The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series review (2021)

I didn’t buy into every storyline and many questions were left unanswered due to its length. But, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has great fight scenes, impressive special effects for a TV series, and memorable character moments that ultimately make the series worthwhile.

Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe is mostly known for its big budget feature films (unless you count Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter), the studio is really beginning to flesh out its content even more with TV shows. WandaVision was the first major one to premiere earlier this year, but now we have The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with even more on the horizon, such as Loki, Hawkeye, and so on. Disney+’s sophomore Marvel effort, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, is one I enjoyed for the most part due to the dynamic between the two leads, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), along with some of the other characters. I may have had my expectations a bit too high for it since I loved the incredible Captain America trilogy as a collective. The series is great, but I would be lying if I said I’m not disappointed with some aspects of it.

I think the main factor that really holds the whole series back is its length. Being only six episodes, I noticed many ideas and details introduced which weren’t elaborated on fully and didn’t necessarily reach their potential. At the conclusion of the series, I did feel fulfilled with certain plot points, but not every single one, especially ones I found very compelling and interesting. Of course, we now know Captain America 4 is already confirmed, so it’s exciting. However, again, I truly feel it was a missed opportunity not making this series a bit longer. Then again, if anything, these Marvel shows are teaching viewers to keep expectations in check since, at the end of the day, the writers are going to want to tell the stories they want rather than live up to all the theories and possibilities the fans present.

What makes this show work are the characters and the important and relatable topics it touches on. The first couple of episodes really focus on Sam and Bucky. Sam is still dealing with the aftermath of the events of Avengers: Endgame, especially Steve Rogers essentially passing the mantle of Captain America to him with the shield. It’s immediately evident the conflict he feels trying to carry the weight of that title on his shoulders. Then, there’s Bucky, who’s finally a free man (other than some mandatory therapy sessions), both from the law and his mind. However, he still feels guilt and shame for all the bad he did as the Winter Soldier knowing it wasn’t his fault and he feels there’s little he can do to make amends with all the people and families he hurt.

The dynamic between the two is both fantastic and hilarious. There’s plenty of banter between them, which leads to some of the funniest moments in the entire series. At the same time though, there are also scenes where they get very serious about the events that have led to what’s going on presently, as well as trying to deal with what’s to come. They may not always agree on certain ideologies and are constantly butting heads, but they both have a common goal in mind and, at the end of the day, will have the support of one another. There’s plenty of chemistry and a strong bond between multiple characters in the MCU, but this one ranks pretty high on the list. Mackie and Stan do a phenomenal job and without them, the show doesn’t always work.

I found some of the other characters to be pretty great as well, especially Wyatt Russell and John Walker, a.k.a. the dollar store Captain America. He really sold the role for me since sometimes, he’s a bit likable and at his core, I do believe he has good intentions about who he wants to be and what he wants to do as the new Captain America. But, in many other ways, he sort of reminds me of the high school bully nobody likes and someone who tries to use his status and power to his advantage. He always has some sort of point to prove about who he is and why he can do certain things. It’s honestly the perfect counter to who Steve was as the true Captain America, which makes Russell’s iteration of him that much more intriguing. In more ways than one, he’s the opposite of everything Steve stood for and he ultimately let it get to his head. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in future MCU projects.

The main villain of the series, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), was a bit weak in my eyes. For many films, the MCU has had a glaring villain issue, that being the villains aren’t menacing or, in certain cases, relatable. I’m not entirely sure I can call Karli the villain, though, which is why I think there’s an antagonist problem here. She has a certain idea of what she needs to get done and is absolutely determined to accomplish this task at all costs. I, for one, actually agreed with what she was doing, but I also can’t align myself with the methods to her madness. In the way she got things done, yes, she’s definitely the villain. However, in seeing her reasoning for doing these things, it’s hard not to understand and sympathize with her.

I believe I can say the same thing about Daniel Bruhl as Baron Zemo. He was, without a doubt, the bad guy in Captain America: Civil War. But, with his role in this series, I didn’t always get those vibes from him. Again, I don’t agree with the methods they take and I can’t completely support their thoughts about certain situations and circumstances. I do understand some of them, though. But, I still stand by my statement about the series not having a straight up evil antagonist. Credit does have to be given to the MCU as a whole though, especially recently. These stories have done a great job in making the viewer sort of understand the villain in some ways while still realizing the way they’re going about things is wrong. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the latest to do this in a great way. Overall, as mentioned, I found Karli to be a weak character all together, but Zemo was fantastic. In fact, he was better here than he was in Civil War.

Other characters have some minor stints and appearances, including Danny Ramirez as Joaquin Torres, Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, Florence Kasumba as Ayo, and Adepero Oduye as Sarah, Sam’s sister. Some of their storylines hinted at even bigger events happening with projects to follow, so I’m excited for that. It was also really fun to see Georges St-Pierre return as Batroc here, considering I’m a huge MMA fan. I would touch on some other characters and details about them that were teased, but that would dig a bit into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave it be.

One last character I’d like to discuss with a bit more detail is Carl Lumbly’s Isaiah Bradley. For me, he was one of my favorite characters because of his story. Seeing everything he went through, such as the suffering, the discrimination/racism, and a handful of trials and tribulations really makes you relate to him in more ways than one. His relationship with Sam definitely grows deeper as the show progresses. He comes off a bit rough and intolerant as first, but as you get to know his true character, you start to embrace him. I mean, you can’t really blame him considering his life experiences. It really comes full circle at the end.

The development of these characters doesn’t always translate to the story, unfortunately. There are various plot points, as mentioned, that I feel were fulfilled. However, there are some that left more questions than answers. Obviously, it should be expected, of course. But, I feel some were pretty unnecessary in the grander scheme of things. Speaking more on its length, this has a big part to do with it since these stories didn’t really have enough room to breathe, leading to some strange pacing and sometimes messy storytelling. This is a big one for me and it really disappointed me with how they went about telling some aspects of the story. I do enjoy the end result though, especially seeing Sam’s character finally reach his full potential. He’s incredibly persistent and is willing to do what is necessary, while also keeping his morals, values, and priorities in tact. I can also say the same about Bucky, who has come a long way and isn’t the same person he’s perceived to be now that he can think for himself. This show really does them justice and makes you appreciate them even more than the films did.

For a TV series, the special effects were visually stunning, especially the sequence in the first episode, where Sam is flying around as Falcon trying to stop Batroc. It’s probably the most pleasing part in terms of visual effects. There were other instances, such as when Sam, Bucky, and Zemo went to Madripoor, where the city had this neon flair and the vibe was very dystopian. That was also cool to see. Even in terms of practical effects, I thought the series was beautifully shot and the camera angles were great. It really brought out the best of some scenes.

This also goes for the fight sequences. Most of them were pretty great, if I’m being honest, and the way they’re shot has a lot to do with it. However, compared to the fight choreography from the films, I don’t think they can be compared since the films are far superior. Then again, it doesn’t mean they’re poorly done. I still enjoyed them thoroughly, but there’s levels to this.

All in all, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a worthy entry into the MCU. The show excels because of the two main leads and their stories; plain and simple. The other characters are a welcome supporting cast as well, even though some are much better than others. I wish the story was a bit more focused and polished, and I also wish the series had a bit more time to breathe. It does enough to make me enjoy the overall watch for what it is since it is a great series in many ways, even though it didn’t exactly live up to my expectations for it. I’m excited to see what unfolds with what this established, and I’m sure it’ll build into something special for everyone involved.

Score: B


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