This is a spoiler-free preview of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but you might want to avoid if you're going into the show without knowing anything beforehand.
The point of Marvel's new wave of big-budget TV shows – aside from selling Disney Plus subscriptions – is that they offer screen time to heroes that haven't necessarily had all the character development they deserved in the past.
That's why, when watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1, we realized how much of a blank slate Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes really is. Aside from his decade-spanning friendship with Steve Rogers, and the fact that he was Hydra's on-demand assassin across the 20th century, what do we actually know about him? Not much, it turns out.
Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson, aka Falcon, feels like he's had slightly more of an inner life in the MCU (opens in new tab) films – particularly in 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But what else makes him tick outside of battling bad guys using a cool wingsuit?
That's exactly why this first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is so satisfying. We're used to both of these heroes existing as part of Steve Rogers' world – and this show thankfully doesn't waste too much time mourning the retirement of Captain America. Instead, we get to see what both heroes' very different personal lives look like in a post-Thanos world.
For Sam, it's about reconnecting with family. For Bucky, it's about making amends for his past life as the Winter Soldier, and trying to move on. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes its time to get under their skin in this episode, and it's most welcome. Marvel makes the most of having the extra running time of a TV show to just let you hang out with them.
If you're a fan of the Captain America movies, probably the strongest strand of the MCU overall, this show promises to be a real treat based on this first episode. We're fully expecting some people to miss the sense of mystery and thematic depth of WandaVision – it's very unlikely this will be subject to the same number of wild fan theories as that show, which might be a relief to some viewers – but this series definitely has its own strengths.
Big action on a small screen
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier seems to realize the promise of Marvel-scale action on the small screen, for example. You can see why this is the MCU show Disney Plus originally planned to lead with in 2020, before Covid-19 scuppered filming – it feels more like a flagship show.
This series has the shape of a superhero film, only in TV form – which still isn't really something we've seen before with the kind of big action set pieces you get here. Like WandaVision's big showdown between Wanda and Agatha Harkness, there's no real difference between the action you'll see in this episode and what you'd normally see in theaters. You can probably guess that yourself from watching the trailers, but actually getting that feeling in real-time as you watch this episode is something else. It's a real rush.
We're not spoiling anything about the show's plot, here, but this episode alone has two movie-level set pieces. If you want that full-fat Marvel experience on a weekly basis, it looks like you're going to get it.
The vibe of this series is very much in line with the espionage-flavored, more realistic style of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In fact, there are numerous references to that movie in this episode. Both Sam and Bucky are placed in Steve's position in that film of being men out of time, albeit in vastly different scenarios. Sam disappeared during the Thanos blip, of course, while Bucky's still piecing things together after his century-plus life as the Winter Soldier.
There are some parts of the show's plot that we've known for a long time – that this series will deal with Sam reckoning with what it means to take on Captain America's shield, as we saw at the climax of Endgame. This first episode only really puts the pieces on the board, and we can't wait to see where it goes next.
We don't have really high hopes that the show will say anything that pointed about what it means to carry this iconic symbol of the United States in 2021, but it's nonetheless an exciting premise for six episodes of superhero action.
While the return of blockbuster movies looks like it's finally on the horizon, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier already feels like a great substitute for that – much like how WandaVision and The Mandalorian did before it.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier releases weekly on Disney Plus (opens in new tab) starting on March 19.