The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) property released on Disney+, might be the show with the most-watched series premiere on Disney’s streaming platform. But it’s not necessarily the most compelling or captivating one of Disney+’s TV offerings.
We’re four episodes into the six-episode series and you can already feel the symptoms of a drawn-out plot that could have been a two-hour movie instead.
At times, WandaVision, Marvel’s first show to debut on Disney+, also felt like an over-blown origin story that could have been related in a feature format. But its homage to TV and all the references to classic sitcoms justified its division into episodes. That’s not so much the case with Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
I know what you might be thinking: why are you even talking about TV? Disney+ is a streaming service. For the last year, we’ve seen TV shows, miniseries, documentaries and even blockbuster movies all released directly on streaming or video on demand. The format doesn’t matter that much. In the end, we’re going to watch it at our own pace, on our phones or laptops — maybe on our smart TVs, if we’re feeling fancy.
But a more condensed, shorter version of Falcon and the Winter Soldier would have made for a better story — as opposed to this weekly release of new episodes that don’t pack all the punch they could.
Let’s get into some of the comparisons between WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier and why the latter doesn’t feel like such a perfect fit for TV. Also, if you’re not caught up on WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s latest episode, The Whole World is Watching, keep in mind that there will be some minor spoilers going forward.
We Need More Joint Therapy Sessions (and More Humor)
Even though WandaVision was a contemplation on grief, the show contained a lot of humor. It was modeled after classic sitcoms and put its main couple through a lot of funny situations — Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) cooking a meal for Vision’s (Paul Bettany) boss and his wife out of thin air; Wanda and Vision participating in Westview’s talent show with a magic act; the whole express pregnancy situation… Not to mention Kathryn Hahn’s hilarious and misleading nosy neighbor Agnes/Agatha.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier needs some of that lighter fare. “They are like fire and ice. Sam reacts spontaneously from the gut, and Bucky is more cold and calculated. Everyone saw the 30-second clip in Civil War when they bicker about the placement of Sam’s seat. We build on that chemistry,” Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s head writer Malcolm Spellman (Empire) says in the show’s production notes, referring to a scene from 2016’s Captain America: Civil War in which Sam (Anthony Mackey) refuses to move his seat up to leave more legroom for Bucky (Sebastian Stan). He’s crammed in the back seat of a vintage Volkswagen Beetle. That brief moment planted the seed for this show.
The chemistry between Sam and Bucky is palpable in the show. There just needs to be more moments to let that chemistry breathe. The first episode didn’t even feature the two of them together. The second one — the best in the show so far — hilariously puts them together in a couples therapy session where they fight about the proximity of the seating arrangement and end up in a staring contest. But once the show gets lost in the duo’s larger mission, there are not many occasions for this levity. A few standout moments include one where Sam and Bucky argue about the Big Three (aliens, androids and wizards), bicker about Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”, and roll in a field together.
I know I’m not the only one out there not-so-secretly shipping Sam and Bucky to end up romantically entangled. And even though I’m sure that’s hardly going to happen — Marvel’s first LGBTQ+ onscreen kiss and relationship will be portrayed in the upcoming The Eternals — this show could be much better if it addressed the inherent unresolved sexual tension between these two characters who were once in love with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), only to be left with each other.
Either Sam and Bucky get their romantic longings addressed, or I’m going to believe Marvel is really queer-baiting part of the show’s audience. You know, giving some viewers enough crumbs to make us believe something is going on between the two main characters. While at the same time keeping everything veiled enough not to risk alienating another part of the audience who wouldn’t embrace the queer relationship.
Smaller Scale Makes Sense for TV
Like with most MCU movies, the stakes in Falcon and the Winter Soldier couldn’t be higher. An anarchist group called Flag-Smashers, led by young super soldier Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), is seeking to destabilize the world. Karli and the rest of the super soldiers in her organization liked the world better during the post-Avengers: Infinity War Blip and want to obliterate national borders.
The menace the Flag-Smashers pose is such that Bucky — a 106-year-old super soldier himself — agrees to join forces with Sam in giving an urgent chase to the group. You could argue the only reason why Sam and Bucky are working together are precisely the high stakes. But in reality, the first time Bucky seeks Sam in the show is to reproach him for having given Captain America’s shield away.
I understand part of the MCU brand is spectacle, but again, this is a TV show, not a $350 million movie. Prestige TV is synonymous with character development. I would have preferred to see a more intimate story where Sam deals with his personal problems and tries to help his sister keep the family business afloat while doing minor superhero gigs on the side. Bucky, a victim of brainwashing, could keep going to therapy, all while getting on Sam’s nerves because of what he did with Cap’s mantle.
I love the commentary on race the show is making. But I feel it’s one of the many things Falcon and the Winter hints at but doesn’t fully develop because it has more urgent matters to deal with, like a terrorist group wreaking havoc.
WandaVision was based on the intricate way Wanda found to deal with the loss of her lover. Falcon and the Winter Soldier could have been simply about what it means to be Captain America’s heir if you’re a Black man in America.
“Sam considers the shield a representation of the country that we live in. There’s a lot of trepidation as far as how does a Black man represent a country that does not represent him?” Mackie says in the show’s production notes. And that’s precisely what I’d love to see more of in the series.
Too Many Characters Yet Not Enough Scene Stealers
Lots of familiar faces pop up in the show. Like former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and Sokovian special forces officer Zemo (Daniel Brühl). As well as elite Wakandan warrior Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and a group of other very welcome Dora Milaje warriors. But even with delicious moments like the one in episode 4 where Ayo utters: “The Dora Milaje have jurisdiction wherever the Dora Milaje find themselves to be,” none of these old acquaintances from the MCU get to have much time for development. Not in the way that Darcy (Kat Dennings) was able to establish herself in WandaVision as both an incredibly brilliant scientist and a hilarious person.
Then there are the new faces. Like John Walker (Wyatt Russell), the new Captain America, and his sidekick and best friend, Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett). I understand the show wants to prove there’s no one as wholesome and incorruptible as Steve Rogers, but did Walker need to be the most unsympathetic yet predictable character in the show? From the beginning, of episode 4, we know Walker is going to ruin Sam’s chat with Karli. We know Walker is going to take the super soldier serum. And we know he is going to be easily corrupted by it.
Also, there’s no Kathryn Hahn equivalent here. No new character who steals all the scenes they’re in and makes us wonder about their backstory. The closest thing in Falcon and the Winter Soldier would be Amy Aquino’s Dr. Raynor but sadly the therapist has been absent from the last two episodes.
In a way, I feel Falcon and the Winter Soldier is exactly what I suspected MCU shows were going to look like when they were first announced: new iterations of a movie franchise based on action and spectacle that doesn’t necessarily understand all the intricacies of the TV format.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier was scheduled to be the first one released on Disney+ but then the pandemic hit and its shooting was halted in March of last year. The show includes a lot of action sequences, stunts and scenes shot on location in the streets of Prague, Czech Republic.
WandaVision — on the other hand — has more of the look of a sitcom. That made its production during COVID times a little bit easier. That’s the reason why it ended up being released first. And the whole MCU and Disney+ strategy benefited from it. WandaVision was such a solid, unique and personal show that it made for a better presentation card for MCU’s foray into television.
I understand there are two episodes left of Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the show could still solve some of the problems it has. There’s still time for more love/hate banter between Sam and Bucky. But when it comes to choosing a TV show that stands out on its own, WandaVision wins.