TV REVIEW: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 1 (2021)
WandaVision has proved to be a sure fire hit for Disney Plus and Marvel and now following hot on its heels, Marvel’s latest series is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Originally slated to be the opening showcase for Marvel on Disney Plus, the show has shifted position. The series follows our eponymous heroes, or as they are also known Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, as they adapt to life post Thanos’ snap and with the world at large trying to get to grips with a new way of life, following five years without their loved ones. It is just shy of two years since we have last seen these characters and the show picks up six months after the events of Endgame.
The episode kicks into high octane gear instantaneously as Sam/Falcon is on a mission for the US military. The action is cut much from the same cloth as the Russo Brothers’ Winter Soldier and Civil War, and audiences could be forgiven for expecting this to be an all-out action spectacle. While the action we do see is among some of the finest the MCU has showcased to date, the opening episode also has its fair share of character moments, as we reconvene with our heroes.
Some of the episode’s strongest moments are found in its character building, giving audiences far more chance to dive into the human side of these characters, who have mostly had supporting roles in large ensemble pieces until this point. Sam, in particular, benefits from this added depth, showing his relationship with his sister and her children and the impact the snap had on their financial situation. Outside of this, we also see Sam coming to terms with the legacy of Steve Rogers and his wish that Sam take on the mantle of Captain America, bequeathing him his shield in Avengers: Endgame. This episode gives Anthony Mackie far more room to breathe in the role of Falcon than his previous six film appearances and hopefully the series can act as a showcase for both of its leads – Mackie and Sebastian Stan.
We find Bucky atoning for his crimes as The Winter Soldier and we see him haunted by his past actions and struggling to find his place in a changing world. Much to the episode’s credit, our heroes spend the whole of this episode apart and while this likely won’t last long, it is refreshing to see equal attention given to the storylines of both characters, even if the episode perhaps favours Sam slightly more prominently. Much as we get a glimpse of Sam’s life away from the Avengers, we are given a sense of Bucky’s private life as he makes new friends and we also see some flashbacks to Bucky’s time as The Winter Soldier.
The episode’s pacing is another of its strengths, longer than most of WandaVision, at around the 45 minute mark. While WandaVision’s shorter episodes suited the mock sitcom style of its early episodes, this longer run-time in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier allows the episode to be peppered with action and with moments of heart and really delves into the post-snap MCU, indicating this will be a key part of the show’s spine.
There are some notable omissions in this opening episode, with a lack of Helmut Zemo and Sharon Carter, with both featuring heavily in the show’s marketing and with fans’ expectations high for the return of each. We are briefly reacquainted with Don Cheadle’s War Machine/James Rhodes ahead of his own series Armour Wars. Whether or not he reappears in this series is unclear. We are also introduced to some new mysterious antagonists, the Flag Smashers who are introduced during Sam’s opening mission in Tunisia/Libya. How these new villains tie into the wider series remains to be seen and whether they are in cahoots with Zemo.
Marvel’s second foray onto the smaller screen instantly feels more grandiose than its predecessor and while it has its share of bone-crunching action, it is the more intimate moments that help set this series apart. This opening episode makes both Sam and Bucky feel more grounded and sympathetic than their prior film appearances, showing them to be more than quip-machines or indestructible weapons. This series cleaves closer to the MCU’s template, but also differs enough for it to stand apart and it appears it will act as a perfect balance between WandaVision and Loki. Ending on an intriguing cliff-hanger, this opening episode will likely please fans and offer encouragement for the next five episodes. Here’s hoping they build on much of the opener’s promise.
To see our episode reviews of WandaVision – Start Here