Friday, May 7, 2021

Review: ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ Is an Extraordinary Ride That Boldly Charts the Future of the MCU

After years of waiting, the premiere and subsequent finale of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier — taking place just five weeks apart — seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. Over the course of six episodes, Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes took the spotlight and jumped back into action for an unforgettable global adventure. And although the journey for viewers was quick, it was an extraordinary ride.

As Marvel Studios continues to embark on this new journey on the small screen, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier serves as the perfect example of the potential of these ventures. With over five hours of runtime to work with, the narrative of the series was given ample room to breathe, and yet it still maintained the consistent scale and quality of the movies that came before it. Though the films that have decorated the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the years weren’t without their fair share of sincere moments and continuous character development, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier had the opportunity to take things to a new level. The two main stories that unfolded throughout — Sam’s journey to becoming Captain America and Bucky’s road to recovery — absolutely needed this format in order to fully do them justice. Over the course of six episodes, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier skillfully balanced a hearty platter full of intense, thrilling action, emotionally-charged exchanges, and laugh-out-loud humor that kept audiences riveted to the screen.

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Although the MCU is set in a world much like our own, most of the action is built upon larger-than-life events and out-of-this-world enemies. (In the words of Sam Wilson, “Androids, aliens, and wizards.”) The Falcon and The Winter Soldier boldly diverged from this formula, choosing to instead build our heroes’ points of contention upon very real, relevant social issues like systemic racism and nationalism. In doing so, these things were effectively the true villains of the series, which was a stroke of brilliance and something that will continue to set this series apart amongst Marvel Studios’ lineup. Whereas Endgame set Sam up to be the next Captain America, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier brought reality crashing back down upon the MCU as it explored the true implications of what it meant for a Black man to take on the shield. And then the series took things a step further by diving into Isaiah Bradley’s appalling past as well. Endgame also left behind the mess that was the aftermath of the Blip, and instead of glossing over it and writing away the issues, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier chased the fallout head-on with the tragic plight of the Flag Smashers.

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When it comes to the cast, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Stan and Mackie would be a home run as leads. In their years working together, the two have established a remarkable chemistry that fluidly carries over on-screen (and they’re damn hilarious together). In giving them a much larger canvas to work with this time around, they were able to expand upon that potential tenfold and show audiences exactly what they’re both capable of. For Mackie, he did an exemplary job at portraying the depth and importance of Sam’s difficult journey of embracing the shield, proving that he’s more than ready to be the MCU’s next Captain America. As for Stan, Bucky has absolutely been through the ringer since The First Avenger, and this was finally his time to heal. Stan depicted this delicate, painstaking, and ultimately rewarding process in a beautifully satisfying way.

The supporting cast working alongside Mackie and Stan was equally brilliant — especially with the return of familiar faces like Emily VanCamp and Florence Kasumba and the addition of new ones like Erin Kellyman and Danny Ramirez — and there were a few standout performances in particular that bear individual recognition. First and foremost is Wyatt Russell, who bravely took on the role of the U.S. government’s chosen successor to Steve Rogers — John Walker. Russell’s portrayal of the arrogant, short-tempered new Captain America with dangerously violent tendencies was both terrifying and captivating as the Super Soldier serum drove him to the edges of madness. The absolutely brilliant comeback of Helmut Zemo was also a wonderful surprise. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier brought forth plentiful character development and new dimensions to a character that was already a fascinating villain in Civil War, and then Daniel Brühl and took that and ran full speed ahead with it, putting on what was ultimately a truly enthralling performance. And finally, there’s Carl Lumbly, who stepped into the shoes of Isaiah Bradley. From the first time Sam met him, to their moving embrace in the finale, Lumbly bared Isaiah’s soul to viewers as he dredged up decades of raw, palpable pain, anger, and sadness with a performance that was equal parts moving and heartbreaking.

Julie Vrabelová/Marvel Studios

Something that brought this series full circle was the choice to bring on composer Henry Jackman. Having scored two films that were absolutely pivotal to this story — Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War — Jackman brought a consistent, familiar feel to the show, which further helped elevate the cinematic experience. Jackman was able to return back to character themes and motifs that he had been the one to create in the first place — like those for Sam, the Winter Soldier, and Zemo — and built upon them to reflect where their lives have now taken them. (Make sure to check out our exclusive interview with Jackman, in which he discusses his work on the series.)

The one thing that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier would have benefited from was an additional episode or an extended finale. The series took care to let quiet yet powerful moments of downtime in between the action shine, with important conversations like Sam and Bucky’s heart-to-heart in Lousiana, Bucky’s therapy, the visits with Isaiah, and Bucky and Zemo’s meeting at the Sokovia memorial. Which is why it felt out of place that, by the time gripping, harrowing battle in New York City came to a close, everything else that followed felt rushed. In particular, it would have been nice to see more time devoted to Bucky finishing his book of amends and his conversation with Yori, and it was surprising there wasn’t a final conversation between Sam and Bucky in the aftermath of the events as they reconvened for the celebration in Louisiana. Additionally, it felt a bit hollow that the show danced around the fate of Steve Rogers but never quite confirmed it outright, so we can only hope that perhaps the MCU has bigger plans to address this with more finality in the next Captain America film.

Marvel Studios
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Speaking of the future of the MCU, this series thankfully left the door open wide for many more stories and characters to flourish, like U.S. Agent, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, Sharon Carter’s shady plans (we’re admittedly side-eying this development hard, though), Joaquín Torres as the next Falcon, Eli Bradley and (fingers crossed) the Young Avengers, and — we’re on the edge of our seats for this one — the hopeful return of Baron Zemo and thus forth the introduction of the Thunderbolts.

Overall, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was a fantastic, breathtaking, and downright exceptional adventure, and a true accomplishment in filmmaking from Marvel Studios. Though the powers that be have remained tight-lipped about what’s next, we’re ready to scream from the rooftops that we’d love nothing more than a second season.

Lindsey
Lindsey
Lindsey joined the Nerds and Beyond team in 2018. She has spent a large portion of her life dedicated to her first love, photography. When she's not behind the camera, she's likely reading books and comics or dabbling in creative writing. Otherwise, she's probably yelling about something Star Wars or Marvel related on Twitter @lindyysolo. Contact: lindsey@nerdsandbeyond.com

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