Arriving just one day after Zack Snyder’s Justice League in a blockbuster week for superhero fans, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier proves just how different DC and Marvel really are – and demonstrates the ever-growing ambition of Disney+. Where Batfleck and co gave us four long hours of heft and heaviness, here we find 40 minutes of fast-paced, old-fashioned heroics as the MCU sets up a joke-filled, buddy-cop action series.
If you’re new to Marvel, you’ve a lot of catching up to do. Now 13 years, 23 films and one TV series into the same story, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier picks up immediately after Avengers: Endgame. Sam Wilson, aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), is an Air Force pilot turned Avenger with a high-tech flying suit and Captain’s America’s blessing to carry on his legacy after he time-travelled out of the picture. Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier, is a defrosted WWII veteran who used to be an evil, brainwashed robo-assassin but now fights for the good guys.
Where Falcon is calm and strait-laced, Winter Soldier is cynical and sarcastic; one in a suit, the other in a leather jacket; one dealing with the weight of responsibility and the other with PTSD – making for a great bickering double act as they team up to fight whatever might be hitting them across the six-part mini-series. Before all that, though, episode one reintroduces us to the chaos of the post-blip, post-Cap world – diving (literally) straight into a mammoth set-piece to rival anything else seen in the MCU.
Terrorists have hijacked a plane and kidnapped a US colonel, so it falls to Sam to take them out in the sky before they cross the Libyan border and cause an international incident. Fighting with John Wick’s speed and Iron Man’s tech, Falcon does more in the first five minutes of his own TV show than he ever managed in the movies – swooping through helicopter blades, duelling with skydivers, and rollercoaster racing through desert canyons in an action scene that really makes you miss the multiplex. Proving yet again after WandaVision that all the smart Avengers hold out for a TV show instead of a standalone movie, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier already feels like it’s done enough to set Anthony Mackie up as the next Captain America.
So does that make Bucky Barnes the new Iron Man? Finally getting more to do than just act like a moody Robocop, Winter Soldier deepens his character with an awkward first date, a messy therapy session and a handful of smartly written scenes that build him up as a conflicted anti-hero and a decent foil for Falcon’s earnestness. Episode one takes a big breath after the opening gambit (maybe spending a bit too long talking about how hard it is for Avengers to get bank loans…), but Mackie and Stan ease effortlessly back into their characters – clearly relishing the opportunity to step out of everyone else’s shadow for a change.
With a big new threat (and one big shock) coming during the first instalment’s finale, the real excitement is going to be seeing what Mackie and Stan do together when they get to share the same screen. Hopefully, there’s more of the buddy-comedy buzz the MCU never quite got in Iron Man/Cap, Hulk/Thor and Star-Lord/Gamora – who were crowded into bigger ensembles. Sharp, funny, and packing some awesome action scenes with a whole lot of character potential, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is off to a flying start.
For frequent flyers…
- Look out for Captain America Comics #1 (1941) on the wall of the Cap museum as Sam and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) wander through the exhibits, along with props from all the earlier Steve Rogers movies.
- George Batroc (played again by French MMA star Georges St-Pierre, after appearing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) escapes the sky fight, meaning we can almost certainly expect another comeback.
- Catch the not-so-subtle nod to Falcon’s future when his nephews call him “Uncle Sam” – not a bad nickname for Cap 2.0.