Review: “Falcon and the Winter Soldier”

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Ever since “Captain America: Civil War,” MCU fans have wanted to see more interactions between Sam Wilson, the Falcon and Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. And now, years after their first encounter, the two characters are the stars of their own show, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which premiered March 19 on Disney+.

Being released a week after the finale of “WandaVision,” many fans waited with baited breath to see if Marvel’s second series would be just as good, or even better than the first. While we can’t confirm which show is the better series, especially since the entirety of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” has not been fully released yet. We can certainly confirm that this show is, and will continue to be, a great addition to the Marvel franchise, although it is going to be shorter than “WandaVision,” with only six episodes in total.

In order to fully appreciate the show, however,  you have to have prior knowledge on characters and groups in both the cinematic universe and the comics.  While the show may stray away from things that happened in the comics, there is a good chance that they will be extremely similar, as we can see from the events of “WandaVision.”

James “Bucky” Barnes was childhood bestfriends with Steve Rogers, Captain America, and fought beside him during World War II. After enlisting in the army in 1943, Barnes was assigned to the 107th. After a failed raid on a HYDRA base in Austria, Barnes and his regiment were captured and imprisoned, with no rescue coming as they were presumed dead by the U.S. Military. During his time in captivity, Barnes underwent experimentation, and this is when he was injected with a variant of the Super Soldier Serum by Hydra scientist, Armin Zola. Barnes and the remainder of his regiment were rescued later on by Steve, who had come to their aid after he discovered that Bucky was missing in action. 

As the war continued on, Barnes and Rogers joined forces, and created a group known as the Howling Commandos to help defeat HYDRA forces and take down their formidable leader, the Red Skull. During a mission to capture Armin Zola in the Austrian Alps, the group was ambushed by Hydra operatives and soldiers. Barnes, who was caught during the fight, fell hundreds of feet from the moving train into the land below, and was once again presumed dead as no body was ever recovered. However, unknown to Steve and the other Commandos, Barnes survived the fall due to the enhancements and experimentation he went through during his previous time with HYDRA, although his left arm was lost despite the experimentation he went through. 

Bucky was then found and recovered by HYDRA and the Soviet Union, who brainwashed him and equipped him with a new cybernetic arm, turning him into a living weapon for HYDRA to use and exploit, known as the Winter Soldier. Over the course of the next fifty years, the Winter Soldier was used to eliminate any and all threats to HYDRA, which included Howard and Maria Stark, Tony Stark’s parents. Between his assassination missions, Barnes was kept in a cryogenic stasis to prolong his life and use for HYDRA, which allowed him to stay the same age as he was during the second world war. 

In 2014 (in the MCU timeline), Barnes was ordered to eliminate Nick Fury, the director of a covert organization known as SHIELD. This was because HYDRA had found a way to infiltrate SHIELD, and Nick Fury could ruin their plans. However, during his mission, Barnes encountered Steve, which triggered buried memories of his previous life. After their final battle at the end of the film, Barnes became free of the brainwashing and deserted HYDRA so that he could continue to remember his past and escape his violent history. 

Sam Wilson, better known as the Falcon, was introduced in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which was also, coincidentally, the first appearance of Bucky as the Winter Soldier, and the first time the two met in the MCU. Before meeting Captain America, Sam was a former U.S. Air Force pararescue airman, having left active duty after the death of his wing-man, Riley. Sam instead chose to focus on helping other struggling veterans who were suffering with PTSD, as he had a better understanding of what these veterans were going through. 

During this time, Sam met Steve, and he quickly became an ally for the hero during this time, as Steve needed assistance from anyone who was not associated with SHIELD, as he was unsure who he could trust from the organization. During this time, Sam retook his title as the Falcon, and after assisting in taking down the HYDRA operatives in SHIELD and thwarting their plans for world domination, he agreed to help Steve track down the Winter Soldier, which we know to be Bucky.

