The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 review: Marvel takes fans back to action-packed roots
- The Falcon and the Winter Soldier review: Marvel's second Disney+ show is a return to more conventional storytelling, but risky in its own way.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is no longer in denial. Now that the dust has settled and the wounds patched up, the MCU is finally confronting the trauma of its past.
While Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home only momentarily acknowledged the aftermath of The Blip — the sudden disappearance and return of half the universe’s population — Marvel’s Disney+ shows aren’t burdened by the necessity to have a breakneck narrative or monumental stakes. They can afford to spend time truly understanding the personal toll that an event of such magnitude can have on people.
But the bigger realisation after watching WandaVision, and now The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, is this: more than the shock of losing loved ones, it’s their return that has truly unsettled the collective psyche of the world. While WandaVision addressed these ideas in a more abstract manner, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier examines the real-world impact of The Blip — both economical and emotional.
Watch an interview with the Falcon and the Winter Soldier director Kari Skogland here
Take, for instance, the difficulty Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), has in securing a loan to sustain his family business. Before turning his request down, the smarmy bank guy has the nerve to ask him for a selfie. But his hands are tied, he says. Things tightened up after everyone came back. And it’s not like being a superhero guarantees you a steady pay-cheque.
How do superheroes earn a living? The question has never crossed my mind, in all these years of watching these films and shows, and dissecting them endlessly. Sure, some of them, like Peter Parker and Tony Stark, have established sources of income. But what about Sam? Is he on the government’s payroll? Did he rely on some sort of Avengers allowance? Does he have a side-hustle cutting ribbons and giving college commencement speeches?
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the first superhero story since Spider-Man 2 that pointedly juxtaposes the high-stakes superhero life with the relative poverty in which their alter egos live.
And then, on the other hand, there’s Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who’s literally in therapy because of the traumas that he’s had to endure. We meet him as he’s making amends for past sins, by apprehending a corrupt congresswoman he helped install as Hydra agent in his former life. There’s immense guilt inside him, and to my (pleasant) surprise, the first episode spends a significant amount of time on Bucky’s recovery — from his sessions with a therapist, to two truly excellent scenes at a sushi bar.
These are the sort of on-screen tangents that have been notoriously difficult to navigate in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Think of them like the Hawkeye farmhouse sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the support group scene in Endgame. They’re rare moments of insight that peel the spandex off these larger-than-life characters, and reveal the people that they are underneath.
Although, before you raise your eyebrows with concern, there is a lot of conventional Marvel stuff here as well. Episode one opens with a spectacular action scene — the sort you’d expect to see in a theatrical MCU movie. It doesn’t make a lick of geographical sense but in terms of scale, it’s on par with the Krayt dragon showdown in episode one of The Mandalorian’s second season.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier appears to be a return to a more familiar style of storytelling, especially when you’re still trying to rinse some of the more unsavoury elements of WandaVision out of your mouth. Tonally, it’s more in line with the conspiracy thriller vibe of Captain America: The Winter Soldier; it dusts off some of the same themes — nationalism, political oversight, and the burden of legacy. We watch Sam struggle with the weight of carrying Captain America’s shield; we watch Bucky, in many ways the scratchy flip-side to the shiny Steve Rogers, as he tries to extricate himself from his past.
It’s a solid opening chapter, and it ends on a note that lays up, in an instant, what the show’s primarily going to be about. See you next week.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Director - Kari Skogland
Cast - Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will begin streaming in India on Disney+ Hotstar Premium on Friday, with a new episode every week.
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar