The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) mini-series review
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the second in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Disney+ short-form series. (Assuming this is the only season that is.) The story follows the titular characters, Sam Wilson, AKA The Falcon, and Bucky Barnes, AKA Winter Soldier, as they must stop a terrorist organization while dealing with the legacy of Captain America after Sam gives up the shield to the government.
So here’s the deal, when I talked about WandaVision, I decided to leave as many spoilers out as possible. But I feel I could have done a much better job talking about that series (which I have brought from a 7 to a 6 if anyone is curious.) So while I will avoid talking major spoilers without warning, I will be talking about a few major elements of this series. So if you somehow missed that there was another Captain America… SPOILER ALERT. This might also be a bit of a long-winded review, to I’m straight up going to categorize my thoughts in case you want to skip around. Let’s go!
The plot presented in Falcon and Winter Soldier is an interesting one, but one I found lacking. The core of the series revolves more around character development than anything else, looking as Sam dealing with the choice to give up the shield in the first episode. Meanwhile Bucky’s arc revolves around trying to finally shed his guilt and legacy as a killer. We also get some moral grey added tot he mix, with John Walker, AKA the new Captain America, and Karli, the leader of the terrorist organization trying to aid refugees misplaced by the Blip. But if you think those don’t all balance very well across only six episodes, you are right…
While I really want to live the strong focus on moral greys, especially with characters like Karli, Walker, and (if you saw the trailer you should know this) Zemo. Sadly the series never properly blends the character drama and the actual story outside of Walker’s involvement. Sam and Bucky’s character arcs exist almost entirely outside of the terrorist story, making the focus on the actual story seem secondary at best. Simply put, I wanted to care about Karli and her story, but I just didn’t.
Now with such a heavy focus on getting characters from Point “Last Movie” to Point “Next Movie” without worrying about a big budget theatrical release, characters are key. (Arguably more key with that goal than the actual story, which does feel like it exists at the mercy of having something that is happening from episode to episode.) But by the end of the series I cared about maybe half of the important characters… Also a few more SPOILERS ahead.
Karli? Super interesting character! Didn’t really care about her by the end because she didn’t feel as important as everything else happening. Zemo? What an interesting character! I love his involvement and the intrigue that is his motivations aaaand he’s not that important at all is he? No? Well awesome. Bucky has a really interesting arc going, but the series focuses so much on Sam that he gets completely sidelined by the end. Sam of course is a pretty great character, and I lived seeing the differences in his arc and John Walker’s, who was also a pretty great character by the end! Minor characters though? They exist. Who else is there… Oh yeah! Sharon Carter! I freaking hate Sharon Carter. Why? Because she’s an unbelievably ridiculous character, that’s why. Moving on!
Do I need a whole paragraph for music? Yes. Yes I do. Henry Jackman is a champ, and not only is he responsibly for some of the best music in the MCU, but he seems to be one of the only composers willing to carry over themes from one series or film to the next. I really liked the score for Falcon and Winter Soldier! The action was memorable, the emotional beats hit hard, and he actually reuses themes from his other MCU scores (Winter Soldier, 2014/Civil War, 2016.) That said, he also kept using the theme from Civil War for Walker. I’m not really sure why… Anyway, awesome stuff that music!
Despite my mixed feelings about the characters, almost everyone in this series did a wonderful job! Anthony Mackie delivers maybe his best performance to date. I mean, I love Hurt Locker (2008), but this series asks ALOT of him as far as selling the themes go, and he carries it all to an impressive degree. Right by his side, Sebastian Stan gives arguably the best performance in the series, full of heart and regret and genuine emotions carrying themes to compelling that I want to like this show less for not digging into them further!
Supporting cast also did a great job doing those things I just named. Wyatt Russell was always between good and great, Erin Kellyman made me care about her antagonist Karli, and Daniel Brühl was so good that, again, I want to like this show less for not using him more. That said, I’ll pretend that his involvement is exactly what they wanted and say he did an incredible job carrying some of the most captivating story beats in the series. Really the only below average performance for me was Emily VanCamp, who either wasn’t given the time to sell her character arc, or was given just too unbelievable an arc to sell. (That said I didn’t like her in the other films…)
Fine. Lots of kicks and punches. For real though, Kari Skogland’s direction is very good, but she’s not the Russo Brothers when it comes to action. Her visual direction is consistently interesting, and it captures the emotion the series has to offer VERY well. But the action feels a little lacking for me. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really fantastic sequences in this series! But there are also a handful of very forgettable ones that are either too choppy, too darkly lit, or too ‘punchy punchy, can we move on now?’ Sadly, the finale lands on those forgettable ones.
Last train of thought, I promise. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tackles some interesting themes throughout the series, including legacy, regret, and different approaches to doing what you think is right. I LOVED the contrast between all five of the main characters regarding Karli’s story. Mid season, this show hits its stride, balancing its character arcs with the plot for a brief but glorious time. Karli is doing what she thinks is right, but she is doing things that others find morally wrong to make a point. Sam wants to stop her, but sees that what she is doing is right, leading to him wanting to peacefully resolve the situation. However Karli being a supersoldier means all Bucky wants to do is stop her, dealing with his own personal demons. Walker wants to do the job he has been given by the government, but he seems totally unable. On top of that, Sam is dealing with giving up the shield while not wanting to accept that some random guy now has it. And Zemo joins in on the fun believing that the supersoldier serum is something nobody should have. I mean, what a complex series! (For a little bit.)
So what went wrong with that? Well it all resolves itself by like, episode 5. We are then given a very needed but VERY rushed introduction to the subtext that the government is racist and America would never except Sam as Captain America because he’s black. What an interesting idea for the MCU to tackle and WHERE DID THIS COME FROM? I mean I know it applies to real life situations, but the series waits until the last possible moment for these themes and then just throws them on us. Don’t get me wrong, I was genuinely interested in the ideas presented in the last two episodes. I would have been alot more interested if they didn’t want until the last minute to introduce them. (And if the writing were more coherent when discussing them.)
Perfectly average, as all MCU shows should be. But really, I was mostly underwhelmed. Even when I was really enjoying it, I knew by the end I wouldn’t care as much. There are certainly things I liked about it, and I might watch the entire series again just to see how it holds up in one viewing instead of six. But as it stands, I think there were too many missed opportunities. The lack of focus on the story, the inclusion of characters who don’t matter, the sudden focus on interesting themes that hit you like sideways hail- This show had the elements of a great show, but settled for a good one by not focusing where it should. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? 6/10.
So Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or Captain Falcon if you will! What did you think? Did you like it better than WandaVision? Is there anything I missed or you just don’t agree with? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more like it, be sure to leave a comment telling us what we should talk about next!
-review by Ryan Prince