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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier - The Star Spangled Man - Review

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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier gave us an action-packed, character-building episode in its second outing that expanded the secret history of the Marvel universe by introducing more super soldiers. It’s an interesting follow up – not quite as appealing as WandaVision was in its early stages yet but very much again ticking that box of more Captain America: The Winter Soldier, following both Sam and Bucky as they attempt to wrestle with their differences and why Sam gave up the shield, believing it was not his responsibility and he hasn’t earnt it yet. The dynamic between both characters was interesting: Bucky believes that if Sam gave up the shield, that means that Steve was wrong about Sam, and if he was wrong about Sam, then maybe he was wrong about Bucky. There’s an element of hostility there from the get go, although I’ve personally found that the series so far is struggling to capture that effortless buddy cop chemistry that it needs to be quite as successful, there’s an element of fake, forced approach to the chemistry, or rather the lack thereof, that both Sam and Bucky have and coupled with a frankly, rather uninteresting and predictable plot – this show hasn’t exactly hit the ground running as successfully as I’d hoped.

Much of this episode is built around introducing the threat of the Flag Smashers, a group of super soldiers that easily school Bucky and Sam in a fight on board two cargo trucks in the middle of a nondescript European motorway. It’s a set of well-choreographed, intense action sequences that all goes terribly for both characters where we see just how out of their depth they are. Then the new Captain America shows up, the new Captain America who is very much built in the image of Steve Rogers, blonde hair, blue eyes, all-American high school military graduate. John Walker wants to win Cap’s wingmen over to his team, which features “Battlestar” as his military buddy sidekick (I wonder if he chose that name after the TV show?), and whilst they too, are skilled in combat, and Walker has had plenty of training with the shield, he fails too at the hands of the Flag Smashers, prompting a series of events that lead to a falling out between Bucky/Steve and Walker.

They’re not on the best of terms, but to its credit, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier does its best to make Walker a likeable character, even if it’s a very tall order, especially for those familiar with his comics persona. It’s also clear that unlike Bucky and the Flag Smashers, he lacks the super soldier serum, meaning that he’s about on par with Sam in a fight. It was an interesting touch to make him naïve at least for now – I still think it’s much more interesting if he turns out to be just a normal guy trying live up to the mantle of the shield much like Steve was rather than some sinister villain, and I hope Falcon and the Winter Soldier sticks with that approach. But you know he’s going to fight Sam and Bucky at some point – especially when he warned them to stay out of their way. There’s a whole sense of predictability about Falcon and the Winter Soldier that never truly goes away, and WandaVision avoided right up until its last few episodes. I appreciate though that everyone here is coming across as likeable, even the Flag Smashers are likeable and well-meaning, even if their views and motivations are pretty twisted and disturbing. They want to bring things back to how they were before the victims of the blip returned, and it’s a clash of ideals that represent an immediate problem.

Running out of leads, Bucky and Steve both dive into Bucky’s past when he was The Winter Soldier. It’s an interesting moment and the show attempts to explore some commentary on how the US military treats its returning war heroes – the duo head to meet Isaiah Bradley, a war veteran with a grudge against Bucky. It’s a harrowing moment of reflection for Bucky as he’s forced to contend with another encounter with the past – a super soldier like himself who took his arm from him in Vietnam. Bucky didn’t mention it to Steve as he felt that Steve’s task was done – like with Sam, he too, is faced with his own burdens. The racist treatment of the US Government is everywhere, Falcon and the Winter Soldier is intent on making that clear, and Isaiah’ grudge about the government is justified.

One of the major problems this show has is not having its characters talk to each other about their problems and as a result, Sam is pretty annoyed at Bucky for keeping secrets. But then again, that’s part of who these characters are, and Bucky doesn’t trust easily. They get into a fight which leads for the police showing up, and after another case of awkward misunderstanding about who they are (with a racist cop not recognising Sam without the goggles), Bucky is quickly detained for not meeting his Government-mandated therapy session. Whilst there, Bucky and Sam get the chance to talk it over after Walker comes up to bail them out, earning applause and fanfare that for some reason Bucky and Sam don’t get despite doing much more than Walker has, and it’s clear that he’s the next big thing in town. On a side note: I wonder what the other Avengers have to say about this new Captain America, surely the surviving heroes on Earth would be as interested? There’s that problem that Bucky and Sam will have to address further down the line, too, especially if Walker turns out to be an antagonist rather than just a well-meaning but naïve soldier.

After agreeing to get along before going their separate ways when this mission is done, Bucky and Sam bail on Walker and Battlestar after a tense conversation and come up with a new objective: find Zemo. I knew that Zemo was going to show up in the series and I’m hoping that the show doesn’t waste the talented Daniel Brühl the same way that Captain America: Civil War did, but it’s that final scene that sums up the predictability of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier for me, you know almost exactly what’s going to go down in the next episode, and it’s not even the first time it’s happened in the Marvel universe (remember when Thor went to Loki in Thor: The Dark World)?

I’m ready to be proven wrong though, and I’m glad we’re getting more screentime out of one of the most underutilised actors in the MCU. Check out Good Bye, Lenin! & Rush for a taste of how good Brühl can be before next Friday’s episode and thank me later.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier airs next Friday on Disney+.

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