Given the universal praise for WandaVision, the first small screen outing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s hard to know whether that makes things more or less difficult for The Falcon and the Winter Solider. On one hand, fears over how the MCU would translate to the small screen have been well and truly allayed – we’re most definitely not in Iron Fist territory. On the other, the raising of that bar brings its own pressures.
Originally, The Falcon and the Winter Solider, or TFATWS as we’ll call it from here on in, was supposed to appear on Disney+ before WandaVision, and it’s immediately clear why. WandaVision, so surreal, fantastical and high-concept, was, theoretically, a bigger ask for the casual Marvel fan (although after 22 box-office busting films and one ratings smash TV series, how many casual Marvel fans there are remains open for debate). Nevertheless, TFATWS, is much more familiar in tone, and the contrast between this series and WandaVision could not be more marked. In one, characters couldn’t leave a small town. Here, in the first episode alone, the actions flits between Tunisia, Washington, Louisiana, Switzerland, Japan and New York.
It opens four months after the events of Avengers: Endgame – four months after billions of people reappeared from the dust after five years away. The world is in chaos. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), was among those who vanished, but he’s back, looking sad and packing up Captain America’s shield, with Steve Rogers’ words from Endgame about the shield now being his ringing in his ears.
Now aboard a US air force plane in full Falcon gear, he’s being briefed on LAF. They’re criminal organisation with vague intent who have kidnapped a military liaison and are trying to get from Tunisia to the safety of the Libyan border, where the US military won’t be able to intervene. “This has to be subtle,” Wilson is warned by a nameless camouflaged officer. What follows is possibly only Michael Bay’s idea of subtle, as Falcon takes on the bad guys. Among them, Batroc the Leaper, played by former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre (last seen narrowly escaping the Lemurian Star after a beating from Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Welcome back Georges).
Wilson and his helpful little drone, Redwing, follow five baddies, now wearing wing suits, out of their plane and chase them at high speed through rocky ravines and trenches, blowing up a few helicopters while doing so. It’s exhilarating, and 1st Lt Torres (Joaquín Torres, by any chance?) watching from the ground below acts for all of us when he begins punching the air with excitement. All this, and only 10 minutes in.
Back on the ground, over tea in a Tunisian market, Torres introduces Wilson to the Flag Smashers, a new bunch of terrorists who believe life was better during the five-year Blip and want to see an end to international borders. Torres, though, only has one question from the conspiracy theories he’s been reading – does Steve Rogers live in a secret base on the moon?
And then to Washington, where Wilson surrenders Cap’s shield for display in a museum. There’s room for a quick Avengers cameo, with Rhodey (Don Cheadle) there for a quick chat. He tells Wilson he should be taking the Captain America mantle for himself. I couldn’t hear what he said in return, I’m afraid, I was deafened by all the foreshadowing.
Our other eponymous hero is living in New York and having recurring nightmares about his time as Hydra’s most deadly assassin. This flashback sees him slay at least half a dozen henchmen and one innocent student in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wakes in time to bluff his way through a counselling session – hello there, Lt Grace Billetts from Bosch (Amy Aquino) – and reveal how he’s been spending his time, making amends for his past sins and ignoring Sam’s messages.
One friend he does have is an elderly neighbour, Mr Nakajima, who puts aside mourning his son long enough to play matchmaker with the woman from the restaurant. But wait! Conveniently, the only other Asian man we’ve seen on screen, the executed student, is Mr Nakajima’s dead child, and that’s why he’s been living nearby. It’s all enough to put the 106-year-old man off his date.
I was intrigued by the significance of the lucky cat Bucky momentarily stops from rocking. It could be nothing, but it did hit me that, like the maneki-neko, Bucky, too, only has one purpose – fighting – and can’t do anything else. The cat is even left-handed.
Down in Louisiana, Sam is reunited with his sister and nephew, where he wants to right some wrongs of his own. He sees how hard up they’ve become in the five years he was away, but despite his star status, he can’t help secure a bank loan. While the scene was way too long – all the budget went on the helicopter chase – if you’ve ever wondered how much a superhero earns, you now have an answer.
It’s clear that if WandaVision was about grief and female empowerment, TFATWS is going to put an examination of race, and what it is to be a patriotic American, front and centre – particularly given the ending which reveals the super-patriotic new Captain America is around. As we’re told throughout, Captain America is a symbol, a hero for the times. If those times are ones of division, chaos, heightened nationalism and clashing ideologies, maybe you can expect the accompanying heroes to be pretty hardline, too.
And finally to Switzerland, to Torres and the Flag Smashers. He’s beaten unconscious before he finds out too much, but the two masked terrorists we see are very strong – super soldier serum strong – and hopefully the reason Sam will try messaging Bucky one more time. Fingers crossed he answers.
The period between Infinity War and Endgame is mentioned extensively, and that’s fair enough – imagine how strange it would be for 3 billion people to materialise. We hear a lot about the downsides, but there are at least more people to date.
What did you think? When will Bucky start returning Sam’s calls? Will he ever tell Mr Nakajima that he killed his son? Which other Avenger do you think would struggle to get a bank loan? Have your say below the line.