Sometimes it’s good to watch a movie or a TV show after some time has passed. Take The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Ever since it finished, I’ve been hearing more or less from everyone and their mum how it’s the weakest out of the current MCU shows. And to a certain degree, I can’t blame people for thinking that. WandaVision (2021, my review here) had some flaws but was pretty beloved. Then came Loki (2021 – ?, my review here) and that was pretty much beloved from the start due to Tom Hiddleston alone. Hawkeye (2021, my review here) was the most “chill” of the MCU shows to this date; it was not asking much from you except to have a good time. And each of these has dealt with something different. WandaVision was all about grief and letting go, Loki about dealing with your past while focusing on the future. Hawkeye also deals with grief, yet differently, while showing us what it would be like for an Avenger, who is “just” human. And then, we have The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a show that tackles race and ideas of what it means to be good or bad and how intertwined those can sometimes be. It also talks about history, putting this in context and looking at everything critically without going into cynicism. And this is what I loved about this show. I know this won’t be my most popular opinion, but this might be my favourite MCU show to date.
You can judge The Falcon and the Winter Soldier purely based on the “entertainment” value. If you want to, you can look at it without the political and race commentary (you shouldn’t, but you can). So let’s do this now because I have to go to spoiler territory to write about this show in a meaningful way. Even minus the commentary, I was entertained. Sure, the first episode might be the “worst” one, as this show takes a bit before it finds its footing. But even that has some great action sequences. Look, are all the actions sequences done well? No, some are your Marvel “let’s cut 20x in five seconds” deal fans have been vocal about from more or less the start of MCU. But more often than not, I’ve noticed how Kari Skogland (who directed all six episodes) tried her hardest to make each fight sequence stand out. Some are pretty impressive with a limited amount of cutting. So, I would say well done here.
The primary duo (Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan) worked for me. And I am saying this as someone who didn’t care for either Falcon or Bucky before this show. But you can say that about all of these MCU shows. I knew who they were, I remembered their characters, but both were… meh. I am sure I’ve mentioned this before in my other reviews for these MCU shows, but that is that one thing they did 100% correctly -giving these side characters shows, so if we wanted, we could spend more time with them and get to understand them better. It’d be so easy for MCU to make a show with one of the main characters, but why? Because of these shows, I’ve grown to appreciate almost every character who appeared in them as they give them material, character growth and something to chew on. These two gentlemen worked for me; I thought their banter was all right. I didn’t feel there was anything forced.
Before going into spoilers, I also need to mention one more thing I appreciated about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And that is that they don’t rely on other MCU characters (too much). Yes, some other characters from the MCU make an appearance in some episodes, but they managed to avoid cheap cameos. All those who come back make sense within this show’s world and story and, most importantly, have some ties to our main characters. Ok, let’s move on to spoilers.
Beware, SPOILERS are coming!
I have heard that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier addresses race, but even I didn’t expect how much or how complex the themes would be. The overarching theme of this show is: “What if Captain America was a black man?” At the end of Avengers: Endgame (2019), when Cap handed the shield over to Falcon, I didn’t think anything of it except: “So, he’s the new Captain America. Cool.” And the show addressed how even this well-meaning gesture comes with so many issues due to American history, how some people will hate him simply because he is the one lifting that shield.
Let’s talk about this shield. I loved how the screenwriters made the shield representative of Captain America, not just “a person” but the entire institution/idea behind it. An institution/idea that should represent “good” but started on shaky grounds. The show made me think of the shield as almost the USA itself – a melting pot of people from different backgrounds that should represent something great but historically started very questionably. And not just started, but over the years still has many things (injustices) to deal with and is struggling to deal with even today. Or even address it with appropriate terms without “some” people getting offended.
I thought this entire show got beautifully summed up with one line from one episode that went like this (paraphrasing here): “It used to be simpler, used to be good guys and bad guys. Everything is much more complicated.” It was that quote that made me think of this show in a different, more nuanced way. Take, for example, the Flag Smashers. They would have been portrayed as terrorists, cut and dry, not long ago. But now you could see and understand the point they were trying to make and maybe, for the most part, agree with it. As Sam himself says in one episode: “Look, I agree with everything you’re saying; I just don’t agree with how you go about it.” This radicalization theme ends justifying the means, has always been part of pop culture, and if used well, it makes for a good drama. I’ve felt like this show used the Flag Smashers well enough. Sure could I do without Erin Kellyman‘s “we do our thing no matter what” approach? Yes. I understand that was what must have happened for her character to be wrong (killing people, just to get your point across), and the show even acknowledges that she’s too radicalized, but I’d love to have seen somebody like that with a moral compass. Standing for the same ideals as her, minus the killing, bombing etc. That is what I was slightly missing from making her a proper complex villain. But again, I understand why they’ve made the decisions they have.
