The Falcon and the Winter Soldier - Reviewed By DJ MACK

This is the second series to premiere exclusively on Disney Plus that is a spin-off from the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU, which are the blockbuster films that culminated with Avengers: Endgame (2019). The previous series was WandaVision (2021), which focused on the characters of Wanda Maximoff, a young woman with psychic powers, and Vision, a robot that could look human and also had psychic powers. This series also focuses on two characters from the MCU to show how they're coping with the aftermath of the devastating events from Avengers: Endgame. If you're a fan of the MCU, then no introduction is necessary. If one needs a refresher in the specific characters in this show, you don't need to watch all 22 films in the MCU. All you need to watch are three specifically: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Captain America: Civil War (2016). Each of the two protagonists in this series were introduced and developed in those three films specifically.
Anthony Mackie (Pain & Gain and The Hurt Locker) reprises his role of Sam Wilson aka the Falcon. Sam is part of the para-rescue team in the United States Air Force. He was able to take possession of a jet pack with wings that help him to fly high and fast but also acts as shields and weapons during combat. He doesn't have any super powers, just expert military training, his charm and wits. He befriended Captain America and helped him to take down Hydra, a secret Nazi organization.

Sebastian Stan (I, Tonya and The Martian) also reprises his role of James Buchanan Barnes nicknamed Bucky aka the Winter Soldier. He's actually a veteran who fought in World War II. He was friends with Captain America back in the 1940's, but, like Captain America, Bucky was the subject of a super-soldier experiment. He was injected with a chemical formula known as the super-soldier serum, the same serum that gave Captain America his muscular physique and super-strength. However, Hydra brainwashed Bucky and made him an evil assassin called the Winter Soldier who killed a lot of people. Captain America was able to change him back and make him a good person again, but Bucky still has the memories and the guilt of all the people he killed.
At the start of this series, Bucky is pardoned for his past crimes and is now in therapy to deal with his mental issues. It will be interesting to see Bucky have to reckon with what he's done. Obviously, his crimes can be dismissed as brainwashing and he can be absolved that way. The films never gave space for a dialogue about a criminal having to confront his victim's family. Tony Stark aka Iron Man was one such person, but the films didn't give space to any kind of restorative justice. It might come down to Bucky's assistance in the fight to save the planet being seen as absolution to some degree but hearing from his victims' families about that absolution or justice would have been more interesting. Unfortunately, the final episode doesn't give space to those victims much at all.

Created by Malcolm Spellman (Empire) who is the African-American head writer for this series, there is much that is made of Sam Wilson's family. Sam is obviously African-American and this series takes the opportunity to explore his more down-to-Earth issues. Sam comes from a family living in Delacroix, Louisiana, which is essentially an island, situated right next to New Orleans, with not much development, except for a few homes and fishing ports. Sam's family owns and operates a seafood business where they have a boat that goes out and catches various seafood and brings it back to sell at markets. However, Sam's sister, Sarah Wilson, played by Adepero Oduye (Geostorm and Pariah), might sell the boat because since their father's death and a turn in the economy, she can't afford to keep it any longer. Sam wants the family to keep it because it's their father's legacy, but that won't happen without an infusion of cash, which a poor Black family can't get from even a bank.
This series leans into the racial issues that are bubbling underneath of a story line like this with Sam's family and their financial troubles. The MCU typically avoids such political topics. The closest the MCU came was in Black Panther (2018) where issues of colonialism and white supremacy were touched upon. This series has a bit of a political bent. The villains in this series are a terrorist group, known as the Flag Smashers. The Flag Smashers are anarchists who think that life was better before the Avengers defeated Thanos where the planet had half its population missing.
Erin Kellyman (Solo: A Star Wars Story) plays Karli Morgenthau, the leader of the Flag Smashers. The show gives her space to hear what her logic is about thinking life was better before the Avengers defeated Thanos and half of Earth's population had been obliterated. The villain in Black Panther was able to make a compelling argument as to his ideology or his position. This series does the same for Karli to some degree, but I was never as convinced with Karli's ideas as I was with the villain in Black Panther. Therefore, her presence here only feels perfunctory and not as vital.
One thing that doesn't bode well at first is the introduction of John Walker, played by Wyatt Russell (Overlord and Everybody Wants Some!!). John Walker is a soldier in the U.S. Army who is recruited to be the next Captain America. What I didn't understand is why the U.S. government in this MCU felt the need to put another American soldier in the Captain America role. For starters, the government created Captain America during World War II as a propaganda tool to sell war bonds and encourage domestic support for the war. When Steve Rogers who was the original, Captain America is presumed dead in the 1940's, the government didn't create another Captain America in the 70 years until Steve Rogers returned. After Steve Rogers disappears again after Avengers: Endgame, the government almost immediately replaces or recasts him. Why? Why now? What for?
In the opening scene, we jump back six years to the time when Bucky was in Wakanda where Shuri, Ayo, helped him in removing the Winter Soldier programming. Sam and Bucky continue on their search for Karli Morgenthau, where Sam continues to show traits of a true Captain America, level headed, voice to reason and not quick to a fight. Sam gets a heart-to-heart conversation with Karli, disrupted by John Walker which leads them to fight against. Flag Smashers are given time and much more depth for them to shine. Sharon Carter is seen helping Sam and Bucky after last episode's tour to Madripoor. Whereas John Walker not being able to stand on his feet against the Dora Milaje, realizes his inability. But later he gets his hands to the power he had been craving for, the last piece of the puzzle towards his success as Captain America, the super-soldier serum. Though Zemo destroys all of the left serums, Walker gets his hand to a single serum left undestroyed by Zemo. Walker's combat force and increased strength in later battles reveal that he has taken the serum and has been transformed into a perfect soldier (but not a good man..).

Even in the reality of this series, there isn't a war being fought, at least not on the scale of WWII. If the government didn't feel the need to replace Captain America in the 70 years since WWII and Steve Rogers' return, I don't get what the need is now. Also, what do the American people think happened to Steve Rogers, the previous Captain America? These questions for me come from the lack of world-building that exists outside the bubble of the characters and their missions.
I know it's probably pointless to ask, but there's also no explanation as to why other members of the Avengers aren't playing an active role in this series. In the first episode, we see the character of James Rhodes aka War Machine, played by Don Cheadle. When Sam is in trouble in the second episode, it's a wonder why he doesn't call upon War Machine. However, there are other potential characters like Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange who Sam knows from the Avengers team whom he could call. It's just another frustrating thing about these properties and that's how certain characters are cut off from others in films or now TV shows.