While Bucky managed to escape, Sam continued to search for him, although he was unsuccessful. During his search, Sam was recruited to be an Avenger, since the original team had disbanded after their battle with Ultron. After multiple battles resulted in civilian casualties, the government and United Nations forced the Avengers into following a set of rules called the Sokovia Accords, which put them under the control of the government. As the current and former Avengers argued about whether or not to sign the accords, Bucky was blamed for a terrorist attack that resulted in the death of King T’Chaka, Sam stood by Steve who was trying to protect Bucky, which ultimately caused the civil war between the heroes. 

It was later discovered that the attack and fight between the Avengers was orchestrated by Baron Helmut Zemo, who blamed the Avengers for the death of his family and wanted revenge, becoming obsessed with destroying them. In order to do this, Zemo became a terrorist mastermind and began to work with HYDRA, becoming obsessed with the evil organization, eventually learning about the Winter Soldier. Zemo was found trying to shoot himself towards the end of the film, but was captured by Black Panther, who handed him over to the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre for imprisonment. 

Sam, and those who were loyal to Captain America, became fugitives, and were on the run for two years while Bucky went to stay in Wakanda. While they were hiding, Earth became under attack by the titan Thanos, which brought the heroes out of hiding. After finding out that Thanos was after the infinity stones, Sam rejoined the Avengers and helped his allies protect Vision and the stone. Both Sam and Bucky did their best to hold back Thanos’ forces, but they ultimately failed, and both were dusted by the Snap. 

Being brought back in “Avengers: Endgame” five years later, and they finally helped to defeat Thanos after Tony Stark sacrificed himself. During the aftermath, Steve went back in time and lived a full and happy life married to the love of his life, Peggy Carter. Meeting Sam and Bucky as an old man, Steve passed on the iconic Captain America shield and gave it to Sam, also passing on the mantle of Captain America.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” takes place months after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” and Steve passing on his shield, and in this we are able to see the aftermath of Steve’s retirement (or death; it’s unsure about whether or not he died), both Sam and Bucky struggling to adjust to life in a new and confusing world, as well as feeling the loss of their friend. 

Sam seems to still be operating as the Falcon and is assisting the military on covert missions, and can be seen on one of these missions in the first five minutes of the show. It is while he is working with the military that he is informed of a terrorist group known as The Flag Smashers, who believe that life was better during the Blip, or the five years after the Snap, and is trying to return the world back to that state. After the informant, Torres, has a brief interaction with a member of the Flag Smashers, it is also apparent that the group has also been injected with the Super Soldier Serum, and has enhanced abilities because of it. 

Meanwhile, Bucky, who was pardoned by the U.S. government, is attending government-mandated therapy, where he is trying to make amends for his time as the Winter Soldier. To do this, Bucky has made a list of people he has to make amends with, such as a elderly old man who was the father of one of the Winter Soldiers victims. Having been ignoring Sam’s attempts to contact him over the past six months, Bucky is told by his therapist that he should reach out to the hero, which he eventually does, joining Sam on finding out more about the Flag Smashers.

However, both men are angered after finding out that the government has passed the mantle of Captain America to someone else, failing to honor Steve and what he stood for.

Sam ended up giving Steve’s shield to the government, where he was told that it would be put in a museum to honor the legacy that Steve left behind. He didn’t want to take up the mantle of Captain America, and struggled with the idea of someone else in Steve’s place, which ended up fueling his decision, although it was not the right decision that he should have made. 

Unbeknownst to Sam, the government had been planning to appoint a new person as Captain America, claiming that the shield was much more than a symbol and was needed in today’s world. The “new” Captain America is military man John Walker, who was a special operations officer of the 75th Rangers Regiment for the U.S. Army. 

In the military, Walker had a very successful career, being the “First person in American history to recieve three Medals of Honor,” as well as running “RS1 missions in counter terrorism and hostage rescue.” It is his military career that made him a perfect choice to the government to succeed Steve Rogers as Captain America. 

