyman) and a small group of friends who have somehow become super soldiers too.  Sam must work with Bucky (Sebastian Stan), who is also dealing with evil past while brainwashed as the Winter Soldier.  This bickering duo have encounters with Walker and his parter Battlestar (Cle Bennett), as well as some other MCU veterans like Barron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), and Ayo (Florence Kasumba).

The biggest drawback of this show is that it seems to bite off more than it can chew.  

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War both were "political" in the sense that they took on some basic political principles in ways that it didn't feel like you were being preached at about any real-world issues.  They dove into issues of privacy, security, freedom, national sovereignty vs. moral obligation, and the like.  Looking back, I am amazed at how well they treaded the needle.

The story centers around Sam's journey centers on all of the issues that come up with a black man taking on the mantle of a hero who represents all of America.  At a time in history when so many people are on edge regarding all things racial, this is a very difficult subject to tackle.  To its credit, the showrunners work very hard at making everything as balanced as possible.  They bring up issues of racial identify as well as prejudice both past and present.  You can see this especially with the introduction of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) a man who became a super soldier, but was betrayed and buried by his own government.  But with all of this, Sam is still a patriot who loves his country and refuses to give up his belief in America.  They try to thread the needle too, but I don't think they are nearly as successful as the Captain America movies.  I've heard critiques from both the political left and the political right.  Perhaps that in itself is a sign that the show tries to stay in the middle.  

The show also tries to handle other international issues like national borders and refugees.  To its credit, it admits that the issues are too complicated to be wrapped up in a six episode series.  But, they can't quite seem to pull off the inspirational push that this topic needs other than "Do better."  

You can see this play out in how it tries to take a balanced approach to even the antagonists.  Karli is portrayed in the most sympathetic terms, but I could not fully invest in her because she is a murderer.  Once she crosses that line, every speech she gives falls on deaf ears with me.  If she had accidentally caused the death of some people the complication of her position would have been much more interesting.  Walker is clearly set up as a foil to Sam, but the show does not take the easy way out and portray him as a flat soldier bully.  He is no Steve Rogers, but he is brave and loyal.  However his insecurities lead to overly violent reactions that make him the wrong choice for the mantle.

As an action show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is very good.  The fight scenes are as good as anything in the MCU.  Sam and Bucky are a perfect foil to each other like Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon.  They resent each other because of how much they need each other.  These are two men who live in the shadow of man greater than either of them.  They talk about Steve with awe and mutual affection.  This gives the series an emotional core that makes this feel like a super hero buddy cop show.

Mackie is a great leading man.  He is charismatic but is able to play subtlety well.  He plays all of the complications of his journey in a believable way.  Stan continues with his seething rage under the surface of his Bucky, but you begin to see his personality begin to thaw.  Kellyman plays the innocence of her character's point of view, but she never quite raises to a believable level of violent rage.  Her anger comes off more as a childish tantrum than a thirst for vengeance.  Russell balance the bluster of his outward bravado with that interior doubt that makes for an interesting contradiction.

As I wrote earlier, the show is enjoyable, but feels stretched out with subplots about Sam's sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye), as well as trips to Europe and Asia.  I will say that the final episode was my favorite and caused a number of internal cheers, especially as Sam finishes his arc and becomes his own man.

Despite its shortcomings in handle hot-button political issues, if you enjoy the MCU, you will probably enjoy The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  

I know that I did.

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