The Falcon and the Winter Soldier | What does it mean to be American
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a 2021 series created by Malcolm Spellman for Disney+. It follows the events of Avengers: Endgame and portrays new characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
It tells the story of Sam Wilson – the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes – the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). The first, tormented, refuses the role of Captain America left by Steve Rogers, feeling inadequate for the role. The second still has not managed to overcome the years of manipulation in becoming a killing machine. How, then, can they both face their future? Especially when the Flag Smashers, a new terrorist organization, threaten the world security.
Wingmen are finally protagonists
The main new factor of the show is that – as in the previous movies – the role of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes has always remained in the background. Especially compared to the other members of the team. This is their payback. Bucky and Sam are the buddies everyone wants to see. Maybe they do a little too many buddies-jokes, and there was the fear that their appearance would have seemed forced. But in the end, it all turns out to be natural and effective enough to be likely.
As Stan, interpreter of James “Bucky” Barnes, also said about the characters:
One of the things I loved about our show is that Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes aren’t actually superheroes. They’re regular people who are trying to navigate real life stuff. And WandaVision did this too. I love that the MCU was dealing with situations, trying to highlight that even though these people have superpowers. They’re still traumatized by these issues.
It’s not just about defeating the villain
In addition to the issues that the characters must solve, there is another fundamental theme: racism.
It is found in numerous aspects of the show, but above all in a very emblematic character, Isaiah. He’s a super soldier – exactly like Steve Rogers – but totally set aside only because he was black. Up until then, it was as if Captain America had obviously to be a white, blond and stereotypically American man.
This is precisely why Wilson doesn’t feel suitable to embrace the stars and stripes shield, at the beginning. Nevertheless, thanks to his relationship with the elderly war hero, Falcon begins to develop a new awareness. Because, after all, “America” doesn’t just mean “white and blonde”.
It is a profound subject, but the themes of the show, including racism, are analyzed only rather superficially, without going too deep. For this reason, the characters are emotionally invested on the spot, but they also seem to “forget” too quickly in order to carry on with their main mission. The intention is certainly good, of course. But the little in-depth study and the didactic and sometimes rough dialogues don’t do justice to such interesting and debated topics, the same ones which audiences have learned to deal with in the latest and more complex TV narratives.
Old and new acquaintances
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also saw the return of old MCU characters, such as Baron Zemo and Sharon Carter.
It is a fan service choice that turns out to be more successful for Zemo than for Sharon. The latter, in fact, has a different personality and mentality than the one in the movies (which is more faithful to the comics), and the whole operation makes the viewer feel some lack of narrative coherence.
But the same doesn’t apply to Zemo. The character remains strong in his principles, and – due to his elaborate psychology – the seemingly 100% villain behavior finds its own logic and rationality.
Complex psychology that MCU has so far hardly brought to TV is the one of a new character: John Walker, the new Captain America. Walker is a man of duty and justice, but the idea of serving his country pervaded him so much that he is ready to go against all morals. It’s the desire for success that obsesses him: being Captain America brings expectations that he manages in the wrong way. It is a pity, however, that his three-dimensional narrative arc gets lost towards the season finale.
The viewers immediately compared the characterization of John Walker to a character from another TV show: Homelander from The Boys (Prime Video). They are the quintessential propaganda and patriotic mask behind which purely criminal traumas and actions. Walker and Homelander perfectly embody the cultural blindness of an entire country – a common topic for both shows.
What to expect
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier attempts to explore serious issues, all the while remaining consistent with the style of the MCU. This is proof that, even in this type of TV product, it’s time to give space over to such daring social topics. But while the show manages to delve into all the issues related to Steve Rogers’ legacy, its many other storylines and character arcs suffer from a lack of space and detail. However, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier remains an enjoyable product that will certainly see further developments in the future.