Marvel Studios created something truly special and groundbreaking with its first Disney+ Original Series WANDAVISION, so we are ready for THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER! With themes of identity and who will take on Captain America’s namesake and his mighty shield, this new Disney+ Original series is an important stepping stone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Read on to brush up on MCU characters and moments before the series begins. Stick around for the end of this article to read initial thoughts on the first episode.
Airing exclusively on Disney+ March 19, 2021, the 6 episode series features Sam Wilson, also known as The Falcon, and Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) teaming up on a global adventure. And as we see in the trailer, the action tests both their abilities and their patience. We even see the two in some form of “couple’s therapy!”
“It’s an epic, character-driven story,” says director Kari Skogland (The Handmaid’s Tale / The Loudest Voice). “We get to go inside these characters and their world in a much more intimate way. If the movies were a snack, this six-hour series is the meal. And yet, it has all of the wonderful things that come with the MCU—action, comedy, the high-octane pace, familiar faces and new characters. It’s all incredibly relatable.
“They know each other and they share a common denominator, Steve Rogers (Captain America), but they aren’t particularly good friends,” continues Skogland. “But the connection between them is really compelling.”
Their connection emerges within this 30-second clip from CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.
Head writer Malcolm Spellman (Empire) built upon that chemistry in the series. “Take away the mutual best friend and the truth of their relationship is laid bare,” he says. “They are like fire and ice. Sam reacts spontaneously from the gut, and Bucky is more cold and calculated.”
About the Characters
The Winter Soldier – Bucky Barnes
The series takes place following the events of AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan) was Steve Rogers’ best friend and a WWII veteran who was brainwashed by Hydra to become the Winter Soldier—a deadly and ruthless assassin who would stop at nothing to achieve his assigned mission. As revealed in the post- credit sequence of BLACK PANTHER, Bucky’s mind was healed by the Wakandans, and he later joins the Avengers to heroically battle and ultimately defeat Thanos in AVENGERS: ENDGAME. But now that Bucky has been thrust back into the real world, he must figure out how to become James Barnes again—all while facing the demons from his past.
The Falcon – Sam Wilson
Sam Wilson (played by Anthony Mackie) is a former U.S. Air Force pararescue jumper turned Avenger who was Steve Rogers’ right hand man since CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. At the end of ENDGAME, Steve Rogers, notably aged following an alternate life well- lived, presents Sam with the shield. But it’s clear that Sam is reluctant.
THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER is about the journey of the shield, and this moment locks in that central conflict. To top that off, both of these men are in the midst of a personal identity crisis.
Sharon Carter, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who went on the run after breaking the Sokovia Accords, knows that if she stepped foot in the United States, she’d be arrested. Emily VanCamp, who returns to the MCU as Sharon Carter, says the character has changed since we last saw her in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. “Listen, when we find Sharon, she’s in a pretty dark place,” says VanCamp. “When we first see her, there’s a little bit of anger. She’s tougher, a little raw and rough around the edges—a totally different version of Sharon than what we’ve seen in the films. That’s really interesting to explore.”
Adds co-executive producer Zoie Nagelhout, “We never really heard from Sharon after she put herself out there for Cap, Sam and Bucky, so we felt it was important to tell her story—to see what’s she’s been going through after throwing her career away to do what she felt was right. She’s that kind of person.”
Our heroes do not only grapple with identity – they must fact an intelligent, soft-spoken, multi-layered villain: Zemo. The Sokovian special forces officer tore the Avengers apart from the inside out after he lost his family in the battle of Sokovia. He’s been rotting in a German prison since we last saw him in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.
“I kind of fell in love with Zemo,” says director Kari Skogland. “His story is a slippery slope of trying to make something right, but going about it all wrong. So, when we meet him, he’s paying for his crimes. He’s lost everything. I couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of sympathy for him.”
Daniel Brühl, who returns as Zemo, feels similarly about the character. “In ‘Civil War,’ I was fascinated by the fact that Zemo is a multi-layered villain,” he says. “He’s not just a sinister bad guy. But there was not that much time to explore different facets of him, so it was great to be given the opportunity to revisit this character.”
About The Conflict
According to Anthony Mackie, “Sam considers [Captain America’s] shield a representation of the country that we live in. There’s a lot of trepidation as far as how does a Black man represent a country that does not represent him?