While John Walker seemed like the United States perfect choice to be the new Captain America, you can tell through his actions and how he holds himself that he really isn’t. He lacks the humanity and kindness that made Steve Rogers the iconic hero that he was, and he does not have the same good inside of him, making him a terrible choice.

And while I get that he’s nervous about his role and how he’s serving his country, he still comes off as a really hateable character, and that is something that the audience, including myself has latched onto. Of course, most of this fan hate could be because of how we have seen Captain America before in the MCU, but overall, I think that it’s because we all know that he won’t be the actual next Captain America.

Even though I know this, I think it will be interesting to see how he develops and spirals as the series progresses, and I can’t wait to see how the actor continues to portray the character.

Moving on, while Sam and Bucky are trying to locate and take down the Flag Smashers, Walker comes to assist them, much to the annoyance of the other two heroes. While Walker tried to get them to work with him, the two ultimately ignored him, angered by someone undeserving of the shield to have taken Steve’s place. 

Knowing the Flag Smashers have somehow obtained a variant of the Super Soldier Serum, Bucky and Sam try to find out how, causing Bucky to bring Sam to meet someone from his brutal past. The two visit Isaiah Bradley, a veteran super soldier who fought against the Winter Soldier and won during the Korean War sometime in 1950-1953. Having been turned into a super soldier in the 1950’s, Bradley was assigned by the U.S. military to eliminate the Winter Soldier, which he failed to do. Bradley was later imprisoned for three decades due to his super soldier status, and was experimented on by HYDRA and the U.S. government before he was freed and released in the 1980s. Isaiah yells at the two when asked about the serum, but ultimately reveals HYDRA is involved before yelling at them to leave.

After being kicked out of Bradley’s home, Sam is upset by the knowledge there was a black super soldier and the government covered it up, and is also mad at Bucky for not having mentioned him before. During their argument, Bucky is arrested by the police for missing a mandated therapy session. After being bailed out by his John Walker, both Bucky and Sam are forced to go through “couples therapy,” with his therapist, much to their dismay. 

In this scene, we see Bucky open up to Sam about his feelings and his insecurity that he doesn’t deserve forgiveness for his past actions, more specifically for his time as the Winter Soldier. This shows how therapy has been helping him grow, and how he’s trying to recover mentally from the trauma he has faced.

However, Sam is still closed off, even though he and Bucky have a sort of intimate love-hate relationship, or more accurately a respect-hate relationship, and he refuses to talk about his reasoning behind giving the Captain America shield to the government, although we, as the audience, know it is because he doesn’t feel like he’s worthy of filling Steve’s role. 

And while I understand his hesitancy to take up the mantle of Captain America, we have seen time and time again that Sam is a good man and person, and has many of the same qualities that made Steve the perfect candidate to become Captain America.

As they are leaving the jail, they are intercepted by the New Captain America, who once again tries to get them to join forces to take down the Flag Smashers. Sam and Bucky refuse his help, however, and Walker then warns them not to cross him as they walk away. 

Like I said before, Walker is the new Captain America is under a lot of pressure because of this role. Both Sam and Bucky were known to be Steve’s ‘best friends’ and allies, and with their support Walker thinks that his transition into becoming this kind of hero might be easier.

And while I personally don’t like Walker, I could still understand the type of rejection that he felt when they walked away from him, and I think that Sam and Bucky’s decision to refuse working with Walker may lead to terrible consequences in the future. 

With the knowledge the Flag Smashers somehow acquired the Super Soldier Serum from HYDRA, Sam and Bucky come to the conclusion the only person who would know about this is Baron Zemo, who is still in jail for his role in “Captain America: Civil War.” 

Deciding that Bucky should be the one to talk to Zemo since the villain would be more interested in the super soldier and would be less likely to help Sam because he is an Avenger, Bucky pays Zemo a visit. After a brief conversation, Bucky leaves, and we later find out while he was leaving he  helped orchestrate a chain of events that led to Zemo’s escape from the prison, unknown to Wilson.

I am so excited to see Zemo become a character in this series. In both the comics and MCU, Zemo is a skilled and brilliant villain, and is able to cause a lot of chaos and destruction during altercations against his enemies. Zemo is also one of the only villains who ever achieves his ultimate goal and follows through with his plans, as we can see in ‘Captain America: Civil War.’

Not only was Zemo able to divide the Avengers without having to do any dirty work himself, but he was able to make some of the worlds most valiant heroes go into hiding as fugitives, making them unable to protect the innocent. 

In the show, Zemo has made it clear that his ultimate goal is to get rid of all heroes, specifically super soldiers. Because of the Flag Smashers, it will be interesting to see how the villain adapts in order to achieve this, and what he will do in order to do so.

The three men travel to a city called Madripoor, which is a city-island that serves as a sanctuary for an assortment of criminals. There, they meet with a high-ranking criminal named Selby, who reveals that the person who recreated the Super Soldier Serum was a former Hydra scientist named Dr. Wilfred Nagel. 

During their encounter, Selby tries to have them killed after discovering that Sam and Bucky are not who she thought they were. However, before she can, Selby is killed by someone unknown, and a bounty is placed on Sam, Bucky, and Zemo as they try to escape. Before they are killed by a group of criminals, Steve’s ex-girlfriend, Sharon Carter, comes to their rescue. We find out Sharon has been living as a fugitive since the events of “Captain America: Civil War.”

To be honest, before her reveal in TFWS, I had completely forgotten about Sharon. I mean, I remember her and her relationship with Steve, but I had always tried to pay as little attention as possible because of who her great aunt was and who her boyfriend was. It just made me feel weird to see Steve date the love of his life’s great niece, and I was even more freaked out after Steve eventually went back in time and married Peggy, which I guess would make him Sharon’s great uncle?

Hopefully now that she’s her own character and doesn’t have Steve and Peggy obviously affecting how she was portrayed in the MCU, it will be more enjoyable to watch her in the show, and it will be interesting to see how she’s developed in the large amount of time that we haven’t seen her, which in the MCU is close to 8 years. 

Sharon helps the group find Nagel’s lab, and there they interrogate the scientist and discover he has recreated twenty doses of the Super Soldier Serum, which were all stolen by Flag Smasher. Unexpectedly, Zemo kills Nagel and the lab is destroyed by a group of criminals trying to kill them to acquire the bounty. Zemo steals a vehicle for the group to escape in, but Carter stays behind. While they drive away, Sam promises her that he will get her pardoned.

Travelling to Latvia in search of the Flag Smashers, Bucky recognizes a tracker from Wakanda due to the time he spent there after the Civil War. Following it, he is confronted by Dora Milaje Ayo, who is a member of the elite female bodyguards and special forces of Wakanda, who demands he give her Zemo, setting up a conflict for the next episode. 

We have seen Ayo before in previous films, but more specifically in ‘Black Panther,’ where she fights alongside T’Challa and Dora Milaje leader, Okoye, to take down Erik Killmonger. From the MCU, we can see that the Dora Milaje seems to be a womens special force group that serves Wakanda, and has an allegiance to whoever sits on the throne. 

The reason why the Dora Milaje want Zemo back in their custody is because he is responsible for the death of their former king, T’Chaka, who he killed in a terrorist attack and framed Bucky for the murder. 

Because of Zemo’s role in the assasination of one of their former leaders, it can be assumed the Dora Milaje will not ask nicely to take Zemo back into custody, and Zemos newfound alliance might cause issues for Sam and Bucky in the near future. 

As the series continues, it will be interesting how events play out, especially with Sam and Bucky’s alliance with Zemo, who is a known villain in the MCU and Marvel comics. However, this show is giving fans a layout of what other series and films may look like at this point in the MCU, a layout that is much more reliable than what we saw on “WandaVision.”

While there is a lot going on, and although it is definitely confusing in some areas, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” is an amazing series, and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.