Look, when something’s as consistently entertaining as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and its subset of Captain America films, “more of the same” isn’t an insult. But coming on the heels of WandaVision, which used the TV form to its advantage by spoofing a new sitcom each episode, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels like a relatively conventional Captain America sequel. Minus Captain America himself.
Like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, also out this week, this show plays like a longer, drawn-out, more lived-in adventure. The first episode runs around 47 minutes, but the actual plot ground it travels could take maybe 15, if abbreviating were the only goal. By the end, and this is not a significant spoiler, the Falcon and Winter Soldier have not even encountered one another again yet. We have to stay tuned. And one thing the show does have in common with WandaVision is ending the weekly episode with an agonizing tease. There are no credits scenes so far, but the end credits themselves look like they are full of clues.
Though we first catch Falcon in action in a rousing aerial rescue sequence, both title characters are predominantly dealing with what happens after the battle’s won. Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes is dealing with almost a century of PTSD, complete with a notebook full of survivor names he must now make amends to. Falcon Sam Wilson returns to Louisiana to his old family home. There he reconnects with his sister and nephews (he’s “Uncle Sam,” get it?), who are running out of assets.
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Being a superhero is no help here. Bank clerks who want selfies with Sam nonetheless won’t give him a loan. And in typical maddening bureaucratic fashion, everyone who spent five years in limbo from Thanos’ snap is considered a credit risk for having no recent work history. The message — that we suddenly stop treating people like heroes the moment they come home from the supposed heroics — comes through loud and clear. As does the fact that Sam has it much financially tougher than Bucky.
Then a new threat comes to light from a secret group called the Flag Smashers, about whom we’ll say no more here. Comics fans may infer some things from the name, not to mention that of Sam’s new military sidekick Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez), who seems awfully interested in Sam’s backpack drone, Redwing. But those are just possible future implications; anyone who laid bets on Mephisto being in WandaVision might have something to say about that.
It seems safe to presume that whatever the threat actually is, it will ultimately bring Sam and Bucky back in action together. In the meantime, we do see some other familiar faces, to establish what previous supporting characters have gotten up to.
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Visually, thematically, and plotwise, this all feels of a piece with previous Captain America movies, and the Russo brothers’ style. Unfortunately, that extends to the choppy fight style most egregiously overused in Civil War. The higher resolution the screen, the less of a problem it becomes, as those moments do look more coherent in 4K than they did on a DVD. Still, it’s unnecessary. Anyone who has watched any MCU behind-the-scenes features knows these actors can make it look real in real time.
But even as this feels somewhat predictable, there’s a lot to be said for predictable Marvel after a year without. Bucky and Sam are old friends of ours, if not each other’s. And unlike Wanda and Vision, they’re not doing weird stuff; they’re just being who we know them to be. This makes for a much more conventional crowd-pleaser, but hell, we deserve it. Still, after four hours of DC heroes in one viewing, six weeks to get five hours of Marvel might feel stingy.
Comfort food is still comfort food. For now, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier doesn’t redefine or change up the MCU in any significant way. But it feels good just to have it around.
Grade (for the first episode only): 4/5
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premieres Friday on Disney+.
Recommended Reading: Captain America and the Falcon: The Complete Collection
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