Since it’s launch I have been very critical of Disney+. Their interface isn’t user friendly, their new content is few and far between, and they lack content that is adult oriented. Well, lately they have been able to redeem themselves a tad by releasing two seasons of The Mandolorian and WandaVision. Notice how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t listed there.
By no means is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier bad, it is actually very good. However, it suffers heavily in some major departments: plot, characters, and pacing.
The Falcon and the Winter Solider starts out brilliantly. We see the aftermath of the blip which tore apart the world as we knew it five years ago. Half the population has returned leaving millions homeless, starving, and forgotten. During these times of struggle a new group of advocates, The Flag Smashers, ran by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), make a name for themselves as they are determined to over throw the worldwide government and create one world, one people. In the meantime, the world has lost their golden boy, Steve Rogers, and in a moment of insecurity Sam Wilson, The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) gives up the shield Rodgers gave him. In desperate need of a new symbol the US Government hires John Walker (Wyatt Russell) to don the stars and stripes. Elsewhere, Bucky attends therapy to move past his nightmares of being the Winter Soldier, attempting to make amends by visiting those he hurt in the past.
This is a goldmine of potential. Having our heroes start in a world vastly different than the one we are familiar with. However, so much of it is rushed, convenient, confusing and pointless. Almost everything revolving around the Flag-Smashers felt nonsensical and just a plot point for Sam’s eventual turn into Captain America. Bucky’s attempts at making amends is so haphazardly sprinkled within the series that the emotional highlight of the season with Ken Takemoto as Yori Nakajima, the father of one of the Winter Soldier’s victims, feel forgettable. The writers clearly had so much cut out or ran out of time that the plot heavily suffered.
Everything with the Power Broker played by Emily Vancamp was also strictly introduced to A.) have a returning character B.) create easy convinces for Sam and Bucky.
Luckily, we are given a reoccurring plot point with Carl Lumbly as Isaiah Bradley, an African-American Korean War veteran and super soldier who was imprisoned and experimented on for 30 years. During these scenes we are given a beautiful look at the very timely issues of race that have plagued our nation since it’s creation. Within the dialogue between Sam and Isaiah we are shown how vastly different things can be if only everyone did better. Not only is it an important message, it sets up Sam’s eventually donning of the stripes beautifully.
No longer are the Avengers at the forefront of the MCU, rather, lesser used characters are given the limelight. Before WandaVision, I found both Wanda and Vision boring, yet given the time to flesh them out, they have become not only mine, but a lot of peoples favorites. Thankfully, Sam and Bucky are given their time to shine.
While Sam and Bucky benefit from their added time, a few characters actually suffer.
Victim #1: Baron Helmut Zemo – in Captain America: Civil War, Zemo is introduced as a working class husband who after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, loses his family and vows revenge against the Avengers. Throughout the film he takes extreme measures to get the team to turn against themselves because as a regular human he lacks the strength that these superheroes have. Then, after succeeding in his goal of turning the Avengers against themselves, Zemo attempts suicide but is stoped by T’Challa/Black Panther. Flash forward to this show, Zemo is a light hearted, billion, hero(?) who flaunts his wealth to acquire whatever it is that he wants. He never seems to miss his family (his whole motivation for becoming a villain), he never does anything truly evil, and he’s become a fan favorite. I really like Zemo in this show, but only for how he is in the show. Knowing his portrayal in his first appearance I cannot help but wonder why it is that they decided to retcon him so much.
Victim #2: Sharon Carter aka The Power Broker – what a fucking waste. Gosh it frustrates me how terribly her character has been handled. After being introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Carter was a very important character to Steve and was quiet capable and vital to the heroes and the Shield organization, yet here, she is ultimately a two timing anti-hero. What a disgrace to the Carter name.
Victim #3: Karli Morgenthau – an utterly terrible villain who’s motivation are wasted on a horridly paced character arc. Her actions feel unearned and her death pointless.
Victim #4: John Walker/Captain America/US Agent: Unlike the other victims, John Walker actually starts off fairly well, and his progression into a villain is rather believable. We see his downfall more and more in each episode and by the time he kills one of Karli’s men, his pathway to becoming a full fledged antagonist is compete. He get his ass beaten against Sam and Bucky, he gets disowned from his country he loves, and his sanity crumbling. By the end of episode five we see him build his own shield in the attempt to become the next antagonist of the show. However, he is forced into the final episode as an ally to Sam and Bucky and eventually becomes a hero by saving hostages in a bus. Why? The entire season we watch his progression to a villain move along swiftly, even going as far as setting him up for the finale, yet when the time comes they backtrack? The serum he takes in episode four is said many times to increase the man you are. His actions prove time and time again that deep down he is a flawed and egotistical antagonist, who while doing the wring thing, feels in the right. Here he transitions into that and then tip toes back. Even going as far as being rewarded in becoming the US Agent.
Victim #5: Vallentina Allegra de Fontaine – she left a terrible taste in my mouth with her awkward dialogue and poor performance from Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The show struggles to maintain it’s sense of urgency. In the fifth episode we finish their hunt for Karli as Walker is stripped of his Captain America identity. The situation feels as if it has hit a brick wall. Zemo is taken to the Raft, Karli is missing, Walker is gone, and Sam returns home to his sister. For the next forty minutes we have montage after montage of Sam and Bucky doing labor to restore his family’s boat. The subplot feels so meaningless and forgotten every time a scene ends.
Why is this a continuing situation? How does it evolve the overarching narrative? Does it make any influence in Sam or Bucky?
No, not really.
Since everything works out perfectly for him and his sister, Sarah, nothing feels important. They struggle to get money to fix it. Yet, somehow they are able to pay for all of the equipment and parts to finish the job. We see that they are able to get people from their community to help out but we never see anything from that. We only get montage and montage of Sam and Bucky working on it. Hell, the entire fourth episode is just a long montage. It grinds the show to a halt. We know we have to cover this material because the writers set it up, but with only six episodes, we barely have enough time to even scratch it.
Although Captain America and the Winter Solider has moments of insanity, it’s meaningful message, fun action, and deep character development for Sam and Bucky, gives it it’s rightful place in the pantheon of the MCU.