The first episode of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” premieres on Disney+ March 19, with a surprisingly character-driven 45 minutes that seamlessly reintroduce audiences to Marvel characters Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). They were last seen just after battling Thanos in “Avengers: Endgame,” two years and what feels like a lifetime ago.
From the action-packed opening sequence that finds Falcon in flight assisting the U.S. Air Force, “quiet” and “character-driven” might not be the most obvious characterizations of episode one, directed by Kari Skogland and written by Malcolm Spellman. But while it contains just enough action to lay the groundwork for future episodes, the installment refreshingly takes the time to remind us of who Sam and Bucky are, where they came from and where they find themselves months after the epic battle that cost them friends and fellow heroes – but saved the world, a world one character calls “broken.”
With the looming shadow of Steve Rogers (who links the titular characters with shared history), the world is facing the challenges of healing after half its population vanished from existence for five years, an eerily understandable plight as the COVID-19 virus continues its deadly spread and vaccines offer glimmers of hope.
“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” picks up where the film left off, but it thankfully zooms in more deeply to these vastly different men who have one thing – one Captain – in common.
“If the movies were a snack, this six-hour series is the meal,” Skogland said. “And yet, it has all of the wonderful things that come with the MCU—action, comedy, the high-octane pace, familiar faces and new characters. It’s all incredibly relatable.”
Sam is still grappling with the possession of Captain America’s shield, bestowed upon him by Rogers in the final moments of “Endgame.” His struggle with the implications of the shield – and how much his nation needs it – provides the springboard for Sam’s development as more than just the Falcon.
“Sam considers the shield a representation of the country that we live in,” Mackie said. “There’s a lot of trepidation as far as how does a Black man represent a country that does not represent him?” The scenes that delve deeper into his family history – and the practical implications of the Blip – are far more interesting than any popcorn blockbuster action sequence. (Remember those?)
Bucky remains a cathartic example of the life-long toll trauma can take on a human – or, in his case, on a Winter Soldier brainwashed into a killing machine. At more than 100 years old, he finds himself for the first time without a fight – and it leaves him too much time to think about all he’s done, and what his purpose is in a post-”Endgame” universe.
“How does this character now function in the world?” Stan said of his character’s mindset. “What’s his life going back to Brooklyn? How is he meeting people? How is he interacting at coffee shops? Is he dating? Is he thinking about another career? Is he in therapy? There were all these questions about where we could take this character. There were a lot of fun and exciting things that came out of that exploration.”
“They’re both thoughtful and smart actors who bring tremendous history to their characters,” Skogland said of Mackie and Stan, who are infinitely watchable – and gave Marvel fans endless entertainment on “Avengers” press tours. Both are dynamic and subtle onscreen, bring a refreshing humanity to the hero narrative that is all too often forgotten.
With a timeliness its creators could not have predicted, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” will likely grow to feel as necessary to our national conversation as “Wandavision” did this winter. Possibly even moreso, with themes of national chaos and what “American values” really mean.
And, maybe most importantly, how we move forward.