*Warning: This article contains light spoilers for Episode 1 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier*
After a one-week break, Marvel Studios returns with its latest Disney+ show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which, by the look of its promotional materials, seems to be more grounded in the traditional Marvel Cinematic Universe tropes of the Captain America trilogy, rather than slowly unraveling a big mystery through different eras of sitcoms in WandaVision. For those that were disappointed in WandaVision’s knack of subverting expectations and refusal of a conventional mode of storytelling, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s first episode, titled “New World Order”, already shows promise in delivering a highly energetic, character-driven series featuring two of the best characters of the MCU.
Right from its opening action sequence, which reads as a cranked-up version of the opening skydiving chase from Moonraker, director Kari Skogland and head writer Malcolm Spellman beautifully establish The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s cinematic qualities. Nothing about the almost 10 minute long chase sequence between Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre, reprising his role from Captain America: The Winter Soldier) feels in any way televisual. We observe The Falcon nearly escaping missiles and multiple helicopter bullets to retrieve a kidnaped soldier who has nothing to do with the plot of the series, but sets-up how the action sequences in the series will look and feel exactly like the spectacle of an MCU feature film. Even the second action sequence, a flashback of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)’s time as The Winter Soldier is as kinetic and vibrant as the ones directed by The Russo Brothers. Henry Jackman’s score adds a lot to these sequences, wildly reminiscent of The Winter Soldier and Civil War’s aesthetics.
The Falcon and Winter Soldier’s first episode also takes time to explore individual character arcs better than a feature film ever dreamed of doing. With a runtime of 140-ish minutes and bloated with characters, it’s very hard to explore and/or deepen one or two characters in an Avengers-level film, where the team feels more important than the individual behind the mantle. The episode explores how Bucky and Sam are individually coping with a post-Thanos world, without any mantle to get behind and a legitimate threat to fight against. His years as an Avenger and 5-year disappearance from “The Snap” made Sam Wilson distance himself from his family, particularly his sister (Adepero Oduye), whom he now shares a tumultuous relationship with.
After being pardoned, Bucky is forced to make amends from his time as The Winter Soldier, which he finds especially difficult to do without doing more harm. Both Mackie and Stan deliver excellent performances, portraying an emotionally torn side we rarely see in any MCU movie. Stan’s Bucky particularly stands out here, especially when he has to confess to one of his apartment neighbors that he murdered his son, while being brainwashed by HYDRA, but cannot find the courage to do it, since he has bonded with him.
Lots of early teases in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sets-up a bigger story, but fans should appreciate the quieter moments they spend with their heroes (such as Sam Wilson trying to get a loan for his sister), before anticipating what will come next. It’s easy to get excited at Wyatt Russell’s John Walker winking at the camera after being presented as “The New Captain America” before the screen cuts to black, but it’s also great to see the amount of care being put to humanize the heroes, and treat them as such before the story starts to kick into gear. From its early action sequences to its quiet moments of character growth, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is setting up to be a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney+, and the longer episodic runtime could potentially make it better than WandaVision, though only time will tell how the show will progress in the next five weeks.
The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now available to stream on Disney+.