Let’s talk about John Walker, the “new” Captain America. First of all, I loved the performance by Wyatt Russell as he seemed to be on the same path as Karli’s character (Erin Kellyman), and he probably still is, but in the heat of the battle, in those crucial moments that define us, he makes the right decision. But I don’t think the show was trying to say: “Ok, you saved those people here where you could have let them die; we forgive you for killing that one dude while the entire world was watching.” On the contrary, he might be the ultimate example of how the times have changed, as I thought of him (and this might be controversial) as this is who Steve Rogers would have been if he had been born about 30/40 years later. Think about it his character even says this about his medals:
Yep. Three badges of excellence to make sure I never forget the worst day of my life. We both know that the things that we had to do in Afghanistan to be awarded those medals felt a long way from being right.John Walker
How many times have we heard something similar from real-life soldiers? That fact they not only don’t feel like heroes but the things they had to do “for democracy, for the USA” have crossed the line? He, to me, was the modern-day soldier who has been through nonsensical wars, did unspeakable things and then came home being celebrated for those things. His character arc tied it well with the show’s theme of “there are no longer just good vs bad guys”. You could even take it one step further. I could argue Steve fought in the last “fair” war. I know this term is dumb (what even is a “fair war”?), but I can’t explain it in any other way. America has been involved in how many wars since World War II? Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan… how many of them had soldiers do unspeakable things to civilians, let alone the other soldiers? And how many black soldiers came back home from those wars and faced more problems at home?
The entire subplot with Carl Lumbly‘s character Isaiah was quite powerful. And unfortunately, it was due to how consistent it was with the USA’s history with race. Rather than talking about it, I would strongly recommend watching a powerful movie about this very issue (black soldiers coming back home from World War II and the challenges they were facing) called Mudbound (2017). A superb and beautifully shot film about awful things.
The more I think about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the more I realise I don’t love it because it’s clever. I love it because it has the balls to point out these unpopular issues and put them front and centre in this massive TV show. And I guess that is what some people didn’t appreciate about it? Not to say: “everyone who didn’t like this TV show is racist”. No, that’s dumb. I understand some reasoning why you might not like this show; maybe the metaphors were too clunky or potentially obvious for you, or the characters didn’t work. And that’s fair, after all, art is subjective, and that is why there will never be one “universal” truth about what constitutes good art. However, it feels like this show has amassed a more than usual amount of criticism, and I don’t think most of it is warranted. Especially the themes the show is wrestling with; I thought they had done a marvellous (pun kind of intended) job. Given even Sam, once he finally takes the mantel and becomes the new Captain America, you can tell he is still conflicted about it. Because he understands what he is in for and how it won’t be easy. He also understood how ironic it is for him to take it from a historical point of view (Isaiah’s plotline), but he needs to try to shape his own future. And I hope this theme won’t get dropped from Captain America 4 (no date yet). I am not saying we have to make all Captain America movies political from now on; no, but it would feel a bit disingenuous not even reference this show at least a tiny bit.
Overall, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a show I went in expecting mediocre fun. What I got instead of that was a show that was not afraid to openly discuss race, American history, and their roles within “an institution of hope” that was supposed to be Captain America. And how difficult that conversation can be, how even the best ideas can start on bad/shaky grounds or how “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. And how that line between “good vs bad guys” gets blurrier and muddier. Yes, if you go into this show expecting popcorn entertainment, you are in for a disappointment. Sure, you can focus on the popcorn element of the show and still have a decent time with it, but I wouldn’t. Or better said, I can’t imagine how can you watch a show like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and “blank out” the heavy elements, as that is the entire point of this show. “I can’t wait for the next Captain America movie” is a sentence I thought I would never write, but here we go. And if you are like me and were putting this show off because you’ve heard how mediocre it is, give it a shot and see for yourself.
That’s all for this one! Did you see it? What did you think about it? Let me know!
Until next time,