As an avid Marvel fan, I have to say I love the Captain America films in particular. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is undoubtedly iconic as Cap, but truth be told, I mostly love it for introducing and subsequently developing the supporting characters of James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). After seeing them in supporting roles over the years, it felt right that both characters should be given their own series. Bucky’s trauma has often been skated over in the films, and Marvel seemed to be falling into the lazy ‘Black best friend’ trope with Sam Wilson’s character (big yikes).
In many ways, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier really shines – in other ways, it also fails to land.
Stan and Mackie are truly given the chance to shine, which is delightfully refreshing to watch. A flashback scene to Wakanda in episode four shows the intense struggle and suffering endured by Bucky as a result of trying to break free from his days as the Winter Soldier assassin. It also highlights Sebastian Stan’s excellent acting abilities, which have always been present but never at the forefront of a Marvel film (see: the scene with Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
Mackie is also given plenty of material to work with. Alongside the development of Wilson’s charismatic personality, Mackie is able to highlight the real-world cultural phenomenon taking place around the world. Black Lives Matter and the related racial issues in the United States (and beyond) have had a massive impact – one that Marvel would be ignorant not to include. The series focuses largely on Sam’s predicament: how to take up the legacy of Captain America when America favours a blonde-haired, blue-eyed man. Marvel doesn’t just sweep these issues aside, but instead creates scenes with strong dialogue on what it means to be Black in the US. Ultimately, the course that Sam chooses is one of hope and inspiration – exactly what the legacy of Captain America is supposed to embody.
Aside from the main characters, the show also excels with the supporting cast. The involvement of the Dora Milaje (Florence Kasumba et al) and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) was brief but electric, and let’s be honest – who doesn’t love to hate John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and hate to love Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl)? With the introduction of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as a potential mystery villain and Sharon Carter as the Power Broker, the show has set up some very interesting potential plot lines to develop in future productions.
Read more about our predictions for the future of the MCU here.
Instead of feeling like a television show, TFATWS was more like a series of short films released weekly. The action scenes were impeccably done, as is expected of Marvel, but overall the show felt rather frantic at times. The audience were zipped from one location to another around the world, and it seemed like the creators were trying to condense as much plot and development into each episode as possible. Additionally, it seems like Marvel are back to their usual set-up of camera angle close-ups, wide-sweeping landscape shots, and somewhat predictable soundtrack choices. Which is fine of course, but after the genre-bending delightful madness of WandaVision, it feels somewhat… dull.
Finally, many have also felt queerbaited at the portrayal of Sam and Bucky in the show, especially after episode two. Marvel have yet to include an openly gay superhero in their canon, despite having released 23 films, and it felt exceedingly poor form for the studio to tease viewers with scenes such as the couples counselling session, or that scene involving rolling around in a field. Give the people what they want and write them as a couple, I beg of you Marvel!
While Sam is developed as a character, Marvel repeats their own mistake yet again with John Walker and his best friend Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett), AKA utilising the same White Guy Hero and his Black Sidekick trope. To make matters worse, Lemar is killed by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), the leader of the terrorist group ‘the Flag Smashers’, for no other reason than to provide a turning point that triggers Walker’s descent into madness. The trope is tired and lazy, and I expected more.
There were also many issues with the Flag Smashers themselves. Not only do they have an unforgivably terrible name, but they had an even worse development throughout the show. It seems that Marvel truly doesn’t know how to write nuanced baddies; villains who set out to change the world ultimately end up as bloodthirsty terrorists with no capacity for emotions or a moral compass – Black Panther‘s Killmonger and Avengers‘ Thanos are prime examples.
Instead of writing Karli as a complex character with laudable goals but less than desirable actions, Marvel chooses to reduce her and her group to one-dimensional stereotypical ‘crazed villains’. In episode three, there is a Robin Hood-esque moment where the Flag Smashers liberate much-needed food and supplies from a government building where they were being hoarded, only for Karli to then bomb the building—and all the people inside it—for no real apparent reason. In the final episode, she also becomes hell-bent on murdering the members of the GRC (Global Repatriation Council), all of which surely goes against the mantra of her group, “one world, one people”. All of this results in a lack of believability and connection to the character, so that when her death takes place in episode six, it is nothing but an empty, forgettable moment lost in the rest of the finale.
Ultimately, TFATWS gave us some magical gems – from the incredibly entertaining (Zemo in the club, anyone?) to the emotionally charged (Sam Wilson as the new Captain America!) to the devastatingly heart-breaking (any and all scenes involving Bucky dealing with his trauma). However, there are a lot of imperfections alongside these, which detract massively from the show as a whole.
It will be interesting to see if Marvel continues with the TV show format now that the world is (hopefully) on a recovery rebound from COVID-19. Despite their TV successes, I still stand by my wish for Bucky and Sam to have their own standalone film someday, but I for one can’t wait for the next instalment of ‘Captain America and the Winter Soldier’, whatever form that may take.
Words by Yasmin Bye
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