Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 1, 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finishes strong, but not without flaws

By BINYAMIN NOVETSKY | April 29, 2021

sebastian-stan-anthony-mackie-48469364812

GAGE SKIDMORE/CC BY-SA 2.0

Actors Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan play the roles of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, respectively. 

A month ago, I wrote a review of the first episode of Disney+’s new premier Marvel Cinematic Universe intellectual property, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In it, I expressed disappointment with the way that the series opened. I believed that the show might improve as it went along, but I argued that, in the first episode, the show just wasn’t all that good.

Let me be clear: This show saw the opportunity for improvement, and it blasted that door wide open.

Each of the six episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier improves upon the last one. Excluding the pilot, I liked every episode. By episode two, I was ready to admit that the show wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. By episode three, I was genuinely enjoying it. By episodes four and five, I was fully invested, and by the final episode, I had fully reverted to my Marvel Fanboy status. I loved this show.

In the first episode, the two main characters do not meet. Although they are characters that have interacted in Marvel films before, they share no scenes. This changes in the second episode, where they meet almost immediately. Though their meeting is a little rushed, and feels slightly underwhelming, those feelings are immediately swept under the rug with the sheer joy that comes from almost every line of dialogue shared between the two characters.

The two protagonist’s dynamic chemistry drives this show forward. Their interactions are funny, dramatic, emotional and always a pleasure. My only regret is that it took the producers a full episode to figure out the colorful character dynamics. Once they got there, though, they never turned back.

I don’t want it to sound like I think this show is perfect after the dreadful first episode. Some of the first episode’s flaws remain relevant throughout. For example, the antagonists of the show certainly come up empty at times. I’m not the first one to point this out, and for a good reason. There are a lot of missed opportunities here, partly because the villains of the series are so vague in their positions.

Some of the flaws cannot be helped — the show was infamously written and filmed before COVID-19 with a plot line about a global pandemic that was later scrapped — but even so, the ball was dropped. Instead of answering questions about the inequalities of the universe that the show takes place in with meaning, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier addresses those questions with ambiguity. 

It wasn’t until the last episode of the show that I understood what the characters were fighting over. In earlier episodes, when Anthony Mackie’s character admitted to the antagonists that he agreed with their cause, if not their violent methodologies, I was confused. What did he agree with, exactly? What was the cause he found so moving? These questions were answered far too late in the show to give those initial scenes the intended emotional impact.

The secondary antagonist of the show, who I cannot elaborate on in detail because of spoilers, is a much more compelling character. While I felt that the main antagonists never got enough screen time for me to really care about them, the secondary antagonist felt almost perfectly realized. There were points where his character development felt rushed, sure, but significantly less so than his counterparts. His arc was a true success in my book.

Where the show fails in its initial attempts to meaningfully address racial tensions in the United States, it is much more successful in the later episodes. Scenes that center around racism became more complex in later episodes, and the generational differences the show focuses on did an excellent job highlighting the different lenses through which people can view oppression.

The action scenes of the show also grew in impact as the episodes went on, with the line between villain and hero growing blurrier. Even though I was unsure of the motivations of the antagonists, I could still appreciate that the protagonists weren’t thrilled about having to fight them. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot more enjoyable than the initial fight sequences of meaningless explosions and pointless punches.

Unfortunately, though I did thoroughly enjoy watching this show, the ending is deeply flawed. Almost all Marvel media suffers from this same syndrome in which producers feel compelled to end their storylines by opening up for a future narrative to pick up where this one leaves off.

I was satisfied with the way that this particular show ended, but the ways in which it spent so much time in the final episode setting up new material felt particularly obvious. Also, those setups were not that interesting to me. I felt like the show was taking away from the storyline — and characters that I cared about — to tell me about some future story that failed to capture my attention. The foreshadowing was heavy-handed, without the necessary intrigue to make it feel worthwhile.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. While I was initially skeptical of it, the show recovers from a slow start and really makes the most of itself by the end. It is not without flaws — there are certainly legitimate bones to pick and gripes to be had with the show. However, all things considered, I still enjoyed it very much and think that you might, too.

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