“When you think of Captain America, you think of a very specific brand of person,” Mackie continues. “And there are so many different lines, so many different avenues, so many realities that we have to live in every day to be a successful Black man in our society. Sometimes it’s just too hard to deal with all of those courtships of success. You can’t be the same person in every room you walk in because every person you meet expects a different person. For somebody like Sam, he has to ask himself the question if that’s something he’s willing to deal with.”
Sebastian Stan says Bucky aka The Winter Soldier has his own opinions on the matter. “I think the issue for Bucky now is about who will fill the shoes that Cap left behind and the legacy that he left behind,” says Stan. “I think Sam definitely grapples with that as well. They’re both, whether they want to or not, in the shadow of what Captain America means. And I think in Bucky’s mind, Sam is the next guy—that’s who was chosen, that was Steve’s wish. Bucky wants to see that through—and if there’s any doubt in Sam’s mind about it then that’s immediately a conflict for Bucky. He still feels very protective of Steve and his legacy.”
The story is rooted in the fact that both characters are struggling in different ways to find their place in the world since returning from the Blip. “For Sam, things at home are a bit complicated,” says executive producer Nate Moore. “He’s trying to fix his home life when a new threat pulls him out of that world onto the center stage of an international crisis. Bucky is a hero-turned-villain-turned-hero-again trying to figure out where he fits in. That investigation of character really propels him into the action. These two men who come from very different places end up on a mission together.”
Adds co-executive producer Zoie Nagelhout, “In a lot of ways, the show is about identity for each character. Who are they now that they’re back from the Blip? And they’re coming home to a very different world. The Blip means something different depending on who you ask, but ultimately it was a unified experience. We started thinking about the Blip from a very human perspective. The return of half the population was joyful and amazing, but also incredibly disruptive to the world order that had been developed over five years. People moved into abandoned homes, took jobs. How do you reinstate half the world’s population?”
We first saw this exploration of “the Blip” on a very personal level in Episode 4 of WANDAVISION, “Breaking the Fourth Wall.” Monica Rambeau reappears in a hospital room after being blipped for 5 years, because she was waiting for her mother, Maria Rambeau, to return from surgery. Now she learns that Maria had that successful surgery 5 years ago, but subsequently died 3 years later because the cancer returned. With FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes have returned from the Blip, and must grapple with losing 5 years of their lives, and how the world has changed since they disappeared.
MCU Cliff’s Notes
If you don’t have time to watch four MCU films before THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, Disney+ has you covered. Check out MARVEL STUDIOS: LEGENDS for roughly 7-minute recaps of “Falcon” “Winter Soldier” “Zemo” and “Sharon Carter.”
‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ – Episode 1 Initial Review (Spoiler-Free)
That’s the only description you need for this first episode of THE FALCON. After WANDAVISION, THE FALCON is just a bit jarring. One can’t help but compare these two Marvel series as they air only two weeks away from each other. But the MCU excels at creating a cohesive overall story with different genre films, and I expect no different from the Marvel TV series.
Considering that each of these Disney+ Original series are shot like a super-size Marvel film, Episode 1 is absolutely the first act of that film – dropping you mid-action sequence for a heart-pounding ride. The screener provided by Disney+ did not come with a title for Episode 1, but I can tell you that it is 47 minutes long, with credits making up 5 minutes of that run-time. Like WANDAVISION, even that seemed short, with an ending that will make you long for the next episode. I love that with a TV series, the showrunners can stretch or shrink the run-time in service to the story.
Director Kari Skogland set an interesting visual language for the series. Action scenes are full of long shots that help define space, but more cerebral scenes such as a therapy session are full of extreme close-ups. This interesting juxtaposition make these close-ups uncomfortable for the viewer. Bucky is uncomfortable in the scene, so Skogland uses this visual language to signify his unease.
Already we see the conflict hinted at in ENDGAME. Captain America’s shield, like the Millennium Falcon in STAR WARS, is more a character than an object. It’s even featured in the official poster below. How long can this shield go unclaimed? Who will pick it up? Perhaps this series has several answers to that question.
Like the first act of an MCU film, Episode 1 sets the scene and our characters and establishes the post-Blip world on personal levels for both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. We also see another conflict developing around the world. Overall, this premiere establishes Sam and Bucky, while the final moments will have you salivating for Episode 2.
THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER begins streaming on Disney+ Friday, March 19, 2021.
‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ Zoom Chats every Friday at 7:45pm PT
Anyone can join, just sign up for the Skywalking Newsletter for the link! The audio of these chats and previous WANDAVISION Zoom Chats are available as podcast episodes for the Skywalking Force, our Patreon.