I finally relented and added Disney+ to my Hulu subscription, so I could watch the various Marvel television series after seeing Black Widow. I need to watch them for that feeling of completeness. I started with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, released earlier this year.
The series is in the same universe as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and takes place after the events of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. That is, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is now an elderly gentleman (his younger self staying in the past), who passes the shield to Sam Wilson, the Falcon. As for Bucky Barnes, aka Winter Soldier, he went to Wakanda at the end of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War to rehabilitate from his Soviet brainwashing. He later showed up in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War to defend Wakanda against Thanos’ army.
I’m going to become that GIF from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with the white board trying to keep all these threads in order.
Nonetheless, in the timeline of the television series, Wilson (played by Anthony Mackie) gives Captain America’s shield to the Smithsonian Institution, largely not wanting to step into those shoes and believing that it’s the person behind the symbol who makes it. You can’t “replace” Rogers. Yet, the government types do appoint a new Captain America in John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell), a blue-eyed, blonde and white best attempt at a replica of Rogers they can find.
Bucky (played by Sebastian Stan) is in therapy still wrestling with what he did as the Winter Soldier, including befriending an old man, whose son he killed. The old man doesn’t know.
While those personal issues are ongoing, there’s a group of terrorists or revolutionaries, depending on your perspective, known as the Flag Smashers led by Karli Morgenthau (played by Erin Kellyman), who believe that the world was better during the Blip (when Thanos snapped his fingers and killed half the universe and it was like that for five years) when there were open national borders. She’s trying to gain the super soldier serum to further grow her army.
Meanwhile, we have two … questionable characters maneuvering throughout. First, there’s Helmut Zemo (played by Daneil Brühl), who was in Civil War and is in prison in this series. Admittedly, I recognized his face, but forgot who he was or what his role was in the MCU! So, after Googling to refresh my brain, he was the main antagonist in Civil War and tried to use Bucky as a weapon.
In this, Bucky and Sam break him out of prison to use his help in tracking down the Flag Smashers. But Zemo has an ulterior motive of destroying the super soldier serum.
Then there’s Sharon Carter (played by Emily VanCamp), who also, we learn, is the secretive Power Broker. She seems to be on the side of Bucky and Sam, and has some of the best action scenes of the entire series — in one scene when Bucky and Sam are interrogating the scientist behind the serum, Sharon takes down half a dozen henchman singlehandedly — but, is actually bad? She’s the criminal leader of Madripoor.
It seems like after everything Sharon went through in the events of Civil War, primarily risking her reputation and livelihood, it turned her bad. Welp, she actually gets Sam to help her get pardoned and her old job back. Yikes.
Back to the fake Captain America, John Walker, despite his Medal of Honors and record, he is no Steve Rogers. He is no Captain America. He doesn’t have the temperament or judgment for it at all. And certainly not the morality. When his partner is killed by Karli, he brutally kills one of the Flag Smashers with the shield in front of the public.
He’s also seemingly taken one of the super soldier serums (after getting his butt kicked by the Wakanda women, which was AWESOME). He doesn’t want to give up the shield. In perhaps the best scene of the entire series, Sam and Bucky fight him in a heck of a battle to get the shield. Gosh, that was great! That’s up there in all of MCU media as one of the best fight scenes.
But! We’re not done with this John Walker with his punchable face (no offense, Wyatt Russell). First, he sort of redeems himself later on by trying to save the members of the Global Repatriation Council, the organization tasked with trying to help individuals who returned after the Blip, although where did he get a second shield to use? Secondly, we see Val (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who popped up in Black Widow as well, trying and succeeding at recruiting him as a U.S. Agent. She seems to be building a group to become the Dark Avengers (exactly what it sounds like). I mean, Walker’s new suit is literally black.
Bucky and Sam are great in this. I just said in my review of Black Widow that Natasha and Yelena were my favorite pairing in the MCU, and they still are, but whew, Bucky and Sam give them a run for their money. They are hilarious. Bucky in particular had me cracking up. He has that perfect dry humor. When they both have to go in for therapy and start doing an eye-staring contest, I died.
The emotional meat of the show comes down to whether Sam will take up the mantle of Captain America, particularly after John Walker’s disastrous run as him. But it’s not just trying to “fill the shoes” of Rogers, but that, you know, Sam is black. First, how is the country (and the world) going to view a black man in that role? That’s a meta commentary, too, because in real life, people sometimes have an issue with a traditionally depicted white superhero being played by a black person. But also, why would a black person want to take up the stars and stripes? That’s the question Isaiah Bradley (played by Carl Lumbly) asks Sam. Bradley is a black Korean War veteran and also a super soldier who was imprisoned and experimented on for 30 years. Nobody knew about him. I get chills writing that because again, the emotional weight Lumbly brings to the role and the dialogue with Sam is great.
Eventually though, Sam realizes taking up the mantle is the right thing to do and he gives a passionate speech at the end to the GCR folks about being more open-minded and that he’s going to do his best to fill the role. He also presents a statue and recognition to Bradley. That was touching.
So, part of that speech is asking GCR and the rest of the world to understand why Karli and the Flag Smashers were doing what they were doing. I, for one, fully support the idea of “one world, one people” and the stupidity of national borders, but yeah, I can’t abide by wanton killing. Karli went too far.
At the end, the title of the show changes to Captain America and the Winter Soldier. That made me yelp in excitement.
Overall, I thought the show was great and I flew through the six episodes. I didn’t know what to expect going in, and admittedly, I had low expectations because of the show centering on Captain America’s replacement and the Winter Soldier. But it was great. The action scenes were top notch, the comedy, as I said, worked for me, the intrigue with the various peripheral characters, and the emotional weight of dealing with America and its racist past (and present).
I look forward to how the stories presented throughout the series further develop on the big or small screen. Supposedly there is going to be a fourth Captain America movie to continue the development and if so, I can’t wait!