By Andrea Thompson
Out with the old, in with the new. “WandaVision” may have ended, but a new Marvel show is here…and it scoffs at your fan theories while offering up some cool as hell stunts. In other words? Back to basics.
Yep, everything’s pretty straightforward in the pilot of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” and the mystery is the old-fashioned kind with modern touches we’d expect, such as the latest tech and thankfully, a far more diverse cast. That any MCU product is going to hop a continent or two is a given, but it looks like the side characters are actually going to be more than sidekicks and contribute to the story.
In other words? Disney appears to be learning from its mistakes, and Anthony Mackie doesn’t seem to be in danger of the tokenization John Boyega suffered from, thank goodness.
Mackie actually gets a lot to do, and it’s not all action-oriented. The Falcon has quite a bit on his plate, what with the usual international intrigue and high stakes missions feeling about as urgent as his civilian life, which he’s returned to after a five year absence to discover the family home and business are in danger. At least his sister Sarah is played by Adepero Oduye, who was a one-woman marvel (I had to) as the lead in “Pariah.”
But if the death of Stark loomed large over the MCU, the mysterious departure of Captain America has sent shock waves throughout a world still coming to grips with its new reality. In this frightening new world, Wilson comes off as relatively well-adjusted, considering the situation of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the former Winter Soldier. Barnes has been pardoned, is in therapy, and seemingly has his life on track…if you discount the nightmares, the flashbacks, and the fact that he is now a man out of time who is virtually alone in the world, with no family and almost no friends. Actually, he’s become close to one guy, the father of a man he killed while he was brainwashed. Here’s to smooth sailing?
It’s quite a bit for a pilot, and the series makes a shrewd choice of giving us the action the MCU has become known for while carefully setting up the emotional underpinning it’s clearly counting on to hold our interest. Even with all the new gadgets, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is clearly an old-fashioned buddy comedy set in the world on international intrigue, and it’s rare to feature such a premise without the buddies meeting up right away, especially when they’ve already built up a rapport in previous media.
Once that rapport is eventually established, it doesn’t seem like they’ll abide by the whole no-killing rule, seeing as how Sam does away with quite a few bad guys in his first mission to rescue a military liaison, which features incredible sequences where he’s not the only one flying and dodging missiles. Given that his work with the military acknowledges international borders, you’d think that other realities, such as literal bloodshed, would be a thing too, but the fighting is about as free from those potentially upsetting splashes of red as the rest of their established universe.
It would feel like a Marvel movie stretched out if it didn’t pack more character development for both men in 47 minutes than the rest of their previous screentime combined. Writer Malcolm Spellman and director Kari Skogland are both TV veterans, and they’re at their best here, with the reality of superhero life on full display. What do you do after going straight from one conflict to another for years? Smaller, but no less urgent, is how do you go about securing a loan for a better life when a secure income is an issue? Stark may have been obscenely wealthy, but sharing that wealth among his teammates apparently wasn’t a priority. Big and small, each moment carries equal weight, with overseas missions feeling just as impactful as meetings with dickish bank loan officers.
Will it be a pattern throughout the five episodes? To use what might be the oldest cliche there is, only time will tell. Hopefully the balance that was so carefully maintained in the pilot, a rare accomplishment in itself, will continue rather than the series devolving into one fight after another. That may have been enough for the movies, but I’m already expecting more from “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” Here’s hoping it delivers.