It’s worth noting that the good folks at Disney only provided the first episode of their new Marvel series for review purposes, so if The Falcon and the Winter Soldier flies off in entirely unexpected directions in an ep or three, so be it: we can only work with the tools we’re given.
If you’re the type to get really bent out of shape over minor spoilers here’s the skinny: good fun, well-acted, some very well-staged action sequences, and tonally of a piece of the Captain America corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we’ve seen before, with its shadings of espionage and military adventure. Proceed with confidence if that’s your jam.
When we look back at our heroes post-Endgame, they’re both wrestling with their past or lack thereof. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is in therapy and working on making amends to the various people he’s hurt in the course of his long career as super-assassin The Winter Soldier.
Meanwhile, Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is working with the Air Force as a special operative and finding that being a hero doesn’t pay the bills—it looks like he and his sister (Adepero Oduye) are going to lose their late parents’ old commercial fishing boat. You might think that the banks would cut Captain America some slack, but Sam most pointedly is not Cap, having donated the shield Steve Rogers bequeathed him to a museum (we must assume you’re au fait with MCU continuity, or we’ll be here all day).
We could be in need of a hero or two, though, as a daring robbery midway through the episode hints at a new threat on the rise, while the promotional material seen so far tells us that Civil War villain Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) is going to show up at some point. Really, the basic plot mechanics deployed here are not that interesting.
What does shine, however, is the character work and performances. Stan excels as Bucky, a guilt-ridden man trying to both make up for his dark past and fit in to a world he doesn’t recognize. For his part, Mackie does great as the self-effacing Sam, not sure he’s up to taking on the mantle of America’s greatest hero, even after the episode goes out of its way to showcase what a capable hero he is. The opening beat, which sees The Falcon handling the hijacking of a military transport plane, is a brilliant piece of character-first action filmmaking.
Really, this first ep is all about setting the table; we’re not even into the first course yet. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier efficiently and entertainingly re-establishes and expands our familiar protagonists, drops in a couple of welcome cameos, hints at a greater threat lurking in the background, and ends on a nice little cliff-hanger that the canny will guess but we won’t spoil here.
The final verdict, given the material released, is “promising”. After the formal experimentation and emotional storytelling of Wandavision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a much more meat ‘n’ potatoes action thriller, but sometimes that’s exactly what you want. At the very least, we won’t get threads full of comments wondering when Doctor Strange or Mephisto will show up. Probably.