‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Premiere Review: A More Traditional Marvel Adventure
There’s more action in the first 10 minutes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiere than there was in the first three episodes of WandaVision. The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) must attempt a daring mid-air rescue of a U.S. soldier who’s been taken hostage by terrorists. Using his wings and jetpack, Falcon chases a group of villains as they skydive and jump from helicopter to helicopter with their cargo. All manner of gunfire, explosions, and crashes follow.
Back when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was conceived as the first Marvel Cinematic Universe series that would premiere on Disney+, it’s easy to imagine this big opening sequence being designed to reassure fans that they were going to get the same level of superhero action from the company’s TV series as they’d come to expect from their movies. (WandaVision eventually jumped Falcon and Winter Soldier in line, which probably also explains why that show was allowed to start on such an unconventional note.) Beyond Falcon and Winter Soldier’s slick opening sequence, though, there’s not a ton of note in this episode, the first of six that’s coming to Disney+ in the weeks ahead. Marvel has described the show as a one of their films in episodic form, and that means the premiere is basically one big first act.
With the MCU short one Captain America in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, his two former partners are struggling to live up to his example. Steve Rogers gave Mackie’s Sam Wilson his shield at the end of Endgame, but as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier begins, Sam’s not sure he wants to bear that burden. Plus, he’s got his own issues at home; his family business is about to go under, despite the best efforts of his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye), who’s been running it alone since Sam and half the universe was erased from existence five years ago. Sam might be a world-famous Avenger, but that doesn’t pay the bills. As we see in this first episode, it doesn’t even help you get a bank loan.
Things aren’t much more stable for Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Captain America’s old war buddy from World War II — and I do mean old. Thanks to being cryogenically frozen off and on for decades by Hydra, Bucky — formerly brainwashed hitman, The Winter Soldier — is celebrating his 106th birthday. He’s a man out of time in a world he barely understands, plagued by nightmares of his crimes. As a condition of a pardon, he’s got to talk about them in weekly therapy sessions with a psychiatrist.
Establishing where these two characters are in their lives after Avengers: Endgame takes up almost the entire 45-minute premiere after that big Falcon rescue sequence. Where WandaVision felt like Marvel’s referendum on TV as a medium, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more like a James Bond movie with superheroes; it begins with a dynamic cold open and then segues into a story that involves an organization of anarchic terrorists known as the “Flag-Smashers.” Plus, there’s plenty of political jockeying over who has the right to inherit the mantle of Captain America.
Series creator Malcolm Spellman has a good handle on his two lead characters. It’s the series’ pacing that could be suspect. If the main appeal of this series is watching Mackie and Stan trade insults the way they did in Captain America: Civil War, that hasn’t happened yet; they spend most of the premiere on separate, sadder tracks. What’s here is solid, with two likable lead performances from Mackie and Stan, and some fun considerations of what real life might look like in a world where superheroes had to deal with boring problems like money and relationships. It could very well wind up being a great start for all six hours of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier when all is said and done. As a standalone installment of a TV series, it feels a little light on doings transpiring.
WandaVision had a ton of mysteries to bring viewers back every Friday, along with some killer cliffhangers. Beyond the looming question of who winds up as the MCU’s next Captain America, there’s not a lot of uncertainty around this series. (It also seems pretty clear who’s going to have Cap’s shield moving forward by the end of the premiere.) There’s nothing terribly wrong with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier; it’s a sturdy foundation for a big action buddy spy show. But if, as one of the characters in the premiere claims, people really are looking for “someone to inspire us again,” they’re not going to find that here. At least not yet.
Gallery — Our Unanswered Questions After the Wandavision Finale (SPOILERS):