Martin Carr reviews the first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier…
After the radical departure of WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier lands squarely in familiar Marvel territory. This opener feels like a refresher as Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan slip back into the action seamlessly. Aerial set pieces, high octane visuals and moments of moderate threat carefully influence mood. Back story is slotted in amongst essential relationship building, while franchise call backs are kept to a minimum.
Both Bucky and Sam are negotiating a world stage devoid of heroic figureheads. In an environment where these larger than life personalities no longer exist, people are crying out for something to get behind. For the fan faithful there are a few notable cameos which provide context without stealing the limelight, while Sam especially benefits from a broader emotional canvas. However, his partner in crime is still addressing some long standing issues, which see events drift naturally in a darker direction.
This story is as much about personal redemption as it is personal growth. Writer Malcolm Spellman acknowledges that the mistakes people make define them as much, if not more, than any degree of success. Beyond the super heroic bravado, high kicking action sequences and slick production design, this show succeeds because of that realisation. Both characters have given more than a pound of flesh to this cause, leaving casualties and consequences behind them.
What fans need to remember is that this is the opening episode. Marvel have always delivered on character, been mindful of story and kept curve balls in reserve. No one was prepared for WandaVision and some people are still using up column inches digging deeper. This studio has a habit of distracting with whistles and bells, before delivering an Easter egg of haymaker proportions at an unprepared audience. Zemo is coming and there will be a larger threat unleashed imminently, but for the time being our headliners are working solo.
Marvel may have marketed this as an action comedy, but right now they are busy getting audiences comfortable with this new direction. As a post Snap population explosion takes hold people have had to readjust yet again. That knock on effect is tangible and bleeds through in some pivotal dialogue exchanges at crucial narrative junctures. Going into this, audiences need to apply the tonal template of both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War. Beyond the existence of both Bucky and Sam in these franchise high points, it will also go some way to preparing fans for a safer MCU entry. Not a show free from invention, but rather one which has the self-assurance and pre-possession to know their audience is with them for life.