“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” proves to be a solid addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universes’ roster of shows, providing perspective into the lives of its eponymous heroes post-“Endgame,” if little else.
The new Disney Plus six-episode exclusive, of which the first episode aired Friday, is a mosaic of elements from past MCU theatrical releases – action, introspection and political intrigue collide in a work of high craftsmanship that has become the Marvel standard.
Those expecting the first episode to launch into a buddy comedy consisting of Sam Wilson, played by Anthony Mackie, and Bucky Barnes, portrayed by Sebastian Stan, will be sorely disappointed. “New World Order” tracks each character – and their superhero personas – separately.
As hinted in the epilogue of “Endgame,” Steve Rogers has passed the Captain America mantle to Sam Wilson. Refusing to don Roger’s iconic shield, attire or identity, Wilson embodies the Captain’s devotion to serving the United States by working with the Air Force. Under the guise of his superhero persona, The Falcon, his story begins adjacent to the Libyan border, where terrorist Georges Batroc and his nondescript cronies have hijacked an Air Force plane and taken one of its occupants hostage.
This scene, which comprises almost all of this episode’s action, has the production budget and feel of an MCU film. When the Falcon engages in a high-speed aerial chase with Batroc’s terrorists through sun-soaked orange valleys, it is easy to forget one is watching a TV show.
The convention which typifies television – a focus on characterization – is prevalent throughout the rest of the episode.
In stark contrast to Wilson’s high-flying hijinks, Bucky Barnes’ scenes are slow and somber. Thanks to his help saving the world in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame,” the U.S. government has issued the former Winter Soldier a pardon for his crimes committed as a brainwashed Hydra agent, on the condition that he practice nonviolence and attend therapy.
However mundane, there is a certain charm and amusement in watching Bucky verbally spar with his no-nonsense therapist and eat lunch with a geriatric friend.
The episode belongs to Sam Wilson, though. After his adventure straddling the Libyan border, he undergoes treatment similar to Barnes, and spends time with his family in New Orleans. Notably, these scenes focus on the repercussions of the Blip – the eradication and subsequent resurrection of half of all life in the universe. It is interesting to see how the aftermath of “Endgame” has affected the economy and temperament of the people who lived through it or returned.
Despite focusing on slow characterization, these moments have a less depressing tone, and the difference in the color grading proves it. While Wilson’s scenes are brightly colored and vibrant, Barnes’ have a washed-out quality. Diverse color palettes are drained of saturation when Barnes is on screen.
Fans of the MCU will be in for a treat with this series. Those who have not watched all of the major releases will have little clue of what is happening on screen because “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” functions as a serialized installment of the franchise.
Luckily, the first episode of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” was created with the same big-budget, efficient and creatively sparse production design, editing and technical prowess that has become a staple of the franchise. And for what it is – a show about superheroes – it is decent.
I admire the episode for providing insight into the day-to-day life of these MCU heroes. The lack of action might discourage some viewers, but the focus on exposition seems deliberately placed to establish future episodes’ story threads. My only qualms lay in the fact that like most of the franchise’s outings, direction takes a back seat. If I were to quickly glance at a still from this episode, there is little visual flair to distinguish it from any of the past Captain America films.
The remaining five episodes will be released each Friday, until April 23.
Traveler Score: B