Review of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

At the end of Avengers: Endgame, there were a few important questions set up. What is going to happen after the Blip that resurrected half of Earth's population suddenly after five years? What is going to happen with Captain America? Will The Falcon step up to the mantle of Captain America? The Falcon and the Winter Soldier answers all these questions while delivering a mostly consistent and entertaining piece of Marvel media. It’s nothing exceptional, but it was certainly good and enjoyable.

Part 1: Sam Wilson’s arc

Sam Wilson, AKA The Falcon, has the strongest arc of the whole show. His conflict is the most fleshed out, and it results in some really meaningful and impactful social commentary about the experience of Black people in America. It’s also clever how the show ties Sam’s hesitation to be a Black Captain America into a typical hero’s journey arc, which makes it a very tangible and grounded arc that the audience can really latch on to.

There are two aspects that make Sam’s arc really stand out. The first aspect is Sam’s relationship with Bucky, AKA the Winter Soldier. The development of Bucky and Sam’s friendship also includes Bucky’s understanding of Sam’s experience as a Black man, which was a thoughtful angle I would never have expected a Marvel show like this to take.

Steve Rogers was essentially a family figure to Bucky, and the shield represented the last remaining bit of Steve now that he is gone. However, Bucky doesn’t understand that the stars and stripes don’t mean the same thing to Sam because of his experience as a Black man. As their friendship develops, so does this understanding, and it was really satisfying to watch that. Sam learns from Bucky that even if Steve or Bucky didn’t understand Sam’s hesitancy to be Captain America, he still has it in him to fight for what’s right.

This ties into the second aspect that really makes Sam’s arc work: Isaiah Bradley. He’s a Black super soldier who was made into a super soldier like Steve Rogers. Bradley also rescued his fellow soldiers from a prisoner of war camp the same way Steve Rogers did, but instead of getting a hero’s recognition like Rogers, he was imprisoned and experimented on for 30 years. Sam’s relationship with Bradley highlights the dilemma Sam faces about being a Black Captain America. But as the story progresses, Sam learns that all the struggle would mean nothing if he didn’t continue to fight for what’s right. The result is a really touching payoff that provides a level of optimism worthy of Steve Rogers.

Part 2: Bucky’s arc

Bucky’s arc is another great emotional arc that helps carry the show. Now free of his past as the Winter Soldier, he has to come to terms with the trauma of being a killing machine he didn’t have control over. He holds Steve Roger’s book, where he has a list of names of people he wronged as the Winter Soldier and needs to make amends with. However, he struggles to articulate his trauma or even reach out for help properly. As his friendship with Sam develops, we see him begin to open up more and realize that he can’t get rid of his past as the Winter Soldier. All he can do is accept that he did that and put in the work so he can find peace.

Bucky’s arc also results in the reintroduction of Baron Zemo and the Wakandans, which was very awesome to see. Zemo delivers some of the best scenes of the show, with an interesting moral code that helps highlight Bucky’s own arc. Zemo hates heroes and super soldiers, not because they’re super soldiers, but because of the god complex and supremacist ideology associated with it. For Bucky, he didn’t want to be the Winter Soldier, which is something that Zemo realizes. It’s a very great angle to take for a villain like Zemo, and I hope we get to see more of him in future Marvel installments.

Part 3: John Walker’s arc

John Walker is a great contrast to Sam Wilson. His arc over the course of the show is that he can’t handle the pressure of being Captain America. With great power comes great responsibility, and John Walker couldn’t match the mantle of Captain America the same way Sam could. He’s tempered by his best friend, Lemar Hoskins, who ultimately suffers a brutal death at the hands of the main antagonists of the show, the Flag Smashers. We see John Walker descend into insanity as he takes the super-soldier serum and decapitates one of the Flag Smashers in full view of the public.

The development of Walker’s arc, while a bit rushed towards the end, does a good job of showing how even those who may be considered good people get corrupted when given power. Walker is basically the type of person Zemo warns of. He has a major hero complex, and once given the Captain America mantle, feels the pressure to live up to the name as much as possible. When he takes the super-soldier serum, we see this complex exacerbated. However, at the end of the day, it shows that John’s intentions are not as corrupted as they seem, and by the last episode, we see him become more of an anti-hero rather than true villain. It’s a nuanced approach that I didn’t expect, but I wish Walker’s arc got some more time to marinate before it concluded.

Part 4: The Flag Smashers arc

The Flag Smashers are a radical group who want to stop the Global Repatriation Council (GRC) from mistreating and resettling millions of refugees after the Blip resurrected half the world’s population. While there are some decent elements of the arc and a good exploration of how and why people get radicalized, the actual radicalization arc is very rushed and inconsistent.

The show tries to portray the Flag Smashers as both antagonists and anti-heroes and the result is very mixed. Karli Morgenthau, the main leader of the Flag Smashers, is meant to descend further into madness as a result of the GRC’s apathy and John Walker’s decapitation of one of her friends in public. However, the show misplaces certain scenes that show Karli getting more aggressive and violent. For example, Karli plants a car bomb somewhere in episode 4 that kills civilians, but there was no reason for her to do it apart from the fact that the show wanted to remind the audience she is the antagonist. If this scene were placed after John Walker decapitated her friend, it would have made more sense and it would have helped with the show’s pacing. Unfortunately, the misplacement of scenes such as that one end up making the arc feel more hollow even if both the actual political commentary and world building that surrounded it were interesting and nuanced.

Final thoughts

Overall, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a pretty entertaining and well-made show. The action scenes were mostly good, but some of the CGI and editing were very bad at times, particularly in the last episode. The action with the shield was pretty sweet to watch, and Sam’s moves with his Falcon wings were really awesome. The plot construction could have been a bit better, but for what it's worth, I didn’t expect a fairly mature and grounded show like this. If you’re a die-hard Marvel fan, definitely give this a watch, and if you’re a casual viewer, I’d recommend giving it a try for the commentary and Sam Wilson’s story.

Final rating: 7/10
Best episode: episode 5