After the rousing critical success of WandaVision, Disney Plus is back with another excursion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. The two week gap between the two shows was just enough time to cleanse the palate, as this new show is less reliant on mystery and more focused on action.
The first nine minutes of the premiere episode of the six-episode series does not let up with the heart-stopping thrills. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), The Falcon, is now working with the U.S. Air Force. Much like the rest of the world, he is dealing with “the blip,” and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is set a few months after the return of billions of people.
This opening mission reintroduces Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), last seen getting his ass handed to him by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in the opening scenes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I guess Batroc is just the perfect character for thrilling opening scenes. Falcon is trying to rescue an Air Force operative that Batroc and his goons have captured aboard a C-130.
Sam and Red Wing, his trusty drone companion, assault the plane and subdue the LAF goon before Batroc escapes with his hostage. What follows is a death-defying series of aerial stunts where we get to see Falcon in all his glory (it is his show, after all).
Sam saves the hostage and Batroc escapes again to possibly come back in the opening of yet another MCU show or film.
This is when The Falcon and The Winter Soldier begins to slow down for some much needed exposition. Sam and his Air Force contact, Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez) are looking into a terrorist cell called the “Flag Smashers,” and Cruz is working undercover to infiltrate the group. Sam, on the other hand, needs to head home for an important purpose.
Back in the states, Sam gives up Cap’s shield, given to him at the end of Avengers: Endgame. He believes that he is not worthy of the honor, and donates the iconic artifact to the Smithsonian.
Rounding out the checking in on the title characters, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) the ex-Winter Soldier is being plagued by nightmares of the horrors he brought upon the world as an agent of HYDRA. He’s also in therapy for these and many other issues. Bucky is trying to make things right with those he harmed, at the urging of his therapist (Amy Aquino).
Sam returns home to Louisiana to visit his sister, Sarah (Adepero Oduye), and his nephews. His sister still works in the family fishing business, but is desperate to sell the family boat to help make ends meet. This is something that Sam pushes back on, and he finally convinces Sarah to try to get a small business loan to stay afloat.
In the meantime, Bucky has befriended an old man, Yori (Ken Takemoto) and they do lunch together. Yori tells Bucky that his son died mysteriously while overseas, and then he sets Bucky up on a date with the waitress, Leah (Miki Ishikawa) at their sushi spot.
During the date, Bucky is haunted by something in their conversation over a game of Drunken Battleship, and he goes to Yori’s apartment. There we see that Yori’s son was one of the people that the Winter Soldier murdered in his nightmare.
In Switzerland, Torres infiltrates the Flag Smashers and takes part in a well-choreographed robbery. He tries to apprehend their leader, presumably Marvel villain Flag-Smasher, judging by his mask, and Torres is beaten down for his troubles.
Back in Louisiana, Sam and Sarah got to the bank to get a loan and even though Sam is an Avenger and saved the universe, the Wilsons get turned down.
Torres calls Sam and gives him an update just as the news breaks that the U.S. government has un-retired Cap’s shield, betraying Sam’s trust. A new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), is introduced and is here to save the day.
And Sam is pissed.
Writing and Directing
The first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was written by Malcolm Spellman and was directed by Kari Skogland. The teleplay hit all the right notes and did a great job of giving backstory to Sam and Bucky, outside of the Avengers. After that intense opening, it was a little bit of a let down to go into so much exposition, but the characters and the story are better served for it.
Skogland’s directing was top notch in every way. The opening scene, which I know I keep bringing up — because it was that amazing! — was incredible in every way, and when the story called for a breath or two, she was able to let the characters develop without feeling like every scene had to be this crazy stunt fest.
There was much to unpack here. The cameo by James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) helps solidify this in the Avengers timeline, and the period after the blip, save for some allusion to it in Spider-Man: Far From Home and that intense scene in WandaVision with Monica Rambeau coming back, is unexplored territory.
The world — and the universe — were irrevocably changed by what Thanos did and what the Avengers undid, and seeing this now from the ground level drives home how much the world has changed.
This is a great opener for what could be the defining Marvel Cinematic Universe project on Disney Plus. WandaVision set the bar pretty high, and with Loki and 12 other MCU shows coming up in the next three years, it’s important to keep the greater story going without missing a step. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier seems to be well on that path and the next five weeks should only get more and more intense.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is available to stream exclusively on Disney Plus starting on March 19. All images courtesy of Disney.