WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Episode One of Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Expectations were undoubtedly high. Marvel smashed a home run with WandaVision, and it was always going to be tough to match that. There are still five episodes to run, of course, but the pilot of Falcon and the Winter Soldier felt like a real back-to-basics effort.
That might be a little overly-cynical; I did actually enjoy this opening episode, and I think there were several aspects to it which bring great potential. It just feels like Marvel started down a new path with WandaVision, but took a few steps back with Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. This was their safe option.
This safety net could be spotted in one of the opening scenes; after weeks of emotional pay-offs, mysterious side characters and true curve-balls, we were thrust back into a classic Marvel fight scene. Sam Wilson, the Falcon, teams up with the American military to take down a group of faceless bad guys. The action itself was very well done, of course, but did drag on for a bit longer than necessary
The quieter moments of this episode were the really powerful ones. Sam packing up the famous shield of Captain America, the weight of the country on his shoulders, needed no words to convey the battles going on inside his head.
Bucky’s past traumas finally have the necessary screentime to be explored properly, and this episode proved that. The horrors in his past weren’t shied away from, while his interesting coping mechanisms were fascinating to watch. His character has real potential.
These quiet moments will no doubt come to the forefront of the plot as the show progresses; with issues on race to be probed, there will be powerful messages. If the show delivers these anywhere near to the standard with which they discussed grief in WandaVision, we will be in for a treat.
There were some areas in which this episode came up short. For a show named Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there was a noticeable lack of the Falcon and the Winter Soldier; their stories, at this moment in time, appear to have no discernible link whatsoever. I’ll no doubt be eating my words this time next week when they slot together seamlessly, but with only five episodes to go it would perhaps have been smart to set up that link sooner.
That’s not to say the story itself is, so far, poorly set up. Both Sam and Bucky seem to have good character arcs to explore as we progress through the show, and with Marvel’s track record we can rest assured this will be done well. It was just the lack of association between the two that was slightly frustrating – especially after the trailers hinted so much at their strained relationship being a key plot component.
Anthony Mackie has a lot to prove in my eyes as well. Up until this point, he has mainly been used as a side character to boost the ego of Steve Rogers, acting as his loyal sidekick. Now being thrust into the limelight and being a title character in his own show, Mackie seemed to struggle in this pilot.
He was by no means awful, but looked a little out of place with so many lines to fulfil. At times his acting seemed a little forced, a little robotic; his delivery of dialogue can certainly be improved. His strong acting, as mentioned above, came when he didn’t actually need to speak. It will be interesting to see if he can deliver when it really matters.
Sebastian Stan, on the other hand, did look solid as he reprised this role. His quiet nature, offering a stark contrast to his character’s violent past, worked very well and will surely do so as the weeks go by. Like Bucky said, he has only ever went from fight to fight in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now with more time to focus on his life away from the battlefield, we will get a measure of Stan’s true acting ability – and he looked up to scratch here.
Overall, this was a solid start to Marvel’s latest television show. It wasn’t as strong and fascinating as the pilot of WandaVision; we weren’t left in a state of confusion and nail-biting excitement this time around, but that’s probably not what this show wants to achieve. Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a safe return to basics for Marvel, but we’ll be in for a thrilling ride all the same.