After the rousing success of Marvel Studios first Disney+ series, WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier arrives with high expectations.
While fans and critics will undoubtedly compare the first two Disney+ series, the characters and scope of each series are hard to paint with the same brush, with one being a unique take on two under-developed members of the Avengers and the latest being a reunion with two known commodities in a similar vein to their previous appearances.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is primarily what you expect it to be; a cinematic extension of the plot lines and characters initially introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger and Winter Soldier. This couldn’t be clearer (or a clearer departure from WandaVision) than the way that episode one begins with a aerial action sequence that would be right at home with any action sequence previously filmed for an MCU film. The opening clearly establishes Sam Wilson’s skills and abilities in ways that we have seen before in short bursts, but this swooping, diving, and slamming opener gives The Falcon a chance to shine on his own.
Those who came to the series for the action are bound to be satisfied from the start, but the rest of the episode then takes on less of a cinematic approach, and one more akin to episodic storytelling with mostly positive results.
Just as WandaVision did for the Vision and Scarlet Witch, episode one draws back the curtain on Wilson and Bucky Barnes in a way that a multi million dollar film does not have time to do. Both heroes are still struggling with the legacy of Steve Rogers and the responsibilities that it brings, although the first episode focuses primarily on Wilson’s self-doubt as the custodian of the symbolic shield. Barnes, on the other hand, is struggling with his murderous past, as evidenced by his conversations with a mental health professional and his attempt to atone for past sins.
Comparing the two storylines, The Winter Soldier’s hits home on a more consistent basis as his struggles remind viewers that his former life still haunts him and portrays him as broken man, not because he also shares Roger’s “man-out-of-time” burden, but because he is a man who enacted a terrible legacy in a past life. Sebastian Stan gets to explore his character in a realistic fashion, following up on some of his performances in Civil War, but in a way which resonates with audiences more due to the fine details of his attempted recovery process.
Anthony Mackie’s scenes where he is striving with his soul about the weight of the shield are the highlights of his performance, allowing us to see Wilson in a different light. His sub-plot involving saving the family fishing boat may come across as a bit melodramatic and saccharine for some (other than the uncomfortable, unfortunately realistic bank loan scene with his sister), but his scenes involving his indecisiveness with the mantle of Captain America are the ones that Mackie perform best in.
In terms of a first episode, the pacing slows down after the first action-packed scene to allow for characterization that is difficult to fit into a full length film for supporting heroes, not only making them the stars of the series, but fleshing them out in ways that we haven’t seen before. If you are looking for another more nuanced approach to the inheritors of Cap’s legacy, you won’t be disappointed with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.