The opening sequence of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier feels like it has been torn out of a feature film – a good sign for the upcoming action sequences in this series.
Don Cheadle shows up to discuss grief.
Lots of memories to discover.
In the meantime, the winter soldier has some feelings to work through.
Some nightmares too.
The charm of this moment dissipates quickly when things take a dark turn.
How much energy can you put up on a lengthy superhero option on TV this weekend? For content that prefers deliberate pace over instant Wham-Bam action, the DC Comics universe already has a four-hour headline capture option – and for good reason.
As a result, HBO Max slightly spoiled the debut of the new Disney + series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The first episode kicked off on Friday, March 19, without the surprise and craziness factor that came with the Wandavision premiere in January. With no novelty on the side, the series has to stand on better-known laurels. Fortunately, it does, but the results don't quite reach the "conversation starter" status that Disney + has enjoyed in recent months.
Shield withdraws a shield
This is now the second post-Marvelna series from Marvel Studios, and it's the first to tackle Fallout in a more predictable way across the Marvel Universe. Endgame shamelessly set up this new TV series in the corporate synergy fashion when Chris Evans presented his Captain America shield to Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) and Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), essentially telling the audience, "Two superheroes become to continue a certain action – so stay tuuuuned. "
At the macro level, the pilot's storyline revolves around superheroes grappling with personal affairs and trying to make the world a better place. Unlike Wandavision, however, F&WS seems less confident about trusting its audience to immediately sink their teeth into an atypical setup.
Falcon opens the series with a 10-minute film-caliber action sequence in which he is asked to "subtly" rescue a hostage before an act of abduction in the air crosses the Libyan border. Falcon gets dressed, flies around, and blows up anywhere within range of five planes while punching and kicking a few guys. (Once the word "subtle" was spoken I predicted so many bangs and booms.)
This is a one-superhero mission, I should add, and everything else Falcon (aka Sam Wilson) does in this episode is completely removed from the life of the Winter Soldier (aka Bucky Barnes). Falcon is openly affiliated with the US military. He attends a "retirement" event for Captain America's Shield, chats with War Machine (Don Cheadle) about grief, and reconnects with his sister for the first time since the world was deciphered.
Unfortunately, Mackie is unsuccessful as a character that we understand and connect with. Unfortunately, his grief in the opening scene is mostly anchored by a red melodrama and recognizable Cap'n iconography. The Disney + touch of a well-timed character development only sets in when we meet his sister (Adepero Oduye, Netflix's When They See Us). Their lives diverged wildly after he went missing for five years, and they reckon with their disagreements over a decent series of events that feel more like an ABC drama than your average Marvel movie. It's not "risky" stuff for a superhero series, but we're finally seeing Falcon as a human – and especially one whose family loyalty and abundance of charm can sometimes run out of gas.
Loans, therapy, and appointments, oh my god
Enlarge /. Another action packed superhero day trying … to get a loan. Sometimes it's that kind of pilot.
Meanwhile, Barnes' timeline feels a little more ripped out of a premium cable archetype. That comparison is backed up by an awkward couch session that only David Chase's mother could love. As shameless as the scene is, it's good to acknowledge Barnes' progress as someone who resembles a respectable "hero." The back and forth of this session confirms that Barnes is in the middle of some sort of 12-step program for bad guys that is making up for the earlier Hydra grievances.
Unsurprisingly, he has a hard time keeping a true "chip" under control, and F&WS first episode is best when it doesn't let Barnes off the hook. His progress on this series will likely be marked by having to face his worst demons in a brutal manner, and this episode does a good job in making those moments more vivid and emotional. Stan is clearly able to pause and wait for appropriate moments to hit hard. He opens up in a moment with the deepest charm and then clings with silent pain and regrets the next. These moments work especially thanks to Stan's castmates bouncing off them as if they were in the audience with us.
The real reason this episode works can be summed up by an exchange in Barnes' therapy session where he sighs and lets go of his guard for a moment. "I just went from one fight to another for 90 years," he says of his struggle with processing emotions. His doctor pauses: "Now that you've stopped fighting, what do you want?"
This two-line exchange sums up F & WS's debut. This first episode is full of moments when two underdeveloped superheroes can stop fighting, look into the camera with open eyes, and come to terms with who they are as characters and people. How exactly the entire series will do that remains to be seen, but from the look of the premiere (and the previous series' trailer) the answer seems redder than Wandavision's approach: some CGI-filled fights, some weak agreements between the titular heroes, and probably the typical Marvel conclusion of "Heroes finally save the day, maybe at a price, to build the next big thing".
So if you were expecting wild twists and turns keeping you off social media to avoid spoilers, F&WS seems to have had more emotional dialogue and storyline development so far that would fit an ABC series than your average superhero movie. That could ultimately be the whole point here: a Disney + series that honestly might be fine now to stop later. So if after four hours of madness from Zack Snyder you need a breather, take a break this week. But, you know, Mackie and Stan are impressing as stars to date, enough to convince me to keep tune in to see where F&W will fly next.
Listing image from Marvel